She stands before the mirror, staring blankly at the reflection of a woman she has never met. With trembling hands, she unclips the silver hoops from her ears and places them carefully in the jewelry box. The matching necklace is next. It slithers from her neck and crumples into a pile of links in her palm. She pours the chain into the box. Her rings follow. She wrestles each one over the knuckle and drops them all beside the chain. The jewelry belongs to someone else, a different woman, and she is happy to shed that woman, like a snake sheds its skin.
She steps into the adjoining ensuite bathroom and discards her clothing, ripping at the garments and dropping them to the floor. She will never wear these clothes again and she kicks them to one corner.
The water in the shower is steaming hot, and she welcomes its painful sting as it sears her icy flesh. It is only when the heat steams up the shower stall in a heavy fog, that the tears finally fall.
The church was full by the time she arrived. The last time she had arrived at a full church was on her wedding day. Today was not her wedding, although she had selected the dress with care. Ice blue and ruffled. There was no other choice.
Father Greg greeted her with his somber eyes, and she smiled her thanks. The expression felt stiff and awkward on her face, but she knew the ritual of greeting. Say hello, express your gratitude, smile. She allowed the priest to lead her to the front of the church, where Steven was waiting. The last time he was at the front of the church waiting for her was also on her wedding day. Ironic.
In the last six months, Steven had slowly withdrawn until he had become a stranger. That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger. Well, their marriage was not strong enough. He walked out a month ago, just when she needed him. He’d said he was sorry, he’d said he wished he had more to give. Empty words. Seeing him today should have hurt, but she felt nothing.
She sat next to him, eyes fixed forward.
He took her hand in his. “How are you Lara?”
Her hand was cold compared with his warm fingers, and her voice was icy cool as she replied with a polite, “I’m OK.”
Was she Ok? She supposed she had to be. It was a facade, and she knew it, a fragile front she showed the world. A brittle shell that contained all her ugly broken bits. Lara knew she was being watched, could feel the eyes on her, staring into the back of her head, peering with morbid curiosity into her soul. She would not give them anything to see. No drama, no hysteria. She was too broken for those dangerous emotions.
The stirring from the church foyer indicated that it was about to begin. They had arrived. Lara’s stomach dropped. She could feel the blood drain from the cheeks and her head spun. It was happening. It was really beginning now. As much as she dreaded it, she needed this. Needed it over.
The music started, and Father Greg invited everyone to stand. She stood. Not a tremor, not a waver. Her legs obeyed on autopilot.
Dry-eyed, she turned to watch the six men, her brother and Steven’s brother among them, wheel the small casket down the aisle toward the altar. Some part of her, the part outside of herself, listened to the music as it played ‘Heimr Àrnadalr’ the beautiful choral piece that was played at Queen Elsa’s coronation. Frozen was Sarah’s favourite Disney movie. The little casket was wrapped in blue snowflakes and images from the Disney classic. Elsa, Ana, Olaf, Sven.
It was so small.
It was left before the altar, alone and cold.
Father Greg incensed the casket. The spicy fumes caused Lara’s eyes to water, but she refused to lift a handkerchief, surreptitiously using a knuckle to cast away the moisture instead.
The eulogy was read. Lara focused upon the curve of a snowflake as it caressed the rounded corner of the casket, and did not hear a single word. She didn’t need to. After all, she had written it. She knew Sarah better than any other here. Who else would write it?
The slow procession past the casket began with the usher assisting her to stand and place upon its white top a small posy of lavender tied in a silky blue bow. She put it next to the photo frame of a younger, healthier, smiling Sarah hugging Mitzee, her one eyed moggy. He was a mangy-looking beast, but Sarah loved that cat. He gave her such comfort and joy that Lara couldn’t help but smile. Sarah had taken one look at the battered and scarred creature, declaring him hers, and a mother’s heart just couldn’t say no. Sarah could be stubborn like that, one-eyed, both metaphorically and literally.
When she was eight, cancer had taken Sarah’s eye, but not her ferocious spirit. Out of all the cats in the shelter that day, Sarah had taken the oldest, ugliest, most unlovable one-eyed beast, saying he was different, just like her. After suffering a mother’s anxiety as she awaited the results of the surgery, Lara was ready to give her daughter whatever creature filled her with joy.
Sooner than Lara expected, Idina Menzel’s famous, powerful ballad ‘Let It Go’ rang out through the church. The casket was carefully manoeuvred back down the aisle. To her surprise, Lara realised that she was standing, and the usher directed her to follow the tiny casket. She could feel the press of people filing out behind her, their solemn gazes weighing on her shoulders. Steven walked beside her, bowed with grief, but she held her head high, shoulders rigid.
The soft thud of the rear door on the hearse closing nearly broke her. She wouldn’t let it. The tail lights as the car quietly rolled away threatened to shatter her, but she was resolute.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Nod and smile, “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Kiss and hug, “Thank you.”
“She was a wonderful little trouper.”
Shake a hand, “Thank you.”
Lara lost count of the number of times she said that, ‘thank you’. She wanted to scream, to tell everyone to just bugger off now, but she was scared of being alone. And there was cake, and scones with jam and cream, and tea, mustn’t forget the tea. The Ladies Auxiliary had provided it in the church hall. Mustn’t disappoint the Ladies Auxiliary.
So she smiled, and kissed, and hugged, and thanked, and waited until it was all over.
In her small shower cubicle, blanketed with steam, Lara breaks. At first it is a soft, guttural groan seeping out of the corners of her mouth from behind tightly clenched teeth. It builds in a slow crescendo and becomes a full-blown wail. No one can see her. No one is there to hear, except an old, one-eyed cat, who eyes her from the bed with curious concern.