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Stained Steel

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The Funeral

Fuzzy-wuzzy is my vision when my eyes finally shoot open. Father is gone, thankfully, but now Mother is here. Right in my face.

“Dorothy Sterling!” If only my personal space could be acknowledged, what a dream come true it would be! Her lipstick, a shade somewhere between olive and magenta, is applied so heavily that a bit flies from her lips and sticks in my eyes as she bellows my name.


What did you say?!”

“Yes, Your Majesty?” I correct myself. No, we’re far from being royalty, but the lady protects her delusions with the tenacity of the Spartans.

“That’s better. I’ve been informed that you refused the orders of your father earlier. He’s furious!” Her penciled-in eyebrows arch above her dark brown eyes in an ice-cold stare.

“I passed out or I went away, unintentionally, to somewhere else…I wasn’t here.”

“That’s no excuse! You didn’t even finish the conversation with him!” She has a point. It’s difficult to finish a conversation while unconscious.

“Perhaps if he could enter my dreams, the problem would be solved.” Though on second thought, that would be absolutely terrifying. Something dark and sinister spreads across Mother’s powdered face. Certainly this is a bad sign. Even the brown bundle of hair held perfectly in place atop her middle-aged head seems to be glowering at me like a shark about to guzzle blood. What piece is she about to throw onto this playing field?

“Or perhaps you should be placed somewhere where you can learn how to be reasonable, where you can learn how to handle life in an appropriate manner! A mental institution! A hospital! Maybe a religious program.” I consider saying that I’d kill myself before I would let something like that happen to me, but that would only help them get me committed. I’ll have to put on my mask instead.

“I feel fine, though. It was only a spell. I was exhausted from all the recent events, as any girl in my situation would be. Tell Father I’m sorry for not being able to hold onto my consciousness.” This sounds like utter nonsense to me, but apparently she’s pleased.

“Fine, fine. You can tell him. Now go to sleep, if you’re truly going to that horrid bastard’s funeral tomorrow.” Horrid bastard…I wonder how she’ll feel if I say those words to her when Father dies. That’s exactly what she’s doing to me.

“Woman!” Mazel’s shrill scream rockets through the air. “Be gone from this sanctuary! Go forth, my minions, go forth!” Cotton Cobra and Plush Penguin leap from their cushiony posts and chase after Mother, but her back is already turned. She slams my door behind her, and the two pursuers bash into the white painted pseudo-wood that now prevents their passage.

“Ahhh! Fuck it! We’re going to have to work on speed, boys.” Defeated, the two almost-assassins return to their mistress. My eyes grow heavy as Miss Mollipops collects her harem, then the glow of the bubbling lava lamps sucks me in like a vacuum. Tomorrow will be a busy day—a terrible day. Horrid bastard, Mother called him. Mazel is right. Cotton Cobra and Plush Penguin need to be quicker next time.

Our lips meet eagerly. My arms are wrapped around his warm fidgeting body. He’s here—John—I feel his chest moving up and down slowly, his hot breath escaping from his nostrils and tickling the nape of my neck. He’s alive after all. The syrupy early morning mentality that I’ve not yet escaped from prevents electrified excitement from burning through my veins like flowing acid. I’m leaning over, kissing him into the waking world, pulling him back into my reality, putting this missing puzzle piece back into my life.

Thwack. Something swats my cheek and I open my eyes. He isn’t here. He’s gone. Today is the day of his funeral. I lift my mouth from my pillow, knowing I’ve molested it during the night. Molested it alone…

“Wake up! Wake up! Stop sexing the sheets and get ready!” Mollipops is a wonderful alarm clock. How long has she been watching me? Certainly long enough to feel pity for me and my now solitary existence.

“Mazel,” I reply groggily. “You have no room to talk. You’re fucking a snake and a penguin.”

“But I’m happy, so I win.” Ouch. She’s right. “Now, ‘tis the day for great depression, fa la la la la…”

“Shut up!” I’ve had enough of her shit for this morning. It’s time to prepare for the looming death ritual.

“Set a fire to the procession, fa la la la la…”

“Damn it, Mazel! Not today!” I pick up the molested pillow and shove it down onto her, leaving her suffocating in a bath of my passion-laced spittle. Seconds later my hands are at work, flinging open dresser drawers, searching for something…black?

I imagined overcast skies, ravens and spectres of doom adorning the scene now around me; maybe a backdrop of the river Charon to boot. The funeral hasn’t turned out that way at all. In fact, other than the graves and everybody dressed in black, there isn’t a lot of gothic in the event at all. Birds tweedly-deet in the trees and rabbits openly fornicate upon the hillside underneath a warm and brightly shining sun.

I walk toward the gathering of people, still too far away for them to noticed me, ready to face the day. Not a single cloud is floating in the sky, so I’m glad I brought my huge, purple, upside-downy, triangle-shaped glasses. They perfectly match my dress, a deep dark purple thing that comes down to just above my knees. I chose not to wear black after all, simply because I knew that everyone else would be! One expects a person to wear black to a funeral, and I prefer to be unexpected.

My mid-length straightened hair brushes against my stockings and my Doc Martins. I’m dressed to kill. Unfortunately, the killing has already been done. Someone killed John. They just don’t know who did it. I do. I know. They did it.

As I enter the graveyard, something in the air changes. I’m cold and hot, shivering, heart racing. The birds stop singing. The rabbits stop fucking like rabbits and turn to stare at me. Clouds roll in, blacking out the sun, while wind shrieks through the trees and threatens to blow me away. The grass underneath my feet has become a bright sunset orange, and the graves all around me are screaming my name. Whispering my name? Trying to trick me into staying here. Trying to convince me that I should never leave.

A strong freezing hand is on my shoulder, pulling me, spinning me around. It is the frigid hand of the Devil himself! He planned for me to be here. He prepared for this. I am unprepared, but at least I’ll be looking back at him, unafraid, as my short life reaches its end.

“You shouldn’t be walking around by yourself without a man nearby to keep you safe.” Maybe he thinks he’s being chivalrous, albeit chauvinistic. To me it just comes off like an ice-cream truck pedophile.

“I’ll be fine on my own, thanks.” I see him, my father, worked into a raging stupor and flailing his hairy arms wildly, chasing a young boy from our house. The boy never came back, much to that man’s delight. I didn’t eat for a week, perhaps also to the man’s delight.

“I disagree,” he booms, looking down at me like a judge deciding my fate—a tyrant readying to send another lamb to the slaughter. He is a prosecutor, after all. He’s spent the pinnacle of his health learning how to condemn...though those he slaughters aren’t always lambs. He reaches out and grabs me by the shoulder, his black suit eating away all of the light that dares to dance across its surface. I’ve seen this suit before. It’s the one he used to wear when he took me and forced me to watch him tear apart families, massacre lives. He never cared whether the defendants were guilty or not. He just wanted them to burn.

“What the hell are you doing?” I can only imagine, but I think it’s better for my health if I don’t try to. In mere seconds we are standing over an empty grave. The trees around us shiver their leaves off in erratic epileptic fits. The screams of the damned rise from the ground sing songs of eternal agony. Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven, I think, tracing some half-lost memory back to Dante.

Before I can come to terms with my apparent peril I am falling through the air, down into a pit. Perhaps Father has decided it’s time to bring justice down upon me for failing to make him enough sandwiches—as a daughter, a woman, should.

“You have failed me, daughter! You spent too much of your time studying that you should have spent in the kitchen, and too much time whoring yourself around that you should have spent on my laundry and dishes! I shall now sentence you to hell!” What the hell? He is serious. Deathly serious. How can this be? It seems impossible…until my memory reminds me that this isn’t as unusual as I wish it could be. This is him, after all. At least he’s finally letting me die. My memory will soon stop reminding me of the twisted shape of my reality.

“Oh ho, I see I’ve attracted an audience! Welcome, welcome, my fine young flightless fowl!” What is he yelling about now? Are there vultures circling above us? No…he said flightless…this adventure refuses to hold back even the smallest crumb of bewilderment.

Waddle, waddle. Mr. Plush Penguin waddle-waddles over to us and peers down into my dirty tomb. He regards me curiously as he brings a pirate-like spyglass up to his left eye and stares through it with a penguin intensity. I imagine he must be trying to look up my nose. He’s trying to find my brain to determine whether I have the necessary intelligence to escape this certain doom.

Something gritty and clumpy explodes against the side of my face, all across my legs, up and down my purple dress. Dirt! Lots of dirty fucking dirt! I can already hardly move underneath its quickly growing weight. Fear begins to tear a hole in my chest and drags its sharp icy claws up the back of my spine. This is no dream. I’m awake. I’m sure of it.

“Why?” I cry, more out of anger than fear.

“Why? Because you’re wearing purple, of course!” Father spits. “You are to wear only black to a funeral!” What? He always complains that I wear the color---or absence of color---“too often”. Now I’m being buried alive when I finally wear something else? Why would anyone even attempt to appease this man?

“Dorothy, everyone else here is wearing black! It is expected! You shall never do an unexpected thing! You’ve been a bad girl.” Now he really sounds like an ice-cream truck pedophile. At least he isn’t trying to crawl down here with me. “Have you forgotten what I’ve always told you? You must always do the common thing! Simply watch the others, the good and respectable…” Respectable? Bullshit. The “respectable” others are the reason why this damned funeral is even taking place at all! “…people of the land to learn what your actions should be! We mustn’t make waves, Dorothy! We mustn’t make waves!”

Of course. I am the outlier, the odd girl out, the purple dress in an angry sea of black. He had to eliminate me, for he feels that I don’t belong. I am the stand-out monster, he the rioting villager with a pitchfork. Actually it’s a large pointy shovel. He’s buried me up to my neck. Judging by the way he’s handling his weapon’s wooden shaft, he has already decided that there should be no head attached to the top of me.

I know his intentions before he raises the thing, in one hand, high up over his head. His sharp and grime-coated javelin stares down at me with great accusation, mimicking his own face. This man, the voice of the State, is ready to deliver his version of justice once more. Justice for the purple shirt. Justice for the outlier. Justice for Dorothy Dahlia, just like the justice that murdered my love.

Will we still be misunderstood and looked down upon in the afterlife? Will ghosts and ghouls persecute us? Certainly, if things like Father are permitted to enter there. The shovel-spear flies through the air, zooming down toward my shaking flesh like a racecar driver gunning the engine moments before the finish line. I watch in slow motion as the shovel’s blade enters my esophagus, cuts off my air supply, blows apart my reality…only what is blows apart isn’t quite reality at all.

I’m on my knees in the grass, still a few hundred feet away from the place where John Jacob Janglehorn will soon be lowered into the earth. Father isn’t even here. He didn’t come, but I know he’ll be here shortly. He forbade me from coming, yet here I am. I came! Maybe he’ll bring Mr. Penguin along too, that little devil who my hallucinations warn me to suspect!

I arrive at the sunny scene---yes, the sun is back as well---just in time to see the event come to an end. The dark and shiny waxed coffin is thankfully closed. I don’t want to see him the way he is now. I want to remember him as he was when we met in the middle of the night in a place that will be ours forever, a place where we will cunningly scheme our future ghastly ghostly plans under cover of darkness.

There are a couple of journalists, or reporters, who managed to sneak their way in. I could probably evade them if I wasn’t the only young girl wearing a purple dress who looks terribly troubled over this whole mess. It’s obvious that I’m the one.

“Dorothy Sterling?” A young man in a black shirt and tie approaches me, notepad in-hand.

“What?” I’m not feeling very kind today, but I’m still not really one to shy away from a spotlight.

“Is it true that the man being buried here today was guilty of sexually assaulting you multiple times, trying to play it all off as—”

“Damn you! You people disgust me! We were engaged! We would be married right now if you wouldn’t have destroyed his credibility, his life, and thrown him into this box! You are the guilty ones! John Janglehorn was my heart and soul!”

Before the interrogators can ask any more questions, I feel a firm icy hand upon my shoulder. I imagine Father just moments ago, spinning me around as he prepared my quick and satisfying demise. I know this is him. I don’t even have to turn around. I just know.

“Sir, I’m Dorothy’s father. She has been under a great deal of stress lately. She’s not in her right mind. Janglehorn was indeed a rapist, and has simply manipulated her into behaving as if that were not the case. Put that in your damn report.”

“No! He’s lying! I loved him! I convinced him to sleep with me in the first place! You’re all fucking liars!” My blood boils through my veins as my balled-up fist swings in a wild sweeping arc and finds the side of my father’s face. For a moment he just stands there looking at me, blinking his eyes. Plush Penguin didn’t come with him, but I still could be seconds away from getting dragged down into a grave.

“How dare you defy your father? Twice in one day!” He wipes the newly formed smudge of crimson from the side of his mouth, the smudge that fills me with a little bit of pride...which I know won’t shelter me from whatever fate is about to send. “I explicitly told you not to come here! You think that being an adult means I can’t make you obey me? Get in the car, you little psychopath, or I’ll have you committed!”

“I’d rather die!” What an odd thing to say at a funeral. The morning’s mourners gather around to see the show. I’m sure they think this is all sort of strange. But is it?

“Oh? Tell that to the nuthouse screeners! Better yet, I’ll tell them for you!” With that, Father drags me away. I kick. I scream. I give him a bloody smear on the left side of his mouth to go with the one on the right. I am the antithesis to his outdated beliefs about women. I, Dorothy Dahlia, might be a woman, but I am by no means a pussy.

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