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I don’t know if she would have wanted it in a church.

That being said, I suppose I didn’t know her that well, and the emotion in me can’t really be described as sad, and I’m standing here in off-black (yes, there is such a thing), holding unholy water in a white plastic cup. Dad says shh to Ivan as he shifts from leg to leg, the antsy nine-year-old that he is and even though his face is solemn I know what he really wants to do is hop on that plane and go back to his COD 3.

Two weeks before, we got the call from Uncle Andrei, his voice quivering into the receiver. “Are you drunk calling me again?” Dad had yapped, muting Sunday night football.

“Mamochka,” he wept back, loud enough for the whole house to hear. “She’s dead.”

My parents had always been rather indifferent, but I was surprised by the quiet, almost cold calculation of their actions. They swiftly reserved four airplane tickets, bought me a black dress on sale at Macy’s, and called off their work for “personal reasons.” While death was emotionally taxing, clearly it could be economically efficient.

My first reaction was about missing school. Ivan’s was about missing video games. I thought about the upcoming Calculus test next Tuesday, oh my GOD Mr. Reesely is going to kill me, maybe I can get an extension on the English paper. This was for a split-second, and then the world regrouped on its axis and I thought, oh.

So we flew to Belyov, Babushka and Uncle Andrei and Dad’s hometown. Dad tried to write a semi-decent eulogy during the flight, his sleep-deprived eyes fluttering shut every few minutes, muttering “s***” every so often under his breath, spilling green tea all over his lap. My mother slept, Ivan watched movies, and I tried to vaguely remember things about her. The language of my hometown is foreign to me, but I knew she swore heavily and wore large cloaks that weighed down her shoulders, the kind of person who made cynical comments about people from the corner of a room. “She’s a firecracker of a woman,” Aunt Nina had said the last time we went back, which was more than five years ago. She had said more, but the memories were blurry and besides, I had to order dinners from the flight attendant and make sure my father didn’t stab himself with his pen.

Yesterday was the wake, when we got to see the physical body. She was not “an angel in a casket,” as the priest politely offered, but emaciated, weak, small. Paper-thin veins trailed her closed eyelids, and her chest was eerily still. She was not the woman who flicked Ivan on the forehead for breaking a plate or who made the gooiest syrniki my twelve-year-old self had ever tasted. She was a corpse.

Now I’m standing here on the floor of the local church again, and it’s nice but it’s suffocating, and relatives that might as well be complete strangers are milling around but I’m obligated to say hello.

“Anna, it’s been so long!” a woman with yellowing teeth and a mothball aroma comes up to me and throws her arms around my neck. “How old are you now, daragaya? 22?”

“I’m 17,” I say in broken Russian. More old family members and friends come up to me, surrounding me like an armada of bees. I spy Aunt Nina in the front pews and Uncle Andrei in the last pews, their backs silent and black. I wish I could go up, say something, anything, but if that was in my ability, I would say something to my grandmother’s rotting body and that’s not something I can do, not in the mother tongue at least. Not with paltry snippets of something imitating memories.

“Ahem,” the priest coughs. The crowd around me disperses and I sit next to Dad, his fingers fidgeting.

He says a bunch of things in rapid Russian, stuff about God, the afterlife, his back straight and his head slanted down respectfully, and the people nod in righteous agreement. “Ye,” some guy with no teeth calls.

And soon it’s time for Dad to say his remarks, his crumpled eulogy piece in his sweaty hands. Apparently, he was the “best with words” and could most eloquently express the mourning of the whole family. He speaks slowly, deliberately.

“Mamochka was not just my mother, but a wife, caregiver, sage, and friend to all,” he says, his shaking voice filling the empty spaces of the hall. “She offered us guidance, tolerance, respect, and most of all, love.

“She was a woman not afraid to voice her opinions, not afraid to dare and try new opportunities. She –”

The door swings open with a heavy thud. We look around to see a swaggering old man with literal fleas buzzing around his head. He’s got ruddy cheeks and an odor I can smell from the front, and two old ladies in pearl necklaces gasp loudly from my left.

(It’s worth noting now that we didn’t bother to spend money on any kind of security. Maybe we were honoring Babushka’s tenet of frugality?)

Andrei and Dad rush to grab him by his arms and pull him out, but he’s not leaving without a fight, his muddy boots trailing a path on the red carpet. “No,” he shouts, swinging his empty Baltika bottle like a torpedo. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.” He chants this like a mantra, shutting his eyes, and after some time, he allows himself to be thrown on the other side of the door.

Dad wraps up his final words, the relatives wipe their last tears. The service ends quickly. Ivan dives for the food table. I wonder if his tiny body can even feel anything.

I don’t want to talk to relatives I don’t know, I don’t want to touch her casket and say something heartfelt like I’m supposed to do in this situation. She hated insincerity. And for the first time, when it’s all over, I feel an ache and it’s unmistakably, I wish I knew her better.

I walk outside; it’s still 3 pm and downtown Belyov is still bustling, the cool spring breeze not giving a s*** that Babushka is officially gone, officiated by a grown man in robes and written down in a book, in the roots of the ground. I walk down the street a little more, and I find the same homeless man sitting at the cusp of an alley, at the corner of an intersection.

I stop slightly, and he grins at me, several of his teeth missing. “It doesn’t matter,” he says happily, pounding his fist against the brick building. I want to agree. It’d be much easier to agree, and the burden is almost lifted from my shoulders, but not quite, because something in me is cold and hollow and I think that means something, I don’t know what, but I don’t intend that part of me is going to change. I am not wracked by sobs (and there aren’t any tissues anyway) – but I can almost (it’s probably more wishful thinking, the need for closure) hear Babushka laughing, “Stupid. Of course it matters. Finish your syrniki.”

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RayynbowThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jul. 29 at 12:11 am:
I liked this story and I quite liked the ending, but the entire idea is pretty cliche--the funeral in Foreign Country Russia, the not-true-to-life words of the pastor, the ending with a memory of the deceased. I also don't fully understand the "it doesn't matter" theme aside from needing something to connect to the deceased, but I kind of get it.   That being said, this story reminded me of my grandpa's funeral and I could connect to it.
jazzyjess This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 29 at 8:04 pm :
Thanks for the feedback! I totally get what you're saying. The story was based on my own feelings about being disconnected with my culture, but I can see how it could come off as cliché.
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