Contemporary Drama Sad

“So, are you gonna go back in?”

“Probably not, you?”

“Not if you’re out here.” That was the first conversation Amanda had with her sister that felt genuine. They both stood there in the funeral home parking lot, both seeking refuge from family neither of them had seen in decades. Margret was draped in navy, not wanting to go through the trouble of purchasing the correct colours, while Amanda was practically dripping in ink. Their familial relation would be a surprise to anyone who met them separately, sometimes it shocked (even appalled) them as well. The soft respectful music played from where the lunch was being served, a song that seemed to be played from the howls of memories. More ghosts than grief both of them concluded. Yet they stood out in the midafternoon sun to avoid the dread of those walls.  

Margret fiddled with her purse, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She raised them to her sister, whose nose was slightly pulled up.

“I only have one, wanna share?” Amanda had quit before the kids were born, but the stress was just enough to cause for relapse in her mind. As she took a deep inhale, embracing the once familiar warmth.

“Did you eat?” Amanda said as she watched some traffic rush by, passing the cigarette back to her.  

“Not really. To be honest I ate before I came.” Margret spoke, shifting her weight in heels that were yet to be broken in. “Plus, I heard great aunt Patricia was catering. Didn’t want to risk food poisoning.” The joke seemed to hover in the air, both unsure if it was time for such things.

“I suppose.” That was as gleeful as the eldest would allow herself to be. A door could be heard opening, they both held their breath without even thinking. But it was only an employee that seemed too preoccupied to pay them any mind. They let themselves somewhat relax, though their eyes still avoided the others. It had been a couple of years since the two of them shared oxygen, and when they had there was always a Christmas tree not too far away. Their last conversation was about the woman in the urn, it ended the way most of these sorts of talks do; one was in denial and the other was ready to dig the grave. Both wanted to help of course, but, neither of them knew how.

Now seemed like the time when these sorts of fights bubble over, finger pointing, blame in trade of grief. But, both women were too tired for such indulgences, whether that be from jet lag or toddlers, to bring out the hatchet seemed as useful as a butter knife. A light tobacco haze around them eased both of their frail consciences.

“It was a beautiful service. Too bad we did not know about this place when dad died.” Margret was growing increasingly uncomfortable, however, still thought this was better than those weeping and trading gossip over egg salad.

“They just opened up a year ago, I was here for Austen’s grandfather’s funeral.”

“Good timing then.” Amanda snapped her head towards her sister, a slight curl to her lip. “No, that isn’t what I meant. It’s just, it’s just nice here. Mom dreaded the other place, so it’s good you found here.” Margret hushed herself with another inhale of smoke. Her sister could not help but soften her gaze at the bumbling words.

“She made me drive around all week to find the perfect cemetery. The way she was talking to them, you would think I would have had to hire movers.” The finicky manner of the deceased made both of them smile, though the thread lifting the corners of their lips lost tension.

“She didn’t want to be with dad?” Amanda shrugged at the idea.

“No, I told her we already paid for a family plot. But she said she didn’t want to go into a box.”

“Can’t say I blame her.” More cars rushed by, some pulling to the side for fast food across the road. “Though, it is ironic.”

“How so?”

“Are you kidding me? How many times did she yell at us about how one day we’d be sobbing over her tombstone because we were such horrible devils?” The correct answer to that question was that it was almost every interaction they had with her. Amanda did not even want to bring up that on the drive to the third cemetery, her mother repeated the catchphrase ‘I’m sure you wanted this to happen’. How when she rolled the wheelchair into the office, she had lied about forgetting something in the car so she could let out a quick sob. But, she did not want to speak ill of the dead, especially not about her.

“I mean, we were a handful. She didn’t mean it.” Margret did not even try to hide her disgust.

“Don’t make excuses for her. That woman only derived happiness if everyone else was miserable.”

“You can’t say that Margret. It was hard for her.” Now facing her, shoulders raised, that butter knife looking more tempting. “You wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“Oh right because your life is so hard, you white-picket martyr!” It was a fight they have had before, the insults pre-planned in shower arguments and therapy sessions. But this time it felt different, more akin to performance than an actual conflict. They felt like they should have been mad at the other. However, the well they were drawing from had long since dried out, leaving them with the motions and nothing more. Margret took another puff, then gestured for her sister to take it. She did. “It was a nice service. I’m not sure why you let George speak.”

“He told me he was twelve weeks sober, and I was not expecting the singing either.” They both smirked at had what occurred only a couple of hours prior, silently admitting it was the most entertaining thing that had happened today.

“Becca’s speech was cute though.” Amanda smiled.

“I don’t even think she knows what’s going on. This morning she asked if we were going to visit Grandma on the way home.” Her voice trailed off, the cars once again grabbing her attention. Margret wanted to know if her niece thought this was just a family reunion where mostly everyone was wearing black. The soft shake in her sister made her know not to press the topic further, instead, she got closer to her. She was going to initiate a hug, but Amanda fought to pull herself out of it as quickly as possible. Trading the connection for smoke and ash. “You should have been here sooner.” She thought it was easier to take the attention off of her, it helped keep her distance from the reality that was slowly settling in.

“I didn’t think she wanted me here.” Margret’s last conversation with her mother was a series of guilt trips that went off a cliff. Part of her wondered if this was her mom’s last jab at her, how that hospital had a cure for whatever she had but she refused…just to prove a point. In all honesty, she was surprised her sister was so composed. Their frail mother had taken over her home shortly after their dad had passed, demanding more attention than the baby.

But, her sister took it all, because she was a good daughter. She herself was nothing more than dust in the wind, who wanted this to happen to her dear sweet mother. She chalked this up to the fact that there are only so many trophies you can win before the relationship of mother and daughter feels transactional. All those times she had to put her life on pause because that went against her mother’s plans, having to redo all her mother’s mistakes. Being her mirror, all while a hairbrush waiting to be thrown her way, when she did not achieve what was predestined for her. How the only way she could get out was to move across the country, still feeling like she was only one wrong move away before a total collapse. That is why she did not answer the call that night, she saw her phone light up with her sister’s number and she just let it ring. Not because she was busy, but because she thought the less she knew the less it would hurt. The real pain came when she realized she was wrong.

“She kept asking for you.”

“Really?” Amanda silently hated her sister for asking this, how many times had she heard her mother wailing her name? All those sleepless nights wondering what more she could do to help, she and her husband had already drained a good portion of their savings into her treatment, only for her to spit out pills and refuse to do anything the doctor pleaded her to. All her sister did was call on her birthday and maybe (if she felt like it) took her out for coffee to give Amanda some semblance of a break. And for that, she was the golden child, her mother’s baby. She thought it best to not respond instead she just passed the cigarette. Something her sister was eager to use as a pacifier. 

The music from inside tried its best to cover up the crying, but that sort of music seemed only capable of accentuating the agony. They all missed her, people who hardly dealt with her were now asking God why he made the choice that he did. Though some of them only did this to outdo the other, however, some of them felt so raw the sisters felt guilty for not being able to replicate that. They did not want to go back into the room with the projector that had a slideshow presentation about their mother’s life. To look at their younger counterparts in her arms with big smiles, those pictures made their stomachs fill with helium. To remember those times were a punch in the gut, out here they were safe, safe from everyone telling them that she had gone too soon. About how she was in a better place now, with their dad smiling down upon them. ‘She only smiled in pictures’ is what they would tell them if they were being partially honest, even they could not help but wonder if their mother’s eyes were warped by their own. But did that even matter now?

Now they were strangers tied together by resentment and half-remembered stories, sharing a cigarette because both are too afraid to be in the same room as an urn.  She was in an urn, and they still talked like at any moment she would turn the corner, neither of them was sure if they would have wanted that. The first tear was shed when they realized that was not even an option, the second was of an unknown origin. Grief is what everyone around them told them it was, both were too stubborn to agree; they were their mother’s daughters.

Margret looked at her sister once more. Seeing this woman, this perfect being who always knew what to do, just looking completely lost. She was just a scared little girl, just like how she felt. A realization that made her jaw unclench.

“I heard you are taking her ashes home with you.” Amanda snapped out of her trance to follow her sister’s voice.

“Yeah, thought we would put her on the mantel.” She caught herself and laughed, “God, I’m talking about my mother like she is just another piece of home décor.” She gestured for the cigarette back, her wish was granted.

“I mean, it is a nice urn.”

“It better be, she picked the most expensive one.”

“She did have a flare for the dramatic, remember those plays we would put on for her?” They laughed.

“Jesus, I forgot about those, remember how she would always pluck flowers from the garden to give us when it was done.”

“Then she’d yell encore! And we would go till we were hardly able to stand upright.” More tears were coming now, neither of them acknowledging them. Amanda smiled, her too accepting that she really did need her sister’s company right now.

“The kids would put on plays for her, Becca would get the dog and put Milo on him. I thought it was dangerous, but mom thought it was hilarious.” They both felt insane, knowing that these laughs were holding back the pain. A pain they knew would not necessarily go away, but, be buried by their own lives. But never gone. That is not why they were crying, they were crying because they missed their sister. They were mourning the relationship they were never allowed to have with each other, all because their parent’s made mistakes that they would probably not admit to (dead or alive). The worst part was that their own hands were not so clean.

The laughing continued, first demure in nature now resembling a flock of geese, some people did look at them, others looked at the urn wondering how that woman was laughing beyond the grave. Amanda’s husband was tempted to go check on his cackling wife, but saw that she was being wrapped tight in her sister’s arms and was grateful that it looked affectionate.

“You shouldn’t take her.” Margret was finally able to squeeze out a sentence.


“It’s just, I don’t think that’s what she wanted.”

“Why? You want her?”

“Mom hated planes when she was alive, do you really think she’d prefer customs?”

“She’d haunt you just for thinking that. But why shouldn’t I take her?”

“Because you’ve done enough, I think both of us have.” Amanda was slightly taken aback by this notion.

“I mean I wouldn’t say that?” To her a daughter’s duties were never done, it was just what you did. You did it because that was expected of you, it was your purpose. You take care of family, even when they are ashes.

“I would, regardless of how you feel about mom, you should honor her last wish.” Amanda felt some offense to that statement, she had followed her mother’s instructions to a tee. Even wearing the dress she had picked out for the inevitable event.

“I’m sorry what?”

“She said she did not want to be in a box, right?”

“Right, that’s why she was cremated.”

“How is an urn any different from a box?” The cigarette was a nub now, though Margret still wanted one last breath.  “Maybe we should let her go.” Amanda wanted to protest this, she felt like she had to. How she had to keep her mother as close as possible for as long as possible. But is that what either of them wanted? Her mother was not an easy woman to satisfy, even she would agree to this, and her children were her life. A life that was over, not forgotten, but over. Amanda imagined her mother over the fireplace, where she would complain it was too hot or too drafty. How there was only one place that left her speechless.

“I know a spot.” She took what was left of the cigarette from her sister’s hand and stomped it out, letting it join the ashes that had gathered at their feet. After rushed goodbyes and a quick explanation of what was going to occur, they both jumped into a rented car and sped off. They drove till Amanda shouted “Here!” causing Margret to get startled and slam on the breaks, the car now waiting for further instructions. The field was vast, the sun now shining at them straight on, the golden light made their hair flutter back. The urn was lighter than expected, it all felt so small when looking at all of the flowers. The wild kinds that they always had in their rooms, dried and fresh alike. They looked at one another.

“It’s beautiful.” Margret sounded out of breath as she spoke, her eyes chasing the horizon.

“When we were looking for a cemetery with the ‘right feeling’, the only moment she was quiet is when we went past here.”   

“We got here at a good time.”

“We should have come here sooner.” And with the breeze, their mother had left them. It was the first time both of them felt true relief, no longer having to live up to some invisible standard where the rules were never explained. They grieved in a way that felt right, by just standing in silence and enjoying the flowers.   

August 12, 2022 00:23

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