I know I’m late to the party so I’m trying to make up for lost and ill-spent time. Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds gave a flash fiction challenge to write, 1000 words or less, a short story about death however we see fit. So here it is.
I was sitting on my bedroom floor with the door open and half-eavesdropping on my grandmother and mother’s conversation. I was also surreptitiously thumbing through the June 1998 Playboy I had “borrowed” from under my father’s bed. I really had meant to put it back, but once it had passed through my friends and my sticky fingers I thought it best to keep.
My mother had ordered me to my room because she and Nana had to talk. My mother had hardly asked, “What do you want?” than my grandmother responded with the blunt end of a five pound mallet.
Who is, I wondered. My mother seemed to know, because she didn’t say anything.
“They found him – the police were called, no one had seen him or heard from him so Mrs. Lacava asked Joe DiMici – you know, Carol’s husband at the department – if someone could do a, what do you call it, a welfare check.”
“I don’t care.” My mother’s words were poison. My ears perked up. Donna D’Errico, Pam Anderson, and the other “Babes of Baywatch” pictorial figures were much less interesting.
“She probably was getting nervous that she wouldn’t get the rent check – Mrs. Lacava if you follow what I’m saying. So they went in and found him on the floor…”
My mother cut in. “I don’t care,” she repeated, and again as my grandmother kept telling her the story. Their voices gathered into a crescendo that would have thundered through my bedroom door, if I’d closed it.
“Goddamnit, Jane. The bastard’s dead. He was bloated and lying on the floor for days. They’ll never get the smell out. I want you to finally move on with your life!”
“I don’t want to hear another word, ma. I don’t want you to open your mouth. If you think I’m happy he’s dead – well I am – but if you think that changes the past thirty years, washes away what he did to me – what he did to our family – you are wrong. Naïve and wrong.”
* * *
After my grandmother had left, after my mother cooked my sister and me dinner, after the dishes were put into the dishwasher, I heard my mother’s voice in the kitchen. She mentioned “Jane,” and I knew she was on the phone with my aunt – her sister-in-law.
“She said it so matter-of-factly, ‘He’s dead’. I knew immediately she was talking about him. The phone call that she wanted to talk, her face, that tone she gets; I knew right away who she meant.” The dishwasher drowned out as much of her conversation as it cleaned the place settings, but pieces of information came through. “She said it and acted as though it absolved her somehow… he’s burning in hell if there’s any justice…I can’t imagine anyone would go to a service…”
She talked and I listened from the hallway, inching closer to the kitchen, ducking into the bathroom in the event of discovery. I listened as the anger built in her voice and overshadowed even the rinse cycle. Until my eyes stung and my lips tasted salt.
I listened, and I learned that my oldest cousin had the misfortune of sharing the same name as my mother’s father’s younger brother. He shared the name of child molester, and a dead one at that; who was found bloated on the floor of his shitty apartment that he lived in alone, and where he would have stayed undiscovered if not for a tiny Italian lady looking for her rent check, or until someone complained about the smell. And I squeezed my fists as I tiptoed to my room before I dared to breathe, and every breath carried a prayer that the dead man was in fact burning in hell.