This is the seventh part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that’s going on over at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.
The warm glow of the lobby welcomes us as we step through the glass double doors and stop.
I slide my eyes around the still life; over the delicate pattern of the plush, dark carpet, the well-padded and upholstered sofas, loveseats, and chairs grouped for conversation and consolation, the demure oils on the cream colored walls.
The soft murmur of voices from another room plays like a dirge.
A tall, well-dressed man steps into the portrait. White shirt, dark tie, a shimmer of soft grey dancing along his well-tailored suit, he’s walking toward us, perfect smile painted on his perfect face, hand outstretched.
I recognize the look of a professional comfort giver. I wonder what secret thoughts he harbors behind his very caring facade.
You really are paranoid. Not everyone spends as much time and effort talking to themselves as you do.
"Welcome." His voice is as warm as his hand as it wraps mine. "You must be Libby.”
I stare at that perfect smile.
“Allow me to say how very sorry I am for your loss. Is there anything you need or that I can get for you? Anything I can do for you?"
Can you raise the dead?
I pull my hand out of his; drop a white-knuckled fist to my side.
Didn't think so.
"Please let me know if I or any of my staff can be any assistance to you in your time here."
I feel Mike's hand slide around my waist as I shake my head.
"You must be anxious to see your family. Your brother-in-law and nieces are talking with my brother in the main chapel, going over flower arrangements and details for tomorrow.”
The air is suddenly thick and heavy and those lovely cream walls are pressing in on me, making it hard to breathe.
“Your sister is in the main viewing room downstairs." A sedate arm gestures toward the far wall of the room. "Through those doors, down the steps, down the hallway, first door on your left."
It’s so low key, understated, as if he’s giving me directions to the ladies room.
"Would you like me to escort you?"
Elegant in his delivery, he’s the perfect host and guide through the whole ugly death thing.
“No thanks.” Mike tightens his grip on my waist, fingers digging hard. “We'll be alright. We'll let you know if we need anything."
The man smiled his perfect smile again, touches his hand to my arm, and bows himself away.
I twist slightly in Mike's grip and turn my head to look at his face. He’s looking down at me, waiting for me to tell him that I’m ready.
With one last look around the lobby, my feet start moving toward the door and the stairs. It’s like walking underwater, everything hazy and limbs heavy like lead.
Through the door. Down the steps. Into the hallway.
A sign on the wall identifies our destination.
I pull up short at the door; feel Mike's hand around my waist, his other hand holding my mine. I know he’s talking to me, I can hear his voice, low in my ear. I can't understand a word he’s saying, but I think the sound is comforting.
I let him to guide me through the door.
Tentative feet walk me those final few steps to my sister.
Looking down, reality hits like a physical blow.
My chest tightens with the pain I normally associate with a panic attack.
You know, that pain that radiates front to back through your chest and down your left arm, making you think you might be lucky enough to be having a heart attack so that at least the damned doctors could quantify the thing and do something useful for you.
You know the pain. The one you’re so scared of that might be a heart attack and you wouldn’t know the difference?
Don't think like that. Remember Jordan. Triple by-pass. You're the same age and she's six years now into the ten they gave her on her veins.
I look back at Heather. She looks so calm and peaceful. Isn't that what they always say? Like she's sleeping.
No. I've seen Heather sleeping and she never looked like this.
Yes, the funeral home had done a good job with her. The hair, make-up, and clothes, they were all Heather, but I would never mistake her for being asleep.
I reach out a hand, touch her face.
So cold, so plastic, so lifeless.
My world tilts, spins; I can feel my precious control slipping, feel the walls closing in on me.
Remember, Heather? When we were growing up? What they would tell us. Mother, grandmothers, aunts. Play the game by the rules. Always be in control.
Standing silent in a silent room, in a silent basement, I can pretend I’m just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.
Be a good girl. Don't be a slut, don't do drugs or alcohol, go to school, be educated, but not too educated because that scares people, make the right decisions and you will get it all. Nice husband, nice kids, nice house.
I move my hand over Heather's face, along her eyebrow, down her cheek, across her lips.
The picture of perfection. The illusion of perfection. You will be happy.
Guilt and fear and rage coil in my gut, crush my chest.
What happened when you weren't?
I know I have a hole in my perfect life.
We both got it all. It filled you, made you happy. I envied you for that.
I love my husband and kids.
Why wasn't that enough?
I wish that they had not come at such a high price. I wish that I could let go.
I never let anything go.
Underneath the surface, in secret, in the dark, deep in the cage I so carefully constructed for it, I wished for something different.
Never often enough or strong enough to form a fully conscious, articulate thought, but that didn’t keep the wish from festering and surfacing.
I wouldn't trade anything I had or was for anything different.
I’m nauseous with the sense of emptiness, loss, and grief for something unknown. And I don’t think it seems so much to ask.
The illusion of happiness. Normalcy.
Just keep making those right decisions, keep going through the motions, keep meeting your responsibilities and maybe, finally, in the end everything will be all right.
You will be happy.
Are you high?
I can hear Jordan's voice.
Nothing's ever gonna be all right, ever again.
Heather never said that, never thought that.
What the fuck does happy have to do with anything?
I never expressed that thought to my sister. She never would have understood.
Heather and Jordan. Flip sides of the same coin that was me.
Maybe it was because I was older, the first, and Mom visited her anger and demons on me.
I hated her.
Maybe because she had nothing left for you except benign neglect.
I loved you.
I took my place as surrogate mom, met my responsibility and did a damn fine job raising you.
A fucking great job.
I was so damn proud of how you turned out.
And forget the fucking price tag.
I don't know why or what's missing.
I'm nothing but a fucking walking, talking, gaping black hole of need.
Now that you’re gone, what am I supposed to do?
See that Heather? I’m still tap dancing on landmines.
And then suddenly, without warning, Heather's voice cuts through all the static and screaming in my head. "Slow down. Don't dance so fast."
Good advice from a dead woman.