Authors: Adrienne Wilder
Copyright 2012 by Adrienne Wilder
The following story is a work of fiction. Real places, historical events, and medical treatments (both current and outdated) which might be referenced, characters, and location are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.
Warning: This manuscript contains strong language, violent events, and mild sexual content that some people might find disturbing or objectionable.
They made me wear a dress.
It was my Momma’s burial and my sister and her husband said I should show respect. Raining and cold, it was the kind of day for a TV funeral. It wasn’t right. Momma would have wanted sunshine and butterflies, but it was April in Georgia.
The preacher was dressed in a blue suit. It matched his cheap words. He talked about God, angels, heaven and earth. When he talked about how Jesus expects us to act a certain way, to be a certain kind of person, he looked at me.
I tried not to dig at the curls Emma sculpted around my face with a hot iron, but my head itched something fierce. Every time she caught me she glared.
I stared at Momma’s coffin. I guess it was nice as coffins go. All rose-colored and shiny. I’d been there when Emma picked it out. It cost a fortune. I didn’t understand why anyone would pay so much for a box to stick in the ground.
Momma had wanted to be cremated but for some reason Emma thought it was more important to bury her. She said everyone would want to look at her dressed in her Sunday best.
I didn’t want to look at Momma. Not cold, dead, stiff, laying in a box all made up, not smiling, not alive, not my momma. When I didn’t get in line with the others, Emma twisted a bit of my skin on my hip, sending a blast of pain sharp enough to make me draw my leg up.
So I got in line following everyone else and made my way up to where Momma lay. The oatmeal I’d eaten rolled in my stomach and the closer I got to the box the harder it became to breathe. It was like all the air had run out of the church. The white walls, the stained glass, it bled together. The ground tipped under my feet and I almost fell. Someone caught me, I didn’t see who. My eyes were on Momma. I was right, you know. It didn’t look like her lying in that box. So much so, I could have almost convinced myself Dr. Hayes had made a mistake, that the woman in the box was someone else.
It could have happened. Emma had been away so long she could have easily forgotten what Momma looked like. I know she’d tried to forget. When ignoring us in the streets hadn’t worked, she’d gone away to New York. Now Momma was dead and she had to come back to mind the house. Mind me. I didn’t need no looking after and I’d been taking care of the house since Momma fell ill.
The edge of the coffin felt bitter under my palms. My fingers brushed the silken inside. I stared at her and waited to feel something, but all I felt was a vast nothing. A cold black void of crushing emptiness I could not escape.
Emma said my name. Now that I was here I found it hard to leave. Her fingers dug into my arm and she pulled, but I couldn’t get my hands to open up. The ivory colored silk tore. Emma saw it and her vise grip made my bones ache.
She marched me down the carpet and shoved me back into the pew. People stared and whispered. Karl Blanche’s son stuck his tongue out at me. Emma kept her hand on my arm the entire time, ready to squeeze if I did anything wrong.
Inside the church the preacher had been slow with the sermon, but now that we were outside he rushed to finish. The wind blew, tossing rain drops up under the canopy. When he snapped shut the book in his hand, the sound reminded me of the ruler Emma used to discipline me with when I was little. If she didn’t have the ruler she would use a switch. Striking me like you would a horse urging it to move.
“Jacqueline?” I’m sure to others her sing-song voice sounded concerned and sincere with love. She wasn’t. Emma didn’t like me.
When I didn’t answer Emma quickly enough, she pinched the skin on the inside of my elbow, then spit out her words between clenched teeth. “Do not embarrass me!”
According to Emma I was always embarrassing.
She tugged me off toward the new ‘71 Matador her husband had bought her. It was black like oil and the inside was white. There was even an eight track mounted in the dash.
Halfway to the car Emma pinched me again. “Quit plodding. Pick up your feet. You’re walking like a gorilla!”
I wanted to pick the pantyhose out of my ass crack, but I knew if I did she’d really have a fit.
“I’m trying Emma, I’m trying.” The high heels she’d made me wear kept miring up to my ankles in the water logged ground. Every time I pulled my feet loose it would sound just like a cow dropping a pie.
Emma glared at me. “Stop that!”
“I can’t. These shoes hurt my feet.” My heels and toes burned with the promise of blisters.
“You can. Now walk right!”
I felt stupid trying to poke out my chest and swing my hips while walking with my arms at my side and not bending them at the elbows. I’m sure I looked stupid.
Just as I tumbled into the car Mr. and Mrs. Bridgestone, our neighbors, walked up. My sister’s angry face turned sweet and mournful before she spun around to greet them. Her gloved hands pushed back her curls.
Mrs. Bridgestone and Emma exchanged a dainty handshake. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Emma sniffed. She always was good at turning on the tears. “Thank you. We’re sorry to lose her, but she’s finally at peace.”
No, knowing momma? She wasn’t at peace. She was pissed because she’d been buried without her cigarettes.
While Emma gushed from the Bridgestones’ sympathy I kicked off the shiny black high heels and hitched up the dress. I got rid of the pantyhose and stuffed them under the seat before Emma turned around. Her husband got in on the driver’s side and adjusted the mirror. He started the car. “What are you up to back there?”
“You better not be getting mud on my floor boards.”
I looked down and wondered if he was going to pinch me too. Momma never pinched or hit me, even the time I tracked mud all over. I’d been at the river and my tube had busted on some sticks. I’d gotten covered in mud walking back home. Momma gave me one of her looks and handed me a plastic bag for my clothes. When I got done washing off in the front yard with the hose, Momma had mop and bucket waiting for me. But first she made me eat a bowl of chicken soup.
Emma sat down in the passenger seat and looked at me over her shoulder. Her cheeks were red and her eyes wild like an animal. “I cannot believe you! How you acted back there.”
“I’m sorry.” Saying I hadn’t done anything would have been useless. In Emma’s mind I was guilty and nothing would change that imagined fact.
“Sorry? Sorry!” Some of her curls fell loose. It reminded me not to dig at my own head. Man, it itched like I had a case of the bed bugs or lice. “Everyone was staring at you, Jacqueline!”
They were. But I didn’t think it was because of how I acted, but because I was all made up.
“You were there representing the family. The way you appear and act affects all of us!” She slapped Phillip on the shoulder. “Don’t just sit there, tell her!”
I don’t think my sister saw him roll his eyes because she didn’t yell at him. Phillip said, “You’re almost sixteen Jacqueline, it’s time to grow up and start acting like a young lady, not a tomboy.”
“Don’t call me that.” His confused look reflected back at me from the rearview. “My name is Jack, not Jacqueline.”
I think Emma’s face turned ten more shades of red. “And that is the first bit of nonsense that will stop. You are a girl, Jacqueline, and it’s about time you stop embarrassing yourself and—” Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. “Where are your pantyhose?”
I crossed my arms. “I took them off. They was crawling up my ass.”
“You took off your panty hose?”
I yanked up the dress and flashed my boxers. She’d wanted me to wear panties, but I’d figured she wouldn’t check. Kind of surprised she didn’t.
Emma screamed. “What are you doing and why the hell do you have on boxers?” She slapped Phillip again. “She’s wearing boxers!”
“Momma bought them for me because they don’t crawl up my ass.”
“Don’t you dare say ass.”
“Ass, ass, ass! They don’t crawl up my ass!’
Tears made Emma’s cheeks shiny. “Why are you doing this to me? Why would you disgrace mother like this? You should respect and love your family.”
Respect and love family! My hands balled up. “We’re not family, Emma! We weren’t the ones who ran off! Momma and me was on our own!”
I didn’t mention how she’d kicked us out with nothing. We’d trusted her. She’d told Momma she wanted us to be together. We’d gone with her to Missouri only to be out on the streets six months later. Momma said it wasn’t my fault. But I knew it was.
Emma took everything when she made us leave. Not just the money but Momma’s pride, hope, and trust. She broke her. She messed everything up and Momma pretended it didn’t matter. But the walls were thin in the crappy trailer we lived in for a while, and I could hear her crying at night.
Momma and me, we never spoke about what Emma had done. Especially to Emma.
The slap was awkward, seeing Emma was in the front seat and I was in the back, but her wedding ring caught me on the cheek and tore my bottom lip. Blood trickled down my chin all over the white V of the dress. I put a hand to my mouth and my fingers came away crimson.
I spit and it landed on her cheek close to her eye. The wad of blood and saliva cut a gooey path down her face and dripped all over the seat of the car. Phillip cussed and slammed on the brakes. The car came to a halt just outside the country road leaving the cemetery.
“Jacqueline!” He turned and made a grab at me. I clocked him in the nose, threw open the door and took off. Rocks bit into the soles of my feet as I slid down the gravel embankment towards the woods. Behind me my sister screamed my name and Phillip made threats.
I didn’t stop running. I couldn’t stop.
All those years ago when Emma left Momma and me, I wasn’t sad. I was sad for Momma and I was sad we were left with nothing, but I’d be a liar if I was to say I missed her. Emma choked me. Contained me. She’d tried to force me into being someone I wasn’t.
When Emma returned after Momma died I almost convinced myself we could make amends. She was my sister, I was supposed to love her and she was supposed to love me. In a matter of moments Emma had become the only family I had left and that alone made me want things to work out.
The steps had squeaked as she walked up the porch and she didn’t knock before opening the front door of the house. She’d raked her gaze over the living room, lingering on the worn out sofa, the battered TV, the pile of books left in a disarray on the shelves. Then she’d looked at me. Disapproval made her expression sour.
I knew then, nothing had changed. I was still the unworthy sibling who she was ashamed of.
Most of all, the person she was determined to change.
Briars tore at the dress, bit into my legs, ripped my skin, leaving burning lines in my flesh. I tripped on a wad of roots jutting up from the wet earth. Mud splashed up on my arms and my face. The second time I fell, bloody skids was left on my knees. The sting left behind was nothing compared to the pain in my soul.
By the time I hit another road my lungs was on fire and my heart skipped a beat against my ribs. Tears made it impossible for me to see the truck. I heard the growl of rubber against rock when the driver slammed on the breaks. The tires cut into the gravel and kicked up a wave of rocks, pelting me in the arms and legs.
A door slammed. “Jesus-fucking-Christ! What the hell do you think you’re doing!”
I burst into tears, hating how the anger and fear made me feel.
“Jack?” Elliot. My best friend, my only friend. A second door slammed shut. Elliot never went anywhere without Mikey. “Jack, look at me. You’re bleeding, what happened?”
“Maybe we should take her to the hospital.”
“No!” I looked at Mikey. “No hospital. Just…just take me back to your place.”
“Jack, I don’t—”
“Shut up, Mikey, and help me get her in the truck.”