The Rackets gathered around a gravestone at dusk, a gravestone for one of the most disliked men in Twinbrook. No one really came. No one but family. Is that what we are? Rachel wondered as she stayed a safe distance from Max’s final resting place. Everything had become so chaotic lately, and mixed up. The last time she had seen her father-in-law was when he callously stabbed her in the rib cage in Roaring Heights. It was certainly not the traditional family thing to do. She subconsciously hugged her side, fingering the patterns on her black woolen coat, and could almost feel the stitches burning through the layers of fabric.
Rachel swiped at a stray tear, not a mournful tear, but a how-the-hell-did-I-end-up-here kind-of tear. Bill, her husband, who never once came to see her in the Florsimdia, nudged closer, their black umbrellas provided by the funeral home bumping. It seemed fitting for Max that his graveside service in the Ivy Hill Graveyard would be in the pouring rain. Nature’s way of mourning a loss. No one else really was.
“No one will miss that bastard,” Bill grunted beneath his breath.
Rachel took his arm as a sign of affection. She had missed him, even if they had drifted beyond repair in the last few months. She studied his face, the wrinkles more prominent around his eyes, the stubble growing more harshly along his jawline. The years had not been kind to him. The alcohol, cigarettes, and numerous drugs he did back in his youth further aggravated his hardening appearance. But today he was stone cold sober, not out of obligation to the family, but because he wanted to have the full experience of reveling over his father’s grave. His words, not mine, Rachel thought. She didn’t know how to feel about Max.
She wanted to feel angry. She wanted to burn with rage. She wanted to snap and wail for her lost years and be a thousand miles away from here. But instead she stood as the dutiful wife at her husband’s side, a husband who would not grieve, and who derived a twisted delight out of his father’s death. Bill had even worn white in mocking irony of a man who never truly loved anyone. Rachel felt a deep pit of despair sink into her abdomen as she mourned for the growing life within her – a child who would never have a normal life. Hope was enough, and now the ironic twist of bringing another baby into the world felt more like a sardonic slap to the face than a beautiful blessing.
Bill squeezed her hand. She still hadn’t told him. She wasn’t sure how. She wasn’t sure she wanted to. She wasn’t sure he wanted another kid. She wasn’t sure he loved her anymore. Even so, she leaned into his burly shoulder, and accepted his strange affection. He had been so distant before her trip, and now his mere presence was comforting. If only they could be a normal family…
As she looked around, Rachel accepted the heavy realization that there was no such thing as normal with the Rackets. The funeral had been held in Twinbrook’s only chapel in town, other than the one inside the hospital. Somehow Rachel felt Max did not deserve a “church” service, but it was the only place the funeral home contracted with, and Marigold refused to skip the pomp and circumstance. The funeral home couldn’t have hosted even nine guests – a tiny entryway, bathroom, office, and downstairs an embalming room. The rest of the Rackets may have been okay with dumping Max face-down in a shallow grave, but for his wife’s dignity, they went along with her plans.
Shark had made an appearance, albeit a brief one, arriving with a woman who was clearly a prostitute from Shady’s. She wore far too much makeup for a funeral and her shocking pink fishnet tights beneath a red belted mini skirt and low-cut scoop black blouse was a bizarre choice for a funeral. Even the preacher blinked and coughed while reading his pre-written script when Shark and the lady ducked into the service late. When it came time for the viewing, Shark felt a full mooning of his grandfather’s casket was a necessity before pulling a cigarette from behind his ear and flouncing out the door with his “date.” Although wildly inappropriate, the only one who blushed was the minister. Somehow Shark’s “sentiment” echoed almost everyone’s thoughts about the despicable man.
Silver had received a pass from rehabilitation for the funeral. Rachel thought this to be odd given Silver didn’t seem to like the man. As Silver passed by the casket, she reached out and touched Max’s lifeless hand and whispered something about how Max always tasted strange. Rachel squirmed. This was something she would have rather preferred not to hear. Bill smirked and said something flippant like “Finally croaked, huh? Dad.” Rachel couldn’t put words together, and merely passed by as quickly as possible. Lolly and Sinbad followed behind, Sinbad awkwardly shuffling with his hands in his jean pockets and Lolly lowering her head and kissing her grandfather’s cold forehead. The sweet girl, Rachel thought. Lolly was hope that her own daughter could grow up and be unaffected by the filth and corruption of this family and city. Only Dennis didn’t approach. He sat in the back of the chapel with his head in his hands, wearing a white dinner coat like Bill, but not out of spite. Silver had hissed at him when they arrived and he said he didn’t have time to get a black suit to the cleaners as he was picking her up from the rehabilitation center. Of course, Silver would think about fashion at a time like this.
Silver was much thinner than the last time Rachel had seen the woman. She was dressed in a flapper-era style black fringe dress and gray tights.Her hair had grown out a little, her brown roots showing through the silver strands, probably because she wasn’t allowed to dye her hair in the center. She wore thick black eyeliner and eye shadow with a pouty red lipstick. Rachel noted her wedding ring was conspicuously missing as she waved her arms around dramatically, arguing loudly with her mother-in-law.
Marigold had been in tears most of the day, and Rachel wondered why. She couldn’t imagine feeling grief for the man who shared her bed for forty-seven years but acted like a monster. Perhaps the details of planning the funeral and the logistics of losing her spouse was creating increased confusion and distress for the woman. Rachel wished she could have assisted, but she had barely time to recover and stand upright before Max’s death. She doubted Silver would have helped, and she probably couldn’t have.
Dennis hardly said two words to anyone. He offered hand shakes to the few other guests who came – a war buddy of his dad’s and his wife, the doctor friend of Marigold’s, and the stoic Penny Pincher. He treated everyone with kindness, holding the car door open for his wife, helping Marigold with her umbrella, straightening the tie he loaned to Sinbad. But he remained silent. Once his eyes met with Rachel’s and she saw an inexplicable emotion. Relief, maybe. Sorrow, perhaps. She couldn’t tell. He immediately turned and hugged his daughter, and even shook Sinbad’s hand before closing his umbrella and wandering further in the cemetery, out of sight. Strange emotions of her own bubbled in her innermost being, and she quickly bit her lip and returned her attention to Bill.
“Rach, I screwed up bad,” he was saying.
Somehow she knew in the depths of her heart she was no longer the only one in his life. She wondered if she had ever been.
“I met someone,” he continued.
Bill lifted his weathered hand to his face, pressing his fingers against his cheek as he averted his eyes, staring at the stones on the pavement.
So we’re having this conversation now? she thought, closing her eyes and bracing for the worst. Would he want a separation? They practically already were separated. Would he want a divorce? Would he want to leave her for another woman? Would he want to be the pig she knew him to be in the early days of their relationship and have his cake and eat it too? It wasn’t like she was happy, but she wouldn’t be the wife who stayed while he bopped someone else. She couldn’t. Her heart wouldn’t allow it. She could ignore it for as long as she had, but if he said those words aloud…
“Lolly, I should take off,” Sinbad was saying.
“What, no!?” she cried out, feeling dismayed. “You just got here.”
Sinbad had driven Lolly back to her hometown in his truck after hearing the news. He held her hand while they were sitting through the funeral, and had even come to the graveside with her. Lolly didn’t understand it, but she accepted it. Having him close felt good. Now that she had spoken to all the guests, she had turned to find him again and thank him, hoping to invite him to grab some late dinner with her and perhaps even stay overnight. She would gladly pay for his hotel if he couldn’t afford it. Last night he had slept in his truck. He stood before her now, changed from his fancier attire, having returned the tie to her father, and he looked inexplicably sad. She wondered why.
“What…er…um…” he stammered. “I mean, I shouldn’t be in Twinbrook. It’s not…” he gulped. “…good for me here. I mean, I came for you and stuff…”
“I know you came for me,” she said softly. “I appreciate it.” She took a step toward him. “Sinbad, you’re a good friend.”
He winced, and rubbed the back of his head. “Just a friend?”
Her heart leaped. She figured she would never hear him say the words. She felt a brief flicker of joy in the midst of a depressing day.
“Um… I mean… you’re… you’ve…” he couldn’t say the words he wanted to say, not without offending her. “You…acted like you wanted more from me and shit…” And I want more too.
“Yes,” she breathed out a little too excitedly. “I did. I do. But I didn’t want to push you. And I got some news today.”
“News?” he replied.
“Yeah,” she twisted her heel in the ground. “I got accepted… to Simvard…in Simbridge, Massimchusetts. I got the letter today.”
“Holy shit! Lolly, that’s fantastic!” he exclaimed.
“Really?” she bit her lip. “I mean… yeah, it’s a big deal and all.”
“It’s huge for you, Lolls, I’m happy for you.”
“Well, I start in Simuary.”
“What? Really? So quick? You aren’t going to finish high school?”
“Oh I am. I only need six additional credits because I took classes for the last two summers. I talked with my academic counselor and he worked it out so I can do an independent study and take my final class over Christmas break.”
“But won’t you miss out on your final days as a senior and all, and prom and shit?”
She shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. It’s worth it. I can get out of here sooner then, and prom isn’t that important.”
“If you say so…” he replied. “I mean, I thought girls were into that stuff… you know, the limo and corsage and the dress and shit… and getting their hair and nails done.”
Her eyes widened. Why did he care?
“Well, when you put it that way, I could get a mani-pedi before I leave in the new year,” she laughed.
“What are you going to study?”
“Yeah, I want to be a pharmacist. I’m gonna do the whole med school thing. I think it’s because of my mom partly…” she dropped her head. “…I just wanna do something right.”
“Lolly, you do plenty right.”
“I know, I mean, I couldn’t have done it without you. You tutored me all that time and I did so great. I finished my classes well and I wouldn’t have passed if it weren’t for you. Sinbad, you’re so smart and…”
“…and I really owe it to you. I wouldn’t be pursuing chemistry or even college really… I mean, you said all that stuff about believe in myself and I’m smarter than I know…”
“I said that shit?” he laughed awkwardly.
“I want to do something worthwhile and important and on the up and up and I couldn’t see myself as a doctor or nurse or anything, but maybe I could help people gain access to much needed medicines legally and stuff. I just want to make someone proud.”
“Well, I’m proud of you… kiddo…” he gave her a side hug.
“Thanks,” she smiled, longing to linger in his arms.
He held on. He didn’t let go. She almost stumbled into his arms as he pulled her close, wrapping both arms around her frame. She tucked her head against his neck,her pulse quickening.
“I could get a job,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“A job?” she felt a whirlwind of confusion and elation.
“In Olde Towne… near the university… I’m sure they’ve got uni pubs that’d be willing to give me a hire,” he continued. “And I’ve got a buddy… well, I kinda know this guy from foster care who owes me a big damn favor so I think I could look ‘im up and shit.”
“What do you mean?” she asked quietly.
“Always wanted to go up north. Be a good change of pace for me… for you, really.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Lolly, girl, do I gotta spell it out for you?”
She blinked rapidly, a hint of pink invading her cheeks. “Um… yeah… what are you saying, Sinbad?”
His lips were on hers almost immediately, warmly welcoming her to a place she had dreamed about, a place for all her heart’s desires to find reprieve and love. Real love. The adult kind of love. A place where she would be taken seriously. Her whole world was spinning as she felt as she had never felt before. In that earth-shattering moment, Lolly Racket went from lovesick little girl to a woman blossoming into love.
“I’m saying,” he pulled back, still holding her neck with his hand and heaving as he struggled to catch his breath. “I am in love with you, Lolly.”
Silver stood alone in the cemetery. The pale moon broke through the clouds for a brief moment, casting a strange shadow of her self onto the grass. A low level fog curled around her ankles as she stared into the distance. Bill and Rachel argued quietly nearby. Marigold had walked away muttering something about whiskey and watermelons. The old bat was insane. Good riddance! Silver hadn’t appreciated Marigold’s snide remarks about her presence. She didn’t have to be a bitch about it, Silver thought with a huff.
Truth was she hadn’t attended the funeral to mourn the loss of the dirty old man. But it was a good enough excuse to get out of the hellhole. No, she had come so she could meet her supplier. It had been a long time since she felt a good high. Took the edge off. This day was stressful enough. How did people expect her to get through it without a little Xtal? The man had squeezed into the back row of the chapel wearing a black trenchcoat and a fedora. How very charming mob boss like, she had thought to herself. He wasn’t her usual guy, but she didn’t care. She needed the fix.
He sold her a pinch at the funeral. She went into the bathroom, locked the handicap stall, and sat on the floor. As she sucked into the crystalline dust, Silver slipped out of her obnoxious heels allowing her nyloned feet to rub across the tiles. She felt euphoric. She felt free. She felt like she wanted more. She texted the man again. She knew she wasn’t supposed to, but she didn’t care. She hadn’t felt this good in months. This time she requested a pound. That would last her awhile if she could hide it in rehab. Or if she could convince Dennis that she didn’t want to go back. Maybe she could get even more. She could manage it. She knew she could.
Silver walked out to the curb, waiting for the man to drive up again. Lolly and her escort whomever he was had wandered off to talk or play tonsil hockey. Silver could see the way the man was looking at her daughter. It was same way Dennis had once looked at her as if she were his entire world. For a brief moment, Silver looked longingly in the direction her husband had disappeared. They weren’t happy. She knew that. He knew that. She wasn’t an idiot. But once upon a time…
Silver heard tires squealing in the distance. This was probably her fix. She reached beneath her dress and into her bra where she had stashed some Simoleon notes. That was the last thing she remembered as she heard a spray of bullets and a wide range of screams. Through a thin layer of metaphorical fog or possibly very real fog, she saw the dollar bills float up… up… up…and flutter down… down… down… with drops of red as Twinbrook faded into darkness.