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Today my hair is pulled back tightly into a flawless bun. My legs are crossed closely with womanhood. My eyes are stoic with maturity and self-control as I study the coffin in front of me. Pure, white oleanders embroider the chestnut wood, and death. My back curves slightly parlor perfect posture. My adolescent complexion hides under dust, and my forest green irises protrude with tension. I am the epitome of adulthood. Yesterday I was only a child.
At the funeral home my father holds himself together with the same solemn stress as his mother. In my hands I cup the small, soft palms of my nieces as one would caress a butterfly. Each child sits on either side of me, entranced in memories and spirit. Tears, glistening from eye to chin, dance a tragic ballet down their profiles of naïve beauty. So early they are experiencing maturity as they learn death. As I grow towards my motherhood yeas, I remain patient and strong, because I know they need me.
“If I concentrate real hard I can understand him.” Grandma’s eyes are rubbed-red, and I think she is speaking more to herself than my father or me. Alone he sits encaged in his sort of Kryptonite; Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diseases of the brain and body. And we stare. I can feel an anonymous gaze warming my back and glance at the woman beside me. My slight smile doesn’t mask my insecurities.
“He’s doing better it seems.” A frumpy old woman speaking of grandpa tosses a head nod in his direction. She is ostensibly attempting reassurance, but failing miserably. “He is calm now.” My father doesn’t entertain her white lies, but nods in polite agreement.
“Hi, I’m Ann.” The mystery woman extends a slightly mangled, but soft had to my father. He takes it. She is wearing a gray, relatively worn out cotton blouse. Her abdomen reaches out a little farther than her bust as she slouches back in her seat. Her thin, brown, “salt-and-pepper” hair is held up in a tiny, tiny ponytail, and she wears thinly rimmed glasses. They are brick red, a despiteful color. “I need to listen carefully to him all the same. Isn’t that right, Frank?” Ann pats Frank’s leg with love, and it’s kind of cute. Frank’s gut sits like his wife’s, a little over his waistband; and I swear he wears that same goofy grin and red flannel shirt everyday.
As I glance impatiently around the faintly-pigmented room, my grandfather locks into my gaze, and I can’t look away. His large, gray-blue eyes appear different now behind those ¼ inch panes of twenty year old glass. They are framed by wrinkles that are deeper than his pale and emaciated skin is thick. I wasn’t suppose to see him this way. I hear that it will all be over soon. “Don’t look at me,” grandpa mutters softly and ashamed. I break our gaze, praying to God and the Holy Spirit that I do not cry again.
“Ask him a question,” Dad startles me out of my trance, and I take a sharp breath. “See if he responds with anything remotely coherent.”
I stutter, trying to think quickly. “So grandpa, did you watch the Indians the other day?” And we stare. He looks at me, and I am assuming that he is saying something of the English language mentally, but nothing of the American culture is coming out.
“…yeah.” I agree with a convincing nod, as one would respond to a small child who might as well be talking to wind. I still don’t want him to feel ignored. Dad’s lips were pursed in an angry form, frustrated with the terminal illness withholding his father who was once Superman. Dad shakes his head in disbelief and fins the eyes of God in the ceiling. There is a silence in the nursing home as they hold one another’s gaze in pensive conversation. Grandpa peeks at his watch, most likely by habit, and then looks in the direction of the window.
My father gives up on the ceiling tiles and draws a deep breath of pure stress. “Mom, what time is it?”
The bird clock reads exactly 4:15. “God,” I think, surely showing the disgust on in my facial features, “what a pathetic excuse for pseudo-decorating.”
Grandpa checks his watch in his rhythmic fashion and returns his curiosity back at the glass. “Quarter after four.”
The enormous ceilings and stained glass mosaics create a much welcomed, revitalizing feeling and brighten our tear-stricken profiles. My sister slowly rises from her pew and proceeds to the marble podium with earnestness. Upon reaching the microphone she clears her throat hesitantly and bows her head in respect. As she speaks her eulogy to our grandfather, her bulbous tummy outwardly exhibits a new life inside of her. I thought of the new life as a symbol of his peaceful death; like good karma within the cycle of life. She ended the poem “Footprints” with this line. “When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried You.”