The day went by as a procession of footsteps, blurred clothing streaking across her vision as bodies walked back and forth, praying, offering assistance, giving condolence. From dawn to dusk, she cried a river of tears on shoulders, into coat sleeves, and damp, balled up tissues. And when her eyes dried and burned like salt, a hoarse, guttural wail she didn’t recognize escaped her throat, and underneath the sobs, her entire core shuddered.
Her friends and family surrounded her. Their hands caressed her. Their words cooed her. Her church family came to her aid. They spoke God’s tongue. “To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord,” they proclaimed. “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in times of trouble,” they consoled. “Let the peace of God transcend all understanding,” they comforted. Despite the love all around her, Leslie felt completely and utterly alone.
Finally, as the evening approached and the crowd started to dwindle, she collapsed on the couch and lay motionless. She felt as if she had become the couch and the weight of herself sat on top of her, pushing her down into the springs and boards. She plucked at the bags underneath her eyes, the skin raw from lack of sleep and ceaseless crying since that dreadful morning four days ago when the cardiologist announced they couldn’t resuscitate, that Antonio, her soulmate, the man she spent twenty years of her life with, was gone.
“Get up.” A slap on her knee jerked her upright. Her mother stood over her, hair pulled back into a high bun. She pointed her cane toward the kitchen. “Pull yourself together for them boys.”
Tony and Gregory were sitting at the kitchen table. She had assigned them both tasks in preparing for their father’s funeral. Tony was in charge of keeping record of all the gifts—who brought flowers, who brought food, who signed the guestbook. Eventually, she would have to write all those people “thank you” cards. An arduous mountain climb she couldn’t imagine tackling for another month. Gregory was given the job of writing Antonio’s eulogy. He slouched in his chair, tapping the eraser of his pencil against the blank sheet of paper in front of him.
“They need you to be strong,” her mother urged. “They lost a father. Some would say that’s more significant.”
Leslie let out an exasperated sigh, but she knew her mother was right. She pulled herself to her feet, feeling heavy, as if emerging wet from a pool, side-stepped her mother, who took her place on the couch, and joined her sons in the kitchen.
“I can’t do this,” Gregory said, wiping his eyes. “Can’t you give it to Tony?”
Tony looked up from his doodling in the guestbook. “You crying, boy?”
“Tony,” Leslie warned sharply. She stood behind Gregory, rubbed and kissed the crown of his head. “Yes you can, sweetheart. Just say whatever’s on your mind.”
“That’s the thing. I can’t think of anything.”
Leslie lowered her head into her son’s, kissing him again, over and over. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to hold back the next wave of tears. “Oh, precious boy, yes you can.”
“Man, can I go?” Tony huffed.
Leslie winced at his tone. She shook her head, reminding herself that he was a teenager, that his nonchalant attitude could be a form of grief. “Did you write down everything people brought?”
“Yes,” he said quickly with a loud exhale. Leslie didn’t believe him, but she let him go anyway, not wanting to deal with his stubbornness in her current state of mind.
She returned her attention the Gregory. She leaned over his shoulder, took his hand in hers and held the pencil upright. “Remember when you and your dad used to fix things around the house?”
“Come on, honey. I can’t do this alone.” Gregory was never one without words. Always asking questions, eager to learn. He hung on his father’s every word, repeating everything he said, and living by it. Unlike Tony, Leslie and her husband rarely had to discipline Gregory, or repeat themselves several times before he would finally do what they asked. This was new territory for her. With her world already shaken, she tried to disguise her frustration. “What’s one lesson you remember him teaching you? One that you will always hold on to?”
“I don’t know, Mom!”
The ground under her feet began to vibrate as Tony returned to the kitchen, dribbling his basketball between his legs.
“What did I tell you about bouncing that ball?”
“Ok, Mom!” He stuffed the ball under his arm and left out of the back door.
“Can I go with Tony?”
“No, you need to finish.”
“I told you, I can’t!” He pushed his chair back from the table, knocking Leslie off her balance and into the cabinets behind her. He stormed past his grandmother who had come to the doorway of the kitchen, hunched over her cane. Leslie started to follow him, but the older woman raised her hand to stop her.
“You told me to be strong for them!” Leslie cried, but her voice cracked. All of her strength had left her, she had no crutch to lean against, and the greatest testing of her faith, Antonio’s funeral, was still yet to come.
Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. prologues, character sketches (2), outlines, and in the case of this post, backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!