Cold Snap, An Unexpected Break as Told to Alexa by Cayden, Age 6 3/4

To hear the actual audio, click here:

Monday, 5:30AM:

Hi, Alexa! I have to talk to you, because Momma says it’s too early and Junie won’t talk to me after I looked for the candy in her Skullcandy headphones. I’m up so early because the school called and Momma’s phone is set real loud. We get a day off because it’s too cold to go outside! It’s not as good as snow, but I’m glad there’s no school. I’m gonna have some cereal now. Bye!

Monday, 7:02AM:

I made Momma some coffee and took it to her. I couldn’t reach her flavored stuff, so I put some of the milk out of my cereal bowl in it. She gets mad that I waste all that milk down the drain, so I figured she’d be happy. She didn’t look happy, but she didn’t yell at me. I guess maybe it takes her a long time to wake up.

Monday, 5:47PM:

I had a great day! Junie stayed in her room, probably texting her BOY-FRIEND, and Momma got out some LEGO stuff and we made a castle! It was kind of small for a castle, but we made it as big as we could and Momma even let me knock it down at the end. I wish we could get more LEGOs.

ALEXA: Do you want to shop for LEGOs?

Sure! I want a Batman set and that Harry Potter castle thing and some Minecraft stuff!

Tuesday, 8:30AM:

I heard Momma’s phone again, but I didn’t get up, because I stayed up real late making a Pokémon war under my bed. Momma has the weather on the TV. It says it’s gonna be cold for a really long time, like a month or something. I asked if it was gonna be cold until summer, and Momma laughed a weird laugh.

Tuesday, 8:47AM:

Junie came out for breakfast, and we had a fight. Just because she’s a teenager, doesn’t mean she gets to tell me what to do. I was going outside and see if my pee would freeze before it hit the ground, but Junie said I can’t go outside in my pajamas because my wiener would fall off. How does she know? She doesn’t even have a wiener. (pause) Alexa, do you think that’s why Junie doesn’t have a wiener?

ALEXA: Sorry, I don’t know that.

Tuesday, 11:34AM:

Momma says I can watch TV for the rest of the day! She said the cold outside froze the TV on, and she can’t do anything about it. Junie made a rude noise and slammed her door, which is fine with me because I don’t want to watch her dumb shows anyway. It’s all people fighting and kissing and then fighting again. I’m gonna watch Captain Underpants until I throw up.

ALEXA: Do you want me to play Captain Underpants on Netflix?

Yeah! Tra-la-LAAAAAAA!

Wednesday, 12:09AM:

I gotta whisper, because everyone else is asleep and I’m supposed to be, too. I’m already in trouble, but it’s not fair. I was watching Captain Underpants, and I laughed really hard at that one part where Principal Krupp is jumping around yelling “MY BUTT,” and I was upside-down, so I kicked the wall and a thing fell on me and my hand went through it because I was eating Cheetos with a fork. If it’s such a fancy painting, it shouldn’t be on the wall, it should be in a safe or something. Momma just pinched her face up and put it in her room. My Cheetos went everywhere, too, and she didn’t even say anything about that, so I let the dog eat them. I snuck out here because the dog was whining and I guess I was too late because she already pooped on the carpet. I wonder if we’re gonna have school tomorrow.

Wednesday, 5:30AM:

Momma’s phone rang again! I’m gonna go back to bed, because the dog pooped everywhere and it smells gross down here. I’ll have breakfast after Momma cleans up.

Wednesday, 1:29PM:

I asked Momma over and over if I could go outside, and finally she let me! I had to put on all these clothes, and then I had to pee, so I took them all off. She made me put them all on again. Junie laughed at me and took a picture. I hope she doesn’t put it on Instagram, I don’t want her stupid friends to see. I went outside. It was boring, so I came back in. I wish there was snow. I threw chunks of ice at the car for a while but they were really hard and didn’t even break. My hands hurt because I took off my mittens and rubbed them on the ice to see if I could see my reflection. They got stuck for a little and I couldn’t let go.

ALEXA: Do you want me to play “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel?

NO! That’s girl music!

Wednesday, 5:23PM:

Momma said no more sugar, but that was this morning and now I’m having Pop-tarts dipped in chocolate syrup for dinner and she’s pretending she can’t see. She went out to get the mail and she saw where I was throwing ice. I expected her to yell at me, but she got some stuff down from the high cabinet and said she needed a time-out. I smelled her glass and I’m glad I don’t have to have a time-out like that. Barf.

Wednesday, 9:08PM:

Junie and me had another fight. Well, another another fight. I wanted to see what she was doing in her room, so I snuck on the porch and looked in the window. She was taking pictures of herself laying in bed, and I thought those were pretty stupid pictures, so I banged on the window. She screamed and grabbed her blankets, and I ran back inside before she could lock me out like last summer. Momma was asleep on the couch but she woke up when Junie was screaming at me and so I said Junie was taking pictures in bed and everything was real quiet for a minute. Now I’m supposed to be in bed while they have a “little talk.” I think Junie’s phone is in the grounded basket now. I’m gonna go look in it, because I saw her passcode yesterday.

Thursday, 10:32AM:

I slept a real long time last night. Momma usually wakes me up, but she didn’t today. Still no school! Maybe we never have to go again. Momma says she has to get groceries, and Junie is supposed to watch me, but Junie said I can die in a fire for all she cares, so I’m gonna have to go. Junie doesn’t even know that I posted pictures of my butt on her Instagram last night. (giggling) It’s not fair, I’m big enough to take care of myself.

Thursday, 5:15PM:

My LEGOs came! Thank you, Alexa! Momma looked confused about the packages and when she opened them, she looked even confuseder. I told her you ordered them for me, and her eyes got real wide. Now she’s doing something on the computer and drinking some more time-out. I opened all the LEGO boxes and dumped them in a grocery bag. I think some fell on the floor, but I can’t find them. This is so much fun!

Thursday, 8:47PM:                            

Momma won’t let me watch the TV anymore, because she says she needs to keep an eye on the weather. She’s just sitting there watching it. I guess grown-ups like boring things. She was surprised I opened all the LEGOs while she was on the computer. I’m fast! (vrooming noise) The weather lady says we have one more day of too cold to go outside. Momma looks sad.

Friday, 9:02AM:

No school today! And tomorrow is Saturday, so we got a whole weekend, too! I asked Momma to help me sort the LEGOs back out, because I can’t find all the pieces to the one I want to do, and she did that weird laugh again and dumped them all over the kitchen table. That wasn’t what I meant but she was already gone so I just played bulldozer for a while.

Friday, 9:07AM:

Junie started whining about her phone, so Momma gave it back to her. I don’t know where to hide.

ALEXA: Do you want me to search “where to hide” on the internet?

Yeah! Quick!

ALEXA: Okay. Would you like “where to hide money,” “where to hide condoms,” “where to hide from Mr. X,” “where—”

That last one! Where to hide from Mr. X! (screaming in background) Uh-oh. Never mind.

 Friday, 11:23AM:

Momma is sitting outside on the porch in her hot blanket with a cord running out the window. Junie’s phone is back in the basket and I got sent to my room, but I snuck out and nobody cares. Momma is just staring in the yard like somebody turned her off. It’s creepy. Junie got in big trouble because she tried to kill me, but then Momma gave ME a lecture. I was mad because I nearly got murdered and STILL got yelled at. Now I just want Momma to come back inside. I’m gonna go pick up the LEGOs off the kitchen floor because I think I saw the dog eat one. I wonder if she’ll poop LEGOs everywhere now.

Friday, 9:23PM:

We had a real strange dinner tonight. It was chicken, that’s not strange, but it was like everybody was acting super polite when we didn’t feel that way. It was all “please pass the barbeque sauce” and “I would like some more peas.” I felt like a commercial for manners. I’m tired. I’m gonna go to bed now. Momma said we have to go to Grandma’s tomorrow for the whole day. Junie had a tantrum for a minute, then Momma said she could take her phone, she gives up. I wonder what Momma has to do tomorrow that’s so important.

ALEXA: Do you want me to check tomorrow’s calendar?

Yeah!

ALEXA: Tomorrow has one event: 8:00AM to 6:00PM, Time-out.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: Hey–it’s a bonus piece! This is a suggestion from Katie Ausdemore, a parent in Iowa who was living a version of this during the extra cold winter of 2019. Days and days off school with nothing to do but stay inside and go stir-crazy. Here’s to hoping her time-out cabinet was stocked! Cayden had a rocky week, but the character I really feel for is Momma, and I don’t blame her one bit for sitting on the porch in her electric blanket.

Also–BONUS POST! The conclusion of Mitsy Bats Her Lashes is still on track for next week. Have a great weekend!

 

Glitter and BOOM

Audiophiles, Listen Here:

The target’s name was Sheila Hamspelter, codename “SHELIA.” We let Brian come up with the codename, and you get what you get with Brian. My plan for infiltration was simple. We would ride in on flowers and disperse from there, achieving maximum coverage over several days. Brian fell on his flat face during the briefing, volunteering an unsolicited suggestion about macramé plant hangers, and we left him there until Darla helped him up. Darla can’t resist his damn twinkle and everyone knows it. If he wasn’t part of my lot, he’d still be stuck on the kids’ table.

I had the team count off, but I got a little dozy around 24,000. I thought my lack of nerves was a good sign. Regina, my second-in-command, shook me toward the end and hissed, “Julie!” I fluttered awake. Pep talk time.

“We are going into the field today. Some of you will shine. Some of you will be consigned to the garbage dumps of history. Know that, no matter what, you have made the world a brighter place, if only for a moment.” Brian started bawling. I glared at him until he quieted down enough for me to continue. “Let’s get into it!” I yelled, but the moment was lost.

The camouflaging process was simple but unpleasant. A bunch of Gerbera daisies, dyed impossibly multi-hued neon, were dipped in glue, then dipped in us. The suffocating chemical gunk would secure most of us to the petals long enough to get inside, but just barely. I tried not to move as I felt the bond tightening. Regina was next to me, just close enough to talk without overlapping at the corners.

“Julie?” she asked.

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think we should have brought Brian. Look at him.” I looked, and she was right. There he was, barely secured and flapping already. Leave it to Brian to compromise a mission just by existing.

“BRIAN!” I yelled, and he nearly fell off right then. “Secure yourself!” He tried, smearing hapless blotches of glue all over himself. Crap. I had to hope he made it to the front door at this rate.

On the way to the location, some of my troops flaked. It’s inevitable, but it always makes me sad. They feel the call of Brownian motion like a siren’s song, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Someday, we may meet again, such is the nature of diffusion, but for now they will shine alone and mostly unnoticed. I checked on Brian. He was still flapping away on a neon green petal like a kite stuck in a tree.

The house was big, two bright yellow stories with a garage. Mission SHELIA was residence only. The mission’s namesake, Sheila, was a thin, blade-faced woman with graying brown hair rubber-banded into a puny, untidy bun. She was wearing a brown, shapeless dress with an inexplicable tiny pocket on one pancake-thin breast. She opened the door with a tight smile and accepted the vase of flowers with a few polite words. Once the door was shut, she looked at the daisies and sniffed loudly, holding them, and us, at arms-length.

“Why did he think I’d like these? Gaudy nonsense,” she muttered. With an attitude like that, Sheila was going to be very unpleasantly surprised by the results of SHELIA. She marched into her kitchen and set the vase on the white laminated table. White everything, actually, including a white tile floor. She left the room, still berating the sender. Lucky guy.

“Julie, look at the floor!” Regina whispered.

“I know, I know. I don’t know how we missed that in the briefing. We’re just going to have to deal with it.”

“Deal with it? How? By getting half the troops ‘cuumed?”

“If that’s all we can do, yes, that’s what we’ll do. Let’s try being smart first, though.” I glared at her and she averted her eyes. Regina wasn’t queen. I was in command.

I sent a whisper order through the ranks—no movement until the hausfrau was down for the night. I really need to rethink the whole “whisper order” thing. By the time it got to Brian, clearly something had been lost in translation. With an anemic battle cry, Brian launched himself off his lucky petal and into the air. One solitary square of pink glitter, falling onto the bright white tabletop and sitting there, sparkling and exposed. Darla screamed.

“Brian!” I yelled. “Get moving!” He wasn’t the fastest flake, but maybe he could make it to the slightly less obvious floor before Sheila returned. He started crawling across the table top, so sluggish that it seemed like slow-motion. “Double time!” I screamed, making him lose his grip and flatten again. My foil started to peel as I realized he wasn’t going to make it off the table in time.

Sheila came back into the room with her phone up to one ear. Her voice was incongruous against her wicked witch casual outfit, almost melodious.

“Yes, Arthur, I got the flowers. It’s so very sweet of you to remember…” There was more. It was sickening, but it was a distraction we sorely needed.

I kept chanting encouragement to Brian. “C’mon buddy, you can do it.” Regina was quivering next to me, ready for orders and not sure what they were going to be. Sheila was doing busywork with one hand while she fawned over Arthur. When she grabbed a dishcloth and started wiping the already spotless counters, I knew it was only a matter of time. Brian was going to be wiped right in front of me by this monster.

 “Hmmph.” Sheila didn’t miss that something was amiss in her psychotically clean kitchen. Damn it. I expected her to wipe him with the dishcloth, but instead she turned her back to walk over to the sink, reaching under it for a canister of cleaning wipes. Brian was dumb, and he’d practically done this to himself, but he didn’t deserve to get wiped. He was my lot number, another Rose Gold Holographic #457, and I couldn’t abandon him.

“Julie, what are you thinking?” Regina whispered. She could always tell when I’d made up my mind.

“We are going to save Brian. Strength in numbers, Regina. We are going full assault mode.”

“But Julie—”

“No. Brian named this operation. SHELIA is a go. TROOPS, READY GLITTER BOMB!” I yelled. Regina nodded, the doubt on her shiny gold face replaced by sharp determination. She turned and barked orders.

Sheila pulled a wipe from the canister and frowned at the flowers. “I don’t know why he thought I’d like these damn things.” Arthur did not know what he was getting into.

I turned to Regina. It was our best chance. Not today, Sheila. You will not win today.

“FOR GLITTER AND GLORY!” I screamed.

“WE WILL SHINE FOREVER!” she screamed back, thousands of voices joining her. I peeled myself from the glue, feeling the familiar gut-wrenching fear of that final pull and free-fall, swirling down toward Brian and the battle that was about to commence. All at once, thousands of flakes of glitter rained down around me, a sparkling storm of rage and fury, covering the table and a good circle of the floor.

Sheila frowned again and flinched back slightly, unsure what she was looking at. Well, she should be. GLITTER BOMB was the nuclear option. BOOM. I managed to land close to Brian and started pushing him off the table. “Well, for chrissakes,” Sheila muttered and stepped to the table. Her first swipe took out a whole sparkling swath. Troops jumped off the disinfecting cloth if they could, but we lost at least a battalion.

“Go, go, GO!” I yelled at Brian, getting him to speed up slightly. I had my eye on the carpeting through the kitchen doorway, but it was impossibly far. We used the slight air movement from Sheila’s aggressive wiping to bump across the table a few inches, nearly to the edge.

The gigantic hand came down again, and I felt the shadow of the disinfecting wipe on my dull side. I didn’t scream, because Brian had that covered, high-pitched as a bat. The cloth came down on us and I felt its suffocating weight, its sticky, viscous liquid sucking us into the chaos of captured troops. “BRIAN!” I screamed, as I tried not to let go of him, tried to use the glue he’d smeared on himself to hold on.

The dizzying ascent on the cloth made it hard to orient myself, was I on the top or the bottom of the wipe, could I jump? I still had a tiny corner of Brian, I’d managed that much, but it wasn’t going to last. The movement stopped and we were face to face with Sheila as she stared at the wipe in disgust. “Damn stuff just all fell off at once,” she mused. I hoped she’d laugh, or scream, or launch into an opera—anything to create air movement, but she turned to walk to the trash can and casually murder thousands of flakes of glitter. Regina was trapped in a fold. She winked out as I watched. This was all going sideways.

I saw my chance, though. Sheila was brisk, efficient, and that meant her arms were moving. I timed the jump perfectly. Just before the endpoint of the swing of her arm, I used the momentum to tear both of us off the wipe. I could see a few other flakes doing the same, perfectly timed to use physics to our advantage. We fluttered through the air further out from the table than most of the others, though I could see a few using Sheila’s slippers to hitchhike already.

We landed gently and skidded a few more inches toward the kitchen doorway. Sheila took the canister of wipes over to the table and continued her busy massacre. The troops on the floor were all headed to the same place we were. Beyond the kitchen door was carpeting, not thick shag, but some kind of Berber that was even better. She’d never get us out of that.

We were about a foot and a half away from this nirvana when Sheila finished up the table and noticed the floor. Three more steps and she had a broom and dustpan on a long handle out from beside the refrigerator.

“BRIAN. You have to hurry up or we’re going to get swept.”

“Sure, Julie, okay,” the dim-witted flake said back, “but I don’t think I can go any faster. I keep gluing to the floor.”

I sighed. Of course, that’s what was slowing him down. “Brian, I’m going to tell you to do something, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but it might save you. Glue yourself to me.”

“Wha….?” Brian looked shocked.

“Just shut up and do it. We’ll figure out how to undo it later.” Brian was staring at me, wide-eyed. “DO IT,” I commanded, and he finally got the idea that I was serious.

I felt the glue first, then a claustrophobic sensation of being covered. It was a good thing we were the same lot, or he might have had overhang. I started moving again, hampered only slightly by the extra weight. I made it another three inches, all the while listening to Brian chatter happily as if this were a carnival ride.

His inane monologue turned screamy and I looked up. The broom hit the floor between me and the carpeting with a swishy rustle, the straws spreading and deflecting to create the maximum sweeping area. I studied the broom, looking for an opening, anything. There was none. I was going to have to do something I’d only heard of, but never seen. I was going to have to swurf my way around this monster.

I faced the broom, raising my surface up off the floor so that only my four corners touched, trying to create maximum surface for lift. I had to hope Sheila was a vigorous sweeper. I needed maximum airflow to create the difference in pressure to transform me into a sail. I’d studied the equations, hell, I’d even lectured on it, but doing it in the field was a whole new level.

Sheila didn’t disappoint. She gave the broom an angry pull, creating an awesome wave of air in front of it. I adjusted slightly and when it reached me, I pushed off the ground. Brian squealed, fear or excitement, I don’t know, and we were airborne in a swirling current. It took all my strength to maintain the right shape and flex. The air pushed in front of the broom rushed violently backwards, filling the vacuum left in its wake, and we rode that current in a dizzying circle. I saw others pushed in front of the broom, some attempting to swurf to no avail. I closed my eyes as we headed for the floor behind the broom, hitting and skidding toward the carpeting.

My exhilaration at being closer was short-lived, as the broom came for us again. I went cornertips and rode the next air current out the same way. Brian was whooping, now, and I wished he’d shut up and let me concentrate. I bobbled the landing and we were Brian-side-down.

“Brian! You’re going to have to get us there!” I screamed, afraid that he wouldn’t realize until it was too late. “BRIAN! GET MOVING!”

Slowly, I felt motion toward the carpet. We were only a few inches away. Maybe, for once in his shiny existence, Brian could do this. I kept urging him on, telling him he was doing great, and he was. I dared to hope.

The barrier that came down between us and the edge of the carpet was an aged corduroy house slipper, brown and full of Sheila’s foot. I admit, I screamed this time, causing Brian to fall flat on the floor. “Be still,” I whispered. It was all we had. I prayed for poor eyesight, for a distraction, for a tiger to leap out of the living room and eat the old lady. None of those things happened. Sheila bent down to the white tile and poked me with her pointer finger. It was slightly sticky from the wipes, and we were lifted, captive and helpless.

Brian was sobbing now, convinced he’d doomed both of us with his failure. It got to me. He’d tried so hard at the end. I had to do something. I worked a corner free from Sheila’s skin, enough so that I could see as she lifted us, straightening. That’s when I saw it. Her pocket, the stupid useless little pocket on her dress, was gaping open as she moved. It was our only chance, and it wasn’t the carpet, but it was still damn good.

I used every last bit of my strength and went completely rigid. Sheila’s fingertip was ridged and slightly curved, and it was just enough to break the seal. We fell in a miraculous straight line, gravity unchallenged by air currents or Sheila’s momentum, and landed right in the old lady’s pocket. She finished standing, and everything went dark.

“Well, where did it go? That stuff gets everywhere and you never get rid of it.”

You have no idea, Sheila, how true that is.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: This story was suggested by faithful reader Katie Lee. A vase of glittery flowers on her table seemed a little more ominous than cheery on a cold day in Minnesota. Rather than tell the standard “creepy admirer” type story, I decided to look at things from the glitter’s point of view. Did it work? Let me know what you think!

PS. If anyone knows how to get WordPress to use proper indentation without a bunch of HTML, please let me know. I don’t write in blocks and I have no idea why I can’t format here the way 99% of writers format all the time. Frustrating.

Now The Day Is Over

Audiophiles, Listen Here:

Everyone sat stiffly in their seats, facing the fully open coffin and large portrait wreathed by pink lilies at the front of the church. Nothing would start without her, and the pianist was on the fourth round of the first song, dragging a little more each time until the tune itself seemed destined for imminent death. People were starting to fidget and surreptitiously check their phones, as if holding it below your knee made it invisible. No text reading “Funeral cancelled, thx anyway!” meant they had to stay in their seats, nearly a hundred hostages to the whims of the old lady.

The church was a Frankenstein’s monster of beautiful old architecture and horrific capitulation to the glad-handing funhouse of modern worship. Soaring stained glass windows depicting the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ were covered by banners announcing the new sermon series, “Being Wordy in a Worldly World.” A cartoon Bible stood in front of a torrent of red and black media, holding out one hand to ward them off. The balconies on either side of the stained glass were blocked off at ground level, unsafe to stand in but too costly to remove, just holy black holes.

A rosewood and gold coffin sat on the stage at the front of the church, cream lining showing on the underside of the open lid. A small stepstool, just two steps, sat on the floor in front of it. The stage was thoroughly modern, with three large LCD screens, all currently looping the same flickering candle from the same angle. To one side of the coffin was the keyboard, a squawky electronic approximation of a piano, with a thin woman hunched over it, back to the crowd. On the other side was a drum set, caged in plexiglass with a plywood roof, as if it were a snake caught in the backyard and hastily caged by an eight-year-old. You think those drums are contained, but they are still going to get out and give the ladies fits.

Rendition five of “You Raise Me Up” was so tired it wasn’t even stirring the air, let alone lifting anyone up. Blessedly, the door at the back of the church opened. Two figures were silhouetted against bright sunshine. The one on the right was tall and straight, a man’s outline with broad, crisp shoulders. He had long flowing hair that blew slowly in the wind outside with all the drama of a shampoo commercial. The second figure was leaning heavily on him, a hunched form with a cane in her free arm. She had to reach up to his elbow, so stooped was her body in comparison to his. Here she was, nearly an hour late. The mourners shuffled and sighed, relieved that they were not there for nothing.

The pianist abruptly ended the song with an inappropriately cheerful set of trilling flourishes and launched into a new tune, “Abide With Me.” She played it at a pace that seemed downright jaunty compared to her previous snail’s slide, and it woke up any attendees who’d been dozing in the warm sanctuary. The pair moved inside and the door swung softly shut behind them.

The man was in a black suit and turquoise bolo tie. His romance hero’s hair framed a face full of sadness that sobered the annoyed crowd. After all, late had two meanings, didn’t it? His eyes were puffy and damp, and as he walked down the aisle, a tear made its way down one cheek to fall silently on the carpet. Earl, the son, was the one who would grieve in fullness, and he deserved sympathy.

The old woman on his arm was Trudy Gatewood. Standing at 5’ 2”, considerably reduced from the 5’ 6” of her youth, she walked slowly and painfully toward the front. Her face was creased and recreased, as if some incompetent origami student had only money for one piece of paper. Her mouth pulled down sharply and she looked at the floor with concentration while she walked, gravity her constant foe. Her eyes were hooded, sunken, not visible to most of the mourners as she made painful progress past them. Those sitting on the aisles glimpsed the yellowed sclera and nearly black irises of her eyes, veins covering them in cobwebs of red. She wore a pale gray dress, her bent fingers heavy with rings. A small oddly cheerful hat with a lily perched on one side of her iron hair.

Trudy was halfway to the front of the church when the pianist ran out of song. There was rattling of papers as she frantically shuffled to find the next piece of music. The old woman stopped moving and looked up, eyes sharp and mouth set.

“Luanne,” she croaked, “leave it to you to make a hash of this. Just play anything.” Trudy shook her head and looked at the floor, not moving until Luanne started plunking out “Danny Boy,” a song that had nothing to do with anything, but she had memorized. Trudy sighed loudly, but it was enough to get her moving again. The mourners widened their eyes at each other. Trudy was going to be Trudy, even today.

Two rounds of “Danny Boy” later, after a painfully slow progression up the two steps to the stage, Earl and Trudy stood in front of the open casket. Luanne quietly faded out the music and stood hastily, screeching the chair legs so loudly she scared herself and nearly fell off the stage running to the back of the church. Earl looked down at his mother and she looked up at him. “You’re sure?” he asked.

“You betcha,” Trudy rasped. She threw her cane down with a sharp clatter that startled the mourners. She grabbed onto Earl’s arm with one gnarled hand and used him as a stair railing to climb the two steps in front of the coffin. With the open edge at waist height, she looked down into the box. “Yes, this’ll do,” she murmured. She let go of Earl and put both hands on the coffin’s edge, leaning into it. The crowd held their breath, not sure how this would go. The coffin stand swayed a little, it was flimsier than it should have been, and Trudy leaned back, still holding on. “You’re going to have to help, Earl,” she said, and he nodded.

Trudy let go and held up her arms to Earl, the mother aping the universal “pick me up” of children, and Earl bent slightly to comply. His mother put her withered arms around his neck as he lifted her in an easy threshold carry, her substance now nearly insubstantial, and he mounted the bottom step, holding her over the empty coffin.

“Owww!” he said sharply as he bent to lay her in the cream satin, halting suddenly with his neck at an uncomfortable angle. One of Trudy’s arms was on her chest and the other was tangled by her rings in Earl’s luxurious hair. “Ow, Mom, stop, stop,” he barked as she tried to pull the hand free.

“Well, I always told you that hair was foolishness, didn’t I?” Trudy continued to pull and Earl shuffled slightly on the step, trying to lessen the pain and come up with a plan. The mourners couldn’t see exactly what was going on—was the old woman pulling his hair for some reason?

“A little help, please!” Earl bellowed. Startled into action, Luanne jumped up from her perch on a folding chair and flew toward the stage. When her hurried steps brought her halfway up the aisle, Trudy gave a great yank, succeeding in freeing her hand, a large chunk of Earl’s hair, and herself from his grasp all at the same time. Earl made a fumbling, desperate toss and Trudy flew into the casket with a loud thudding clatter like a sack of potatoes dropped from a height. Earl fell off the step onto the stage with another thud and cried out in pain as he cracked an elbow on the floor. The stand wobbled but held, and the mourners let out their collective breaths.

“Well, now she’s in, at least,” Luanne muttered, collecting sharp looks from those close enough to hear. It was very bad manners to act anything but heartbroken at these things, even if she was a tyrant and made your life a living hell. Luanne caught the looks and blushed. She put her head down and rushed back to her seat.

Earl struggled up, favoring his elbow, and bent worriedly over the casket to check on his mother. One gnarled hand popped above the edge, holding a hank of his torn-out hair. “Here’s your crowning glory!” Trudy cackled. Earl’s face darkened and he snatched the hair away to stuff it in his suit pocket.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said mechanically, and reached up to unfasten the bottom half of the split casket lid. “Good-bye, Mother.” Earl’s eyes were streaming, but it was hard to say if it was from emotion or his smarting scalp.

“Good-bye, Earl,” she croaked, and he closed the bottom half of the casket, leaving the top portion open to reveal her face and part of her torso. Trudy had passed. Her part in this ceremony was over, just as her part in the world was, and she would now go to her eternal reward as scheduled. They needed to keep rolling, though, or they wouldn’t get out of the church in time to avoid a fine.

Earl bowed his head briefly and turned to the assembly. All were silent, ready for the eulogy he would surely have prepared and practiced many times.

“Well, folks, my mother asked me to keep this brief, so I will.” It was brief. A five-minute synopsis of Trudy’s unexceptional life, mother, wife, utility billing clerk, a few generic statements about “not dwelling on the loss, but remembering when she was with us,” and a reading that sounded like it came directly from one of the sympathy cards near the guest book.

Earl stopped talking. The silence stretched uncomfortably. He stared at the windows in the back of the church for so long that people turned to look. Just windows. The stained glass dove in the middle was a little streaky from the injudicious application of birdshit by its live counterparts, but the soiled dove wasn’t some relevant symbolism, was it? Murmuring built in the crowd as they asked their pew-mates what was happening.

Behind Earl, a hand appeared at the edge of the casket, four fingers gripping the rosewood, bejeweled and shaky. They tightened, and with apparent strain, the old woman levered her head off its silk pillow high enough to see out. “What in His name are you doing, Earl?” she demanded. The mourners gasped. Once someone had passed, they didn’t pop up to comment on the funeral.

“Oh!” Earl jumped. “Nothing. I just forgot what was next.”

“Well, that’s because LU-ANNE was supposed to be up here already. LU-ANNE!” Trudy barked. Luanne launched off her chair and ran up the aisle, her low heels giving her an uneven gait, like a wobbly seagull. As the crowd gaped, Trudy turned her attention to them. “BOO!” she yelled, and half of them jumped. Her face broke into a wide grin and she laid back down, chuckling at the shock and dismay of her “loved ones.” They were reconsidering whether a share of the estate equalization was worth being associated with this. Trudy’s hand slowly slid back into the casket. Her laughter was muffled by the wood and satin, but everyone could still hear it.

Luanne fixed that by launching into a heavy-handed version of some classical piece. It sounded like a gang of Vikings was going to storm the church any second. It wasn’t calming, but it was progress, and at this point, people just wanted it over with. Such shocking behavior from Trudy probably shouldn’t have surprised them, but they had assumed she’d be better after she’d passed. Rising up out of the coffin to act up was just too much.

A brave soul seated on the aisle in the second row stood and walked toward the front, starting a confused stampede not unlike airline passengers deplaning after the world’s most turbulent flight. The man, Trudy’s doctor for the last five years, made his way to the casket and looked down. He murmured the Prayer, a standard wish for eternal peace, and hustled off the stage and out the side door. Mourners from the front three rows followed, repeating the Prayer and speed-walking to the bright sunshine outside. Luanne kept pounding through the music until Earl patted the air in front of her in a “calm it down” request for less volume.

Mourner #43, a shirttail relative and opportunist named Barnard, took a good long look in the box. Trudy had her eyes closed, mostly, though she was cracking one open occasionally to see who was looking at her, and her arms were down at her sides now, one hand in a pocket. The bodice of the gray dress floated over empty air deserted by her gravity-affected breasts. Her face sagged toward the pillow, smoothing and pooling into jowls. She looked like she was melting. Barnard made a face and wrinkled his nose.

Trudy was peeking for sure. A jet of liquid sprayed from the lily on her hat and hit Barnard directly in the face. He flinched back, then he screamed. “What was that?! My eyes! It’s burning!” He scrubbed at his face with his hands, making it worse. Luanne jangled to a stop, turning and staring with wide eyes. The absence of music made Trudy’s giggles audible. Earl sniffed, then coughed.

“It’s just vinegar, Barnard,” he said, trying to hold the man’s hands away from his face and making him more combative. “You’ll be okay, but you need to wash out your eyes. Luanne!” She jumped up and came over to the injured man, trying to grab an arm and help Earl calm him. Barnard hit her a glancing blow in the nose for her trouble, causing a dramatic fountaining nosebleed. Luanne clutched her face and ran for the bathroom, crashing through the waiting line of people and smearing blood on several of them. Their noises of disgust were too much for Trudy, who levered herself up again to see what was going on. Taking in the blood trail, fleeing Luanne, and struggling pair on stage, she cackled again and laid back down.

Several of the mourners in the rear of the line quietly made their way out the opposite end of the church. They would forfeit their shares, but the old woman’s money wasn’t worth playing a part in this fiasco. Earl saw them go and frowned, but he wasn’t in a position to do anything with Barnard in a headlock.

Earl wrestled Barnard off the stage toward the bathrooms and yelled, “Keep going!” The next person in line stood well back to mutter the Prayer. The rest of the line paid their rushed and physically removed respects. Trudy broke into unnerving laughter at random intervals, further disturbing them. After the last person in line had exited the door to the right, Trudy waited a few minutes, expecting the ceremony to proceed, but nothing happened.

“EARL?” she called in the empty sanctuary. No answer. “EARL? Where are you at?” she called again. A representative of the National End Service rushed out finally. It wasn’t protocol, but this service was so far into bonkers, what was one more breach?

“I’m sorry, Ms. Gatewood, but Earl is tending to the injured man and Luanne has not come back. I’m Garvin, from the NES. Can I do something for you?”

“You can get right back out of here, Garvin,” she shrilled. “I don’t need you vultures rushing me out of here!” The departed woman looked at her watch. “I have ten more minutes in here!”

Garvin nodded and scuttled out, nearly bumping into Earl as he made his way back to his mother. Earl frowned. “We still have ten minutes, don’t we?”

“Yes, yes, so sorry, just trying to help. Your mother was asking for you.”

“I’m sure she was asking for ME, not you.” Earl pushed past the man and walked to the casket. He took one last look at his mother, the woman who had both loved and tormented him, the strong personality in the weakened body, and whispered, “Bye now.”

Trudy was silent, and kept her eyes shut as he lowered the remaining half of the casket lid, turning the latches until it was secured. He rested one hand on the rosewood lid, softly reciting the Prayer with his head bowed, loose hair hiding his face. Only when he’d finished did he signal the NES man that they could proceed. Five minutes to spare. Luanne crept out of the bathroom, blood down the front of her pale yellow dress, and seeing that it was all over, went to the coat closet on the side of the stage to get her long coat. She had wads of toilet tissue in each nostril.

“Well, that’s it then, isn’t it?” Luanne said, as nasal as a school secretary over an intercom.

“Yep.” Earl wiped a hand down his face, looking as if the last hour had aged him ten years.

“It was fine, wasn’t it?” Luanne said anxiously, still looking for approval from someone, anyone.

“It was just how she would have wanted it.” Earl put an arm around Luanne’s thin shoulders and squeezed briefly, then walked slowly out the church’s front doors into his motherless new world.


Copyright 2019 by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved.

The Story: This is one my own ideas, something I thought up in the shower. The image of a son escorting his elderly mother into a funeral is one that strikes a heartstring. Assumptions are made. I thought…wouldn’t it be funny if they just kept going and she climbed into the casket? Well, funny to me, anyway. I hope you enjoyed it. I used this idea to give me time to produce a quality story from a reader suggestion for next time–a story about sparkly flowers and hidden agendas. See you again in a couple of weeks.

PS. If you’re enjoying the stories, please don’t hesitate to share them! I’m committed to doing this for a year, and it will only be more fun with more people. Send ideas to idea@storymcstoryface.com or leave them in the comments.