From the Editor, Winter ’16

As a teacher of writing and literature, I’ve often heard the student complaint: “Professor Vogtman, why is everything we read so depressing?” No doubt, if some of those students were to read the contents of Kelsey Review 35.2, our Winter 2016 issue, they may pose the same question. So many of the well-crafted stories, poems, and pieces of nonfiction we have in this issue deal with aging, death, and loss. Babette Levin’s piece of nonfiction, “The Visit,” is told from the point of view of a woman visiting her aging mother. Arlene Feldman’s short story drops us in a retirement community that is planning to kill the neighborhood deer. Tim Waldron’s “Sinjin’s Crossing” is a humorous jaunt through the life of an aging George Washington impersonator. Nancy Demme’s short story, “Sweet Pea,” gives us a glimpse into the mind of an aging woman sitting outside a hair salon. And Katie Zurich’s “The Wake”—well, you can all guess the setting and premise of that story, right?

The poetry we have to share with you is, as always, beautiful, but like the work above, certainly fits into our “winter” theme. A frequent (and welcome!) contributor to Kelsey, Wanda Praisner shares with us her poem “Elegy for My Son, Nine Years Later,” a stunning meditation on loss, using the natural world as metaphor. Beverly Mach Geller’s “Remembering My Friend Nane” might also be described as an elegy. Lavinia Kumar’s “February Morning” evokes human and animal loneliness, while Vida Chu confronts us with raw mortality with her poem “Dust.”

We are lucky to also have artwork, in the form of a photograph from area writer and artist Adnan Shamsi. The black-and-white close up of a cat reflects the stark landscape of the literature we share with you this issue, and the title of the work, “Rx for Allergy Prevention: Cat for Adoption,” adds a kind of poignant tug to what could just be a cute cat photo (which is what the internet was invented for, right?).

Getting back to the oft-uttered student complaint, however, I always feel a little shocked to hear it. Depressing? Well, sure, so many great works of literature deal with death, loss, mortality, suffering. These are the circumstances of being alive, I sometimes tell students, a statement that does nothing to brighten their mood. I am reminded of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu’s movie, Tokyo Story, (incidentally also about aging, death, regret, family drama and all that good stuff) in which a character asks her widowed sister-in-law, “Isn’t life depressing?” (or “disappointing” in another translation), and the widow replies with an utterly beatific smile on her face: “Yes, it is.” This is what I’ll need to remember to tell students: Life might be depressing, but great works of art are not. Great works of art are the antidote.

And so, I share these pieces of prose and poetry crafted by talented Mercer County-area artists to bide you through the winter months ahead. Read. Re-read. Share with friends and family. Take this healthy dose of literature to cure you of all life’s ailments.

Jacqueline Vogtman
Editoreditor-shot-poss-2

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The Visit

by Babette Levin

Hunched forward in her wheelchair, she was a shrunken woman, shorter than her original five feet and weighing less than 100 pounds. Her skin was mottled, thin, and loose, her hands gnarled, her feet swollen. One tooth was missing. Her short, white, thinning hair looked as if it had been chopped off rather than styled.

“Hello, Mom,” I said as we entered her Spartan two-room apartment. “Look who’s here.” I walked over and kissed her. My 48-year-old son David and his two boys—visiting from Spain—leaned over to kiss her as well. David hadn’t seen Nana Frieda, as he’d always called her, for nearly three years, since the time when she was still expressive, vocal and blonde. Well into her nineties, she’d visited the hairdresser every week, and taken pride in her neatly pressed skirts with matching sweaters. But now my 100-year-old mother had lost most of her memory and spoke primarily in monosyllables.

“Do you remember how much David enjoyed listening to Dad’s stories?” I settled myself into a seat next to her wheelchair. “Yeah,” she replied, looking straight ahead.

Nana Frieda was the grandmother of David’s childhood. For nearly three formative years we lived in Washington near her. And he’d been adored, her first grandchild. A happy child. Why did he turn so angry as a teenager? I ask myself once again. More than the first adolescent strivings for independence, I think, perhaps an intuition by a sensitive boy of disruption to come. When his parents separated his anger hardened. For years afterward I sometimes saw him smile, occasionally watched him laugh, but more often I saw him tight lipped, and heard his shouts. It seemed he’d locked up the softer emotions.

During the visit Nana Frieda sat facing the television, her back to the boys.

David sat down on Mom’s other side. Glancing at his handsome but almost impassive face, at the gray on his head and in his beard, I could only guess at his sadness. I was still adjusting to the idea I was old enough to have grey-haired sons. A lifelong mental image of time as a curving ladder streamed past my mind’s eye and reminded me of years wasted. Not for the first time, I felt my mortality.

As words flashed across the screen Mom would pronounce them without registering their meaning. “Senators Working. Family Circle. Cream cleanser. Car care center.” She sat perfectly still, spoke in a monotone and seemed unaware of us.

“Did you enjoy your lunch?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied, staring at the screen.

This image of my mother was heartbreaking, but, characteristically, David barely blinked. Yet I’m sure he knew he would never see her again. She was failing, and his annual visit would end the next day.

After about an hour, David and I signaled each other it was time to go. We stood, leaned over Mom’s chair again, hugged and kissed her and walked to the door. The boys said, “Goodbye, Nana” and kissed her. But for once Nana had turned away from the television, and twisted toward us. She stretched her arms out. I felt a hurting hollowness. Clearly she didn’t want us to leave. Again we said goodbye, and I threw her a kiss. Automatically I flicked on my denial instinct, so, as was often true, leaving her presence I felt nothing.

As a mother she’d been generous and intensely devoted—I was always on her mind—but also often jealous and quick-tempered. I’d been a “good-enough” daughter, but I owed her more patience and gratitude. I knew later I would miss her terribly. Did David inherit this restraint?

The boys and I left the room and stood in the hall. But as David lingered in the doorway, Mom beckoned him back, and he returned to her side. I couldn’t see his face. A couple of minutes later David came out and closed the apartment door behind him. This time I saw. His eyes brimmed, and his facial muscles struggled for control. He placed his hand on Gabi’s shoulder, and seconds later he was sobbing. I was startled. My heart tightened and then it relaxed. While I empathized with his discomfort, I silently rejoiced to glimpse the tenderness I knew lay under the surface. I hadn’t seen David cry since he was a child.

“What did she say?” I asked him later, once he seemed to feel in control again. His reply threatened to shake my reserve.

“She reached up to me and said, ‘Bring me.’”

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Author Bio:

A Princeton-based writer and psychotherapist, Babette Levin is a Vassar graduate and holds master’s degrees in English literature from NYU, in psychiatric social work from Virginia Commonwealth University, and in nonfiction writing (MFA) from Southern New Hampshire University.

February Morning

by Lavinia Kumar

We woke to a white sprinkling
along tree branches, on the grass.
It brightened clouds hanging, still,

then the lightest of snow began
showing us how it’s done,
how lightness begets light, how it fetches
goldfinch to nyjer seed hanging near suet
a downy woodpecker finds each day,

like the man who comes mornings
to the bagel shop, sits for hours,
his mind racing to begin, how to begin,
just a crumb of conversation,
to fetch smiled hello from a fellow being.

Before he leaves traces of footsteps
to his silent room, a wait for the robin’s
wings outside his window, the chirrup again.

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Author Bio:

Lavinia Kumar’s chapbook, Let There be Color, was published this year by Lives You Touch Publications, her full-length book The Skin by Under was published by Word Tech in 2015, and a chapbook Rivers of Saris was published by Main Street Rag in 2013. Her poetry has appeared in several publications in the US and UK such as Atlanta Review, Colere, Edison Literary Review, Exit 13, Flaneur, Kelsey Review, New Verse News, Orbis, Pedestal, Pemmican, Symmetry Pebbles, Touch, & US1 Worksheets.

Sweet Pea

by Nancy C. Demme

She forgot things. Even now as she sat on the plastic bench, the sun warming her back, in front of Estelle’s Salon, she was scrutinizing the budding plant in the brown pot. It wasn’t like Estelle, she thought (she’d never call her Stell or Stella as the others did), to keep a bunch of weeds on her stoop. Not in front of the shop. Maybe they’re Sweet Peas, she mused. They did have budding pods, but no, she grimaced, they’re weeds, I’m sure of it. “Cow fodder,” she said to herself and quickly looking left and right, grabbed the greenery with her fist, pulled and threw the clump of sod over her shoulder around the side of the building. “Better an empty pot than to show neglect.” But she wasn’t sure, and she stood and walked around the corner to examine the weeds once more, but by that time she had forgotten the type of plant she thought they were, and suppressed a cry and stomped on the tangled plant with her sensible brown shoe.

When she came back around the side of the building and was seated once again in the sun, a man walked down the narrow pathway. He was a big man, big belly, with a pink face and heavily lidded eyes. I’ve told Estelle time and time again about the narrow walk, she scolded. A full bodied person could easily traipse off into the grass, and the man did just that, raising his arms to steady himself. She stood abruptly, extending her hand.

“Are you all right?” she said, stepping forward.

He laughed, his heavily lidded eyes lifting. “I’m fine.”

“Isn’t there a regulation size?” she said, shaking her head.

“Size for what?”

“For sidewalks, of course.”

“There is no regulation size for the likes of me,” he said standing before her, and she saw, of course, there wasn’t. He picked up the empty brown pot. “You watching the flowers grow?”

She looked quickly toward the side of the building. “I’m waiting for Estelle.”

“Estelle Longkeep? You’ll be a good long while.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s Sunday. Shop’s closed,” and he jangled the doorknob to make his point. “No lights.”

“But she always…”

“Monday to Saturday. Never on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday,” he sang and he grinned.

She clasped her hands together in a fit of anger. “How come you know so much about her comings and goings?” she asked, suspicious.

“Trims my nose hair every Monday morning 8 am sharp.”

“But I had an appointment.”

“For Saturday maybe or possibly Monday. She opens 8 am.”

“I know, I know to trim your nose hair.”

“Right.”

“But my hair!”

“Looks fine to me.”

“All men say that,” she huffed.

“No, it’s fine. Curly and fine the way ladies like it. You’ll call Estelle tomorrow.”

“But my perm and blue rinse.”

“Shop’s closed.”

“She’s late is all.”

“I think maybe you forgot. Happens. Why don’t you come to the bagel shop with me. You’ll have a cup of coffee on me and on your way back you can check the shop, but I can tell you unless there’s a wedding the shop’s closed on Sunday.

“So it really is Sunday.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She noticed he had nice eyes, grey, under those thick lids. He wore a polo shirt, blue, stretched to the limit across his middle, but clean, freshly laundered. His fingernails were clean, and though it was a little late in the season for Bermuda shorts his were tightly creased. He did not look at all like Purvis Mealey.

“One cup,” and she unclenched her hands, extended one of them to his and stood. He sat the pot upon the bench. “Maybe she can squeeze you in.”

“Who?”

“Estelle,” she said, staring at his pudgy face. “Your nose hairs,” she said knowingly, wobbling, waltzing on the narrow walk.

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Author Bio:

Nancy Demme has been a Children’s Librarian for twenty-five years in East Windsor, NJ and has in that capacity facilitated an ongoing adult writers’ group for fifteen years. She also teaches creative writing to teens and adolescents, and continues to take courses in everything from playwriting, children’s literature, song writing and storytelling.

The Kill

by Arlene Gralla Feldman

Rita considered herself a nature girl. She loved bird-watching and though the Eclipse Community Association ruled against bird baths and bird feeders—they attracted rodents, they said— Rita would drop a feed into the grass weekly after the mowing. And in the winter an astute observer would see seeds scattered atop the iced-over snow beyond her patio. Rita took delight in seeing the vee-like impressions of the footfalls of various birds. However—though she hated to admit it—some did manage to find all sorts of debris for their nests. To her distress she once saw a drained tampon dangling from one of the pine tree nests. But she kept this to herself, removing the eyesore carefully without disturbing the inhabitants.

She loved her gardening also. To ward off the effects of the sun, she would be seen most mornings dressed in long sleeves, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat—even when the temperature hit the nineties—her face covered with gobs of sun lotion with the highest SPF available.

Of course, there were nuisances—the mosquitoes were always a threat. She read somewhere that body temperature and particular human scents attract gnats and mosquitoes to prey on certain victims. Whatever it was, Rita was a perfect target; they were drawn to her skin and when they struck, they struck with vengeance. She would develop welts and scabs to say nothing of the continuous three-day itch that followed a penetration. And those chipmunks, cute though they were, how they did fight over the bird seed then scurry up the drainpipes, nesting there, clogging them. There were also some creatures called moles or voles or whatever that would get into her flowerpots and flower beds, scattering earth and mulch all over her path and entry way. Then of course there were geese and their crap and God knows the Geese Squad couldn’t get rid of them.

“But weren’t they the cutest things—that family of geese being led by the mama and papa across the main road?” Rita asked of her neighbor, Maria.

“Yeah, sure. Really cute— stopping traffic for at least a half mile,” was Maria’s response.

Rabbits, the worst nuisances of all, would nibble the leaves off Rita’s tulips and daffodils, stunting their growth. Residents would get a laugh seeing Rita chasing and screaming after the furry animals with her broom. Neighbors suggested setting traps but she thought that inhumane.

“But they’re perfectly safe,” Maria said.

“After a catch, just take them for a car ride to a field or something,” Maria’s husband, Vic, advised.

“I couldn’t do that,” Rita said. “Imagine how you would feel, being trapped and then taken to a foreign place.”

What Rita did do, however, was sprinkle hot pepper flakes near the tulips and daffodils. She placed moth balls under the mulch and nearly broke the damn drain pipe attempting to shove her broomstick up the spout to frighten off the chipmunks. None of this worked, of course, but Rita looked at it good naturedly. “After all,” she told anyone who would listen, “they were here before us. We took their space away. We have to learn to live together somehow.”

Rita’s learn-to-live-together attitude was nonchalantly dismissed by most of the community, particularly with regard to the latest natural invaders—deer. For the past two years, deer that Rita saw as the most beautiful, docile of creatures seemed to choose Eclipse as their favored foraging grounds. They would show up in the winter especially at dusk, causing numerous car accidents. Carcasses could be seen lying about, reminding some Eclipsians of their own mortality. The summer was no better, there they were—battered things bloated to the point of exploding in the summer heat off to the roadside—a draw for flies—then maggots and God knows what else.

With regard to the live deer, they were a total pain in the ass—droppings everywhere, trees and plants destroyed. And of course everyone knew about ticks and the threat of Lyme’s Disease. No—the learn-to-live-together attitude would not work for most of the residents and they decided to do something about it.

 

A committee was formed to come up with a solution to the deer problem. Many options were addressed: cordon off the trees and planting beds, perhaps place a six foot high wrought iron fence about the community, spay or sterilize the animals—but of course any of those options would take time and of course money and God knows their association dues were already too steep.

“Shoot them!” Richard said, half joking.

“Mmmmh,” remarked a few.

Rita, who just yesterday left carrots and celery for a doe and her fawn at the rear of her patio, began to panic. “But—” she said.

“Poison!” suggested Doris.

“We should do what they did in Princeton—they had a kill,” Walter advised.

Rita felt the blood drain from her a body. “A kill?”

“You’re not speaking of the net and bolt are you?” Gloria chimed in.

“That may work—although those animal rights activists have already yelled bloody murder about it being medieval barbarity.”

“Well,” Gloria said. “—they’re right. Netting the poor things and pistol shooting a bolt into their skulls is not merciful and from what I hear it is not necessarily a quick death either.”

“What they did in Princeton,” Walter continued, “—was use bows and arrows. Less mess; no rifles—too dangerous, unpredictable—”

“Like The Hunger Games?” Rita whispered to herself.

“They had this company called White Buffalo—did it for free—looked at it as a community service. And the meat went to food banks.” Walter was finished.

So was Rita. She tried not to imagine her doe and fawn as venison. She shuddered. “Please. Please. There must be some other way.”

Walter ignored her. “We will have to get the township’s permission of course, decide where to have the round-up.”

Richard made his concluding remarks. “Well, let’s get on this. There’s lots of stuff we need to know: When’s the best season for the kill; how do we lure the deer; do we focus on the males, females? Lots of stuff. Howie, you’re good with the internet. Check it out. Let’s meet again next Thursday the third of August and make some decisions.”

 

Rita could not wait to share her feelings with her husband, Stan. His response, however, did not help. He told her all the bull she had heard before about the hunts actually helping the deer survive: “There’s not enough food to go around. Hundreds will certainly die over the winter.”

Rita envisioned her doe lying in the snow, an arrow perfectly centered between her soulful brown glazed eyes. “Okay! That would be okay. I would be all right with that. At least she —they—will have a natural death.”

“Starving is a natural death? C’mon Rita, be sensible.”

The following morning Rita commiserated to Maria. She found no solace there either. “I’ve spent fortunes on landscaping and these things are ruining my property value. Who would want to move into a place ruled by deer?”

 

By the time the third of August arrived, Rita bitterly acknowledged to herself that it would be her against the rest of the committee—and probably the entire community as well. She entered the meeting room feeling utterly alone, frustrated and overwhelmingly sad.

After listening to the excited Howard share his notes about salt being the lure, about the overlook being the best spot, about steps to getting the township’s permission, Rita could not stand it any longer. She stood up and in her most confident voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am completely against this proposal. It is heartless, inhumane and, and…”

Richard turned to her and told her in what he thought was a compassionate tone, “Rita we understand how you feel but you are out-voted: nine to one.”

“Well,” she said most courageously, she thought, “if you go ahead with this, this—kill, I will chain myself to a tree and, and…”

“Rita, I understand your opposition and I will personally be there to ask the hunters to please be very careful to avoid targeting you.”

 

Of course the kill went on as planned. Rita did not chain herself to a tree. That is not to say she didn’t try to get to the overlook with her chain and lock and key. She was coated with sun screen, swathed in insect repellent and ready to go when Stan blocked her entry to the car, took her keys and garage door opener and screamed at her to stop acting like a maniac or she would be locked up.

“Me, a maniac?” she yelled back at him, kicking him in the shin. “Me? When the real maniacs are out there slaughtering the innocents?”

Upon seeing Stan keel over in pain she relented, suddenly passive. The moment passed but at a cost. In the days to come Rita distanced herself from her usual world, her usual interests. She avoided friends and acquaintances. She ignored television and rarely left the house except to market. She became obsessed with the house— scrubbing and dusting, attacking the closets and drawers, filling huge black plastic bags destined for Good-Will. She would not read the newspapers nor did she discuss the incident with anyone, not even with Stan. She had no comment after he told her matter-of-factly one morning over coffee that they eliminated a dozen deer and she found it surprisingly easy to hold back the urge of asking her neighbor, Maria, if she was satisfied now.

Rita no longer took enjoyment from feeding the birds and quite frankly she didn’t give a damn about the rabbits eating her flowers either and who cared if there were tampons hanging from the pine tree nests and the moles or voles or whatever were overturning her mulch beds. Her garden gave way to weeds and overgrowth.

But—as mid-winter came upon the Eclipse community, Rita discovered she missed seeing bird footprints on the iced-over snow, so she began scattering seed once again. And sometimes she would place a carrot and a bit of celery at the rear of her patio and would delight when it would disappear. Of course she considered they may have been grabbed by a rabbit, but now and then she would see the prints of hooves and she would smile.

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Author Bio:

Arlene Feldman is a retired New York City High School teacher of English. She received her MFA (fiction writing) from Brooklyn College. An excerpt from her work, One God or Another–a Novella and Short Stories, was included in the anthology, Two Worlds Walking–Short Stories, Essays & Poetry by Writers with Mixed Heritages, Edited by Diane Glancy and C. W. Truesdale, New Rivers Press, 1994. A number of her stories were published in US 1 Summer Fiction issues, Richard Rein, Editor, Princeton, NJ.

Remembering My Friend Nane

by Beverly Mach Geller

Her hands transformed flour, water, butter, eggs
into want more crepes, croissants

gathered lilacs, lilies, roses from the garden
to dress each room

When she planted, weeded, her broad-brimmed hat
guarded against freckles on her fair skin

At her stop the car request
she bent to pick goldenrod, cattails, ferns

Nane imitated whistles of birds
cavorting at the feeder

On frosty nights, she tucked in her children
with blankets up to the chin

 With her husband, she played their favorite duet, Schubert’s Piano Sonata,
regaled friends with her rendition of Ms. Otis Regrets

 With a grin, the elegant lady tossed
spitless spitballs at her husband

We shared the beauty of autumn leaves in the Berkshires,
cold stone crabs, bayside, in Florida’s Keys

heard rain pounding on our sheltering tin roof
above orange trees in Puerto Rico’s mountains

felt a caress from the surf’s foam—
white-patterned lace on the brown sand

I still see her Delft-blue eyes smiling, speaking welcome at her door—
inside, a table laden with quiche, Brie, plum tarts, absinthe

I still see her bringing honey cake, Swiss chocolate to us
giving coins to every street performer, every beggar

My friend Nane so like Rachel
biblical ayshes chayil

who reaches out her hand to the needy…
words of kindness are on her tongue…

_____________
ayshes chayil
: From King Solomon’s song of praise to the ideal woman.

 

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Author Bio:

Beverly Mach Geller, a graduate of Syracuse University School of Nursing, earned a BA in English from Rutgers University and an MA from The College of New Jersey. Her poems, several of which won awards, have been published in many literary journals.

Kelsey Review 35.1

Fall 2016

Jessie_Liang-Danger_Sign_2

From the President

From the Editor

Art:

Fiction:

Poetry:

Nonfiction:

Dust

by Vida Chu

Coarse, uneven grained and chalky grey
scooped from the ceramic jar
scattered by his daughters’ hands
under the azaleas,
watered with a garden hose
patted down into the earth
all traces of his ninety-four years
vanished.

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Author Bio:

Vida Chu has lived in Princeton for fifty years. Her poems have appeared in US 1 Worksheets, Princeton Arts Review, Kelsey Review, The Literary Review and The Princeton Magazine. A book of poems, The Fragrant Harbor, was published by Aldrich Press in 2014. Her children stories appear in Cricket Magazine and Fire and Wings.

The Wake

by Katie Zurich

The funeral home smells like cheap perfume, and the crowd is so thick that I’m certain my air quality is severely jeopardized. My two older brothers stand next to my father, one on each side, operating as his guards. I stand them behind them, glad to be hidden from the unending line of those who came to pay their respects.

My mother looks beautiful. We decided to dress her in the bright blue dress she wore to my brother Josh’s wedding. Her hair is curled and her signature pale pink lipstick has been perfectly applied. While I normally loathe open caskets, it was mom’s request to be laid out and presented to the world one last time. “Let people see me. It helps with the goodbye,” she had told my father.

I wanted her to be wrong about this, but per usual she’s right. Whenever I feel a tear or tremble I look toward her and I find  instant strength and solace. It’s odd to be at her wake. I imagined it differently. I guess in true Mom fashion I pictured a dirty martini, chocolate, and a few songs from The Drifters. But, here we are in Spring Lake, New Jersey, bidding farewell to Dotty Matthews, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. “Katherine, stop hiding and come stand next to us,” my father hisses. Reluctantly, I step forward, grabbing the arm of my brother Michael.

At Michael’s 10th birthday party he issued a statement to the family that “Mikey” was no longer an acceptable nickname. As a consolation prize he offered us “Mike,” but my mother never recovered from this event, especially because she had given him his nickname. However, for the most part, mom always abided by our requests and we lived with “Mike” until his 21st birthday. It was on this occasion he announced a more formal name, Michael, as well introduced us to his boyfriend, John. I’ll never forget dad’s face, Josh’s inappropriate laughter, and my mother’s tears. I chugged cheap wine while no one was watching. Michael was so nervous, but he had no reason to be. He was accepted and loved beyond measure.

“Kat, stop fidgeting.” Michael always bossed me around and today was no different.

“I can’t help it. I lost patience for this about two seconds after it began. I’m 34 years old, but at least a dozen of mom’s book club members continue to pinch my cheeks.

Josh whispers into my ear, “You think the book club is bad? Wait until the Ladies Auxiliary Committee arrives. Last summer Mrs. Donovan grabbed my ass at mom’s Labor Day party, I’m sure of it.”

Michael and I stifle our laughter just as my Aunt Gennie makes her way toward us. My father groans, loudly, at the very sight of her. “There’s not enough scotch in the world to stomach what’s about to come out of her mouth.” Dad says the words painfully, as if she’s already committed a crime of conversation.

“Oh Lou, Josh, Michael, Kat! I can’t believe she’s gone. She was so beautiful, and, she was wonderful because…” Her voice momentarily trailed. I braced myself for what would come next. “What in the hell is she wearing? For God’s sake Lou, blue? Her favorite color was green! I knew I should have come over yesterday.” Aunt Gennie’s words are not as offensive as her volume. Everyone looks up at us, and once again, I’m crimson from the glares of well-wishers.

“For Christ’s sake Gennie! Don’t start with this nonsense, please!” The desperation in my father’s voice is palpable, but per usual Aunt Gennie is too self-absorbed to notice.

“My only sister, displayed in a recycled outfit. And blue?”

“She’s not a damn mannequin, Gennie, so kindly refrain from speaking about her like one.” My father’s tone has changed. It went from a plea-like state to punishing.

Aunt Gennie stops, looks at him, and meekly utters “of course.” Michael escorts Aunt Gennie to the casket, while Josh steps beside me.

“Carol and I bet she’d say something within a minute of her entrance. I bet she’d focus on the makeup, but Carol called wardrobe.” Carol is Josh’s wife, and the sister I never had. She joined our family eight years ago, and gave mom and dad their greatest thrill, grandchildren. For this, and for many other reasons, we call her “the perfect one.” I catch Carol’s eye and she winks at me. Carol lost her mother a few years ago, and I know she’ll act as a guide in the months to come. Carol is seated next to John, Michael’s husband. While Michael is serious, John is not. For this reason, he and Josh get along famously. I love John for loving Michael, but most recently, I love him for his hugs. It was John who was with me when I received the call that mom had passed. We had taken a break at the hospital and sought refuge from hospital cafeteria food at a nearby coffee shop. I remember dropping the phone, and feeling my knees buckle, but I also remember John catching me. Up until an hour before the wake started, he had barely let go of my hand.

“That woman has driven me crazy since the day I married your mother.” Dad loves a good Aunt Gennie rant, and he seems intent on another one.

Michael rejoins us and per usual, softens the mood. “Dad, she’s mom’s sister and her closest confidant. Giver her a break, just for today.” Dad rolls his eyes at Michael’s request, but abides.

The four of us stand by mom’s side for another hour. I hold myself together the entire time, but as the last visitor leaves I find myself unable to fight back the tears. Sadness floods over me and despite being surrounded by my family, I feel very alone.

I can hear her voice as I close my eyes. “Kat, it’s almost done. You’ve been patient. Get a glass of wine, take off your heels, and toast to me.” Mom has been the voice in my head for years. I look around. The room is almost empty. The wake is over. I glance at her lifeless body and take a deep breath. I pull up a chair and place it next to her coffin. I’ll sit beside her for a little while longer. After all, she’d do the same for me.

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Author Bio:

A native Buffalonian, Katie Zurich is proud of her roots but loves that her branches extend into the Garden State. She is a social media fanatic and lover of modern British literature. She loves to write short stories and finds joy and inspiration with her husband and daughter in Robbinsville, NJ.