It’s that time of month again – Flash Fiction Week!
I’d like to promise you won’t have to read about a funeral next month, but I already know you’ll be visiting the bedside of a dying woman instead. Is that better, worse, or about the same?
These stories have been on my heart and mind because the theme of the next book I’ll be publishing is grieving families.
This month’s story follows:
No one sees ghosts at a funeral.
Magenta rosebuds and baby pink carnations brightened the room, flanking a board of photographs. One funeral arrangement looked much the same as another.
A toothless baby grinned from a black and white photo. Another picture showed two tow-headed girls with similar full faces, one with short curls and the other with smooth, shiny tresses to her shoulders and a fringe of bangs across her forehead.
The blonde hair changed to a dishwater fluff as hairstyles progressed through the decades. In every picture, the wide smile flashed. Life beamed from the face of the girl who became a woman, wife, mother. Eventually, the hair streaked with gray and shortened to a chin-length bob, no longer shiny but still smooth. Wrinkles framed the eyes and mouth, but still she smiled.
Two dozen people littered the pews in the funeral home’s small chapel. She’d been here for countless memorial services. Now, she attended one final time.
Off to the side, the two handsome boys from the photographs sat surrounded by their five children. One dashed away a few tears as two lovely teenage girls burrowed into his sides. Three granddaughters and two grandsons. She’d been blessed to bask in the joy of grandparenting for nearly two decades.
Did one expect more tears at a funeral? She recalled telling them not to cry but to make jokes.
A smart phone faced the front of the room where her older son stood reading the eulogy. She’d written that a couple years ago while organizing her funeral in a fit of forward thinking. Did that forethought ease their stress?
On the screen of the phone, a bald, aged man with a bandage on one side of his head watched the proceedings with bloodshot brown eyes. Then she remembered: the dinner with cousins, a truck barreling out of nowhere, noise and glass and darkness.
He survived. That made her glad. The boys would need their dad, and the grands loved Pop.
The young pastor told a few anecdotes about her work at the church. His sermon about Heaven barely took enough time for her to weave her way around a handful of friends, only two clenching tissues and dabbing their faces. A few cousins sat in a clump, dry-eyed. In the front row, her sister and nephew leaned on each other, and a tear or three furrowed through the lines on her sister’s face.
This is what happened when a person worked from home. No one knew you, and the news of your death didn’t draw a crowd.
When the pastor opened the floor for sharing, one cousin relayed a memory from their years in bowling league, five years past. The nephew shared about competitive game playing from his childhood.
An ominous silence fell. Her life had been a vapor, and about as impactful. The reason people didn’t attend their funerals dinged like a light bulb. Knowing her life hadn’t mattered, a thought more depressing than death.
Music swelled. The final song, one she’d loved since her younger brother passed away and she pictured him walking the shores of Heaven. Now, her grandparents and parents waited above, too. She wasn’t certain why she hadn’t crossed over since she’d never believed in ghosts.
Dead and gone. That’s how this part of life worked.
People streamed in single file past the box which held her ashes. Would her husband keep them? Or would he spread them on their favorite walking trail in Mt. Hood National Forest?
Soon, only the family remained. Her sons hugged their aunt and cousin. The daughters she’d gained through love held hands with their youngest children, 15 and 16 now. Nearly grown. She hated to miss their graduations and weddings.
“Great job with the photographs,” the oldest said, pushing her gray-streaked black hair behind one ear.
“She had most of them saved in a file folder.”
Organized to the very end.
“I wanted to say something,” her oldest grandson said. His chocolate eyes swam in tears. “But I knew I’d cry.”
His younger sister hugged him. “It’s okay to cry. We all miss her.”
They missed her? Something fluttered to life in the center of her chest.
“She always believed in me. Encouraged every interest I had.” He sniffed, and his cousin pressed a tissue into his hand. “I knew nothing I did ever disappointed her. That helped me be confident even when I wasn’t.”
Side hugs from his cousins but his younger brother held back, his eyes red and misty.
“There was no one like her,” the oldest granddaughter said.
“And her laugh,” said her youngest son as his watery smile faltered.
“I’ll miss hearing that,” her stoic oldest son’s deep voice carried truth and wistfulness.
“I made a list of her favorite jokes,” said one of the twin cousins, as she’d called the two girls born to different parents only four days apart.
“She made a list,” said the other twin. “Just like Lolly would.”
The dam of chatter burst and swirled around her. It tingled along her skin and banished thoughts of disappointment. Her family loved her even though they would survive without her. Hadn’t she wanted to raise independent children?
The current of conversation swept them past the photos and out the door, until only the youngest remained. He fumbled in his pocket, unaware his mother lingered beside the exit, watchful.
“I wrote a story for you.” His hoarse voice quavered. “I’m going to be a writer. Like you.”
His gaze lingered on the most recent photograph, fingers brushing the quill engraved on the box.
Her hand grazed his, reaching for the colorful comic “Lolly Saves the Metaverse.”
He paused, looking straight at her but through her.
The door clicked. Her vision blurred and faded, along with her body and thoughts.
No one sees ghosts at funerals because the smart ones never attend.