Authors: Nuria Solano
A year before her death, Marta had her will done and her funeral prepared. So when with only forty-eight years the accident ended her life, her daughter Sonia didn't have to deal with just about anything.
She got the terrible news while at the office. A phone call from the civil guard. She said yes to everything they asked her, and when she hung up she kept entering data into the computer for a couple of minutes. She stopped suddenly and began to mourn.
There was no other family her brother Philip and her, he lived in France and they barely had any contact. There were many friends, yes, and acquaintances to whom she had to tell the news. Sonia did this with shame, accepting every sympathy with growing disgust and in her head, the feelings of sadness and loss were mixed with some annoyance at her mother. They had maintained for very long a cordial and sporadic contact. One or two pretty formal calls at month, and eat together three or four times a year. That had been all. Sonia's life was settled, and finally seemed to take a path that she alone had decided, without such maternal inference that made her insecure. Her death didn't come at all at a good time. What nonsense! Although a resentment kept bothering her with that idea.
She reconsidered about what she had to deal with, and what she still had to get done, like the speech she still had to write, and read aloud in front of all those people! Her brother, as always, would arrive the very same day of the funeral, finding everything done.
She thought also about Lolo, the coworker with whom she had been flirting for countless months, and who finally asked her for a sort of date the following weekend. She'd have to cancel it, of course. Her mother's deadth really came in bad time for Sonia.
They had to do the autopsy on the body, and finally the paperwork got a bit complicated. Dori, her mother's lapdog friend, offered to help, although it seemed to Sonia that she actually interfered, getting hit and overwhelmed at every tiny mishap.
Felipe came -as expected- just to accompany the coffin to the cemetery. He kissed twice to his sister, and she replied just to be polite.
"Thank you for having taken care of everything. I haven't been able to arrive earlier. It was very complicated. You cann't imagine", he said distressed.
"You haven't changed, Felipe" was her curt reply.
When they arrived at the cemetery chapel, Sonia was surprised to see so many people. Did her mother really deserved all that appreciation? She placed herself in the front pew and wept. That's it. It all was about to end.
The priest red an anodyne sermon. A rehash that tryed to accommodate what little he had heard about the deceased a few hours before. Still, his tone, exercised many times, seemed to thrill a few assistants. He also red a few paragraphs from the Old Testament that were not related to Marta, who, in fact, was never a believer. Sonia was glad she had prepared something more personal. After rewriting it again and again, she was satisfied with what she had to say. It seemed to her sincere and deep.
Dressing in dark colours and with no makeup, she got to the lectern, near the coffin, and looked at the audience. For a moment she felt brave. There was her brother with an indefinite grimace. A french woman was with him, she had dark hair, smooth white skin, and a bulky body inappropriatedly inlaid in a green dress. There were some of her mother co-workers, many of them came by commitment, also her last partner (Sonia had trouble remembering the names of many "ex", although this had lasted a couple of years), Dori, her lifetime subject-friend, some people she knew by sight, and many others she hadn't seen before.
She placed her speechon the lectern, cleared her throat and red: "It's being said, if we compare ourselves with the stars, we are nothing. That thought never made me feel relieved.
My mother was only one person, but she always struggled for not being just one more. She tried to take charge of her life in this men's world, without having to depend on any of them. But without understanding that today is still not possible to do that.
It is true that often she didn't get what she wanted, and her frustration splashed on the lifes of those who were close, but thanks to her persistence and will, sometimes she succeeded, and thought that what it was good for her, would also be good for the rest of us. That wasn't always true.
I had all her love, even after disappoint her for rejecting to be like her, and I still wonder where she could find the strength to cope alone with two children, and also get for herself something more than a enslaved life. I don't know if before she died, she was satisfied with what she had achieved. Possibly not. She never was. But I think that her achievements, after so many years of effort, were far superior to the aspirations of an ordinary woman.
Now you can rest, Marta."
She returned to her seat. An official pressed a few buttons on the wall, and dark curtains were drawn aside automatically, that uncovered a hole in the wall. The coffin, placed just in front of it, moved by a mechanism that had been invisible, and disappeared behind the curtains. In just a couple of hours the ashes would be ready for delivery. To Sonia, that automatic and harmless mechanism gave her tranquility.
Felipe and she stood by the open door of the chapel to receive the audience's sympathy. Outside, several stone steps down, a large patio with worn granite flooring and moss between the cracks was waiting. The morning light came as a hurtful gush. For some reason she thought about the schoolyard when she was little. One by one they passed by. She noticed abashment on many of them from the proximity of death. The same she had the first day. Not knowing what to say. The futility of any coment. However, some words seemed sincere, and touched her, but most were courtesy. When Felipe said goodbye to her, only a few people remained in the courtyard. That place, that light, appeased her. Finally the priest told her comforting words that had no effect and left. She was about to go to her car when she was approached by her mother's last partner.
"I know you and Marta were not best friends", said the man in a thoughtful voice. "Although there has been something in your speech that made me think, and I wanted to tell you something."
Sonia looked at him puzzled. The man's face showed he had met a different Marta, not the one who gave a terrible childhood to a little girl who always wondered why there was no father. For a moment she wondered if it was her who didn't wanted to see in her mother a another woman, other than the one to blame for her failures and her cautious personality.
"Well, your mother and I were doing quite well. She seemed happy, that's why, even when I knew she hated commitment, I asked her to formalize somehow our relationship. Not necesarily getting married, or anything, but at least with a minimum sense of commitment or abidance from the two of us. Since we met, uncertainty was for me the worst part of our relationship. I never got a clear answers from her when I talked about it, and she'd assured me that it was better to live for the moment. So when I asked her to tell me at least if she felt she could be with me for a while, besides than what she felt like waking every morning, she got angry and said it was best to end it. "End what?", I asked. Without answering, she left. Half an hour later, her car had crashed with a tree".
Sonia was silent, her mouth slightly open. She didn't know what to say.
"Until now, nobody knew that your mother and I were no longer together. It seemed silly to mention it but, as I said, there was something in your words that made me tell you".
Without waiting for an answer, the man turned and walked away.
Sonia still stayed a long time in the courtyard alone. She leaned on a low wall from which a rusty iron grille grew, and closed her eyes. The sun had warmed the stone. She cried a little, but she was not sad, just touched. She thought there was something wrong in being there alone after her mother's funeral having no one with her. That's what she thought, but she didn't feel helpless at all. She was comfortable that way.
Lolo's date was weird. They had postponed it for two weeks. He was very friendly, as if he wanted to comfort her, but for some reason he seemed absent. They went to the movies to see a romantic comedy that she had chosen, and then dined some tapas. All too casual for her dress and makeup. She also was wearing her new Tous purse for the first time. She had bought it especially for that ocassion. He just had a bit of haircream, and wore everyday clothes. He talked about hiking and its benefits, and suggested they could walk a trail together with other coworkers. He also talked about reading the classics, business movements in the stock market, and about a dog he had when he was a kid, named Toby! Marta hid her yawns while she waited for the conversation to become more personal. But on Lolo's side there was no intention to get close, to get more intimate than at work. "He doesn't dare because it's been only a few days after my mother's death, but he will for sure in our next date", Sonia thought. There was no other date. In fact, Lolo was getting distanced at work, and a few months later Sonia learned from a coworker that he was dating another woman. An old friend from childhood. "Surely she remembers Toby", Sonia thought.
In her living room, by the window, she remember that time, amazed to realize that more than three years have passed ever since. On that saturday afternoon, she was browsing, indolent, some photos from her vacation in Prague. He had done that trip -with part of the money that Marta lefther-, trying to shake off her failure with Lolo. It was in early autumn, on an organized tour. And while traveling alone, she joined soon two other girls. She thought she was having a good time. They went on tours together, laughed and took all those photos. They even went on a night adventure, and one of her friends left with a guy. "Those were the silliest holiday. I could have used that money for something more fruitfull", Sonia thought as she closed the album. She hadn't wanted to know anymore about those girls, even though they tryed to keep in touch for a while. It gave her some creeps remembering her return to the work, when she talked about the wonders of Prague in a huddle where Lolo was not invited. Those exclusion attempts were useless. A few weeks later Lolo moved to the new offices, and she never heard from him anymore. Actually, she hardly had though about him in more than two years. Who was in her mind was Jaime, and he was the reason that Saturday she was eyeing those photos. Suddenly, like angry, Sonia put the thick album in her lap and reopened it several pages later. Her life condensed in those images. The open smile framed in a graying beard, and Jaime's protective embrace around her shoulders. The photos trembled. Sonia lifted the album from her jittery legs and breathed deeply. "This happens to me for quiting smoking at the wrong time". Two months can be very much, or very little, it depends on how you look at it. The emergency pack awaited hidden in a drawer. She resisted. Sonia had met Jaime at the supermarket. He was a mature man, twelve years older than her. A gentleman; protective and affectionate. They both started going gorcery shopping the same day at the same time to meet as if by chance. Divorced, with two kids overseas, executive. About all this, only the latter proved to be true. Sonia left him as she knew. It wasn't enough for Sonia, to forgive him, the fact that Jaime was confesing it to declare his love and explain that he would leave his family to be with her. "Yes, I have a lighter in the kitchen." Sonia stood up and in a few moments returned with a pack of snuff and the lighter. She put them on the table and, after looking at them for a moment, said "no". The trip to Florence, the getaway weekends to those romantic hotels. "No," said Sonia again. The sincerity of the tears that she had never seen before, or the memory of the fatherly attitude that she had longed so much, were not enough to change her mind. "No". Only a few minutes ago Jaime had called her imploring an opportunity. Sonia left the phone ringing, and later heard the voicemail. "No". The streets were empty and silent, like confused in that hour that is neither evening nor night, and where the streetlights and neon signs haven't awakened yet to signal the begining of dinners and bars bustles. Sonia looked again at the pack. "No," she murmured. Gifts and flowers meant nothing compared to her deception. The backlighting from several thin clouds stained the last radiance of the sky. "Fuck. I don't have to give up on this". Sonia lit a cigarette and puffed long and slow. In that deep silence, the sound of the tobacco burning away made her shudder. She opened her mouth and blew the endless smoke. She thought, "Now I'll have to find another supermarket, but I'll miss the frozen products department."