"Uh...Jae, I need your help. Please just...please come get me."
Her voice plays in my head like a song on loop. That guilt, that constant tug of my heart reminds me that I could’ve done more to secure my sister’s life. I could’ve stepped on the accelerator harder or kicked that bouncer’s balls quicker so I could gain access to the passage.
As her only surviving sibling I was expected to be in our childhood home where she’ll be laid to rest in her final resting place.
Final resting place - I couldn’t even fathom that information when my Mother called to tell me and I broke down into tears instantaneously.
I’m not religious at all and I’ve never been quite into tradition either but the least I could do for Mona was to pay my respects and follow all what tradition expected me to do. First thing I was told to do was purchase a head wrap, which I did to show my respect to the ancestors and it is necessary wear it on my head at all times.
Chief allowed me three weeks off work because we only had a week to plan Mona’s funeral and then I’d have to stay indoors during the ten day period whereby no one close to the deceased is allowed to be out after six pm, engage in coitus with their partners, drink any illegal substances nor have any type of fun whatsoever. After the ten day period is over then I’ll be asked to mourn for my late sister for three months until a wild beast is slaughtered, freeing me from the dark cloud of grief.
I don’t think I’ll ever reach acceptance because somewhere in my mind I’m hoping, wishing that Mona will call me and coax me to come to one of her shows which I’ve never bothered to attend at all. That she’ll drop by and poke fun at my small apartment because hers is six times bigger or just pose as my girlfriend at the lab so I can leave work early.
Oh how I miss you, Mona.
I filled up Carol, my deadbeat Volkswagen Beetle, at a dusty gas station and I was about to place the pump back into its place when a sleek black Porsche pulled up next to me. The windows were tinted black so I couldn’t make out who was in the car, not that I wanted to because I don’t think anyone would appreciate a black woman squinting through the window of their car- black man is always the suspect and they’ll probably think that I’m planning to steal their car.
I drove into the night at low speed in attempt to save gas and finally arrived in the tiny neighbourhood of New Orleans, Hollygrove. Many say I should be more appreciative towards the neighbourhood because it birthed rappers such as Lil’ Wayne but I’m glad to have left this town before becoming a permanent hood rat.
Mona’s tent for the church service is already pitched in our backyard and the faint smell of a hearty home-cooked meal wafts in the crisp air. Creole people are adamant on making all celebrations and calamities happen at home because it’s where one comes from, thus connecting them to their roots. Do I believe in all this folly? I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.
The loud chattering of my cousins from relatives I didn’t even know and everyone they brought along ceased once I shut the door. They were all dressed in skirts and dresses, paying their respects by being the stereotypical women ancestors claimed to have approved of long ago meanwhile I was clad in cut dark jeans. I didn’t even need to read their eyes because I knew that my cousins and relatives from all colours and textures wanted to offer their pity but I wouldn’t allow them to. Pity will not bring Mona back and pity will most certainly not fill the void in my chest.
Briskly, I dart past them, ignoring their greetings and I went to the living room where a mattress was laid on the floor and all the furniture was gone. It made sense though; we needed a lot of space for people to enter the room.
A small figure catches my attention and I stalk to it before drawing in a long drag of her long, apple-scented ebony tresses. My mother turns around and I brush the puffy red eyes that matched mine before wrapping my arms around her body. Heat swarms my heart when she returns the hug equally as tight and I soon find myself sobbing uncontrollably into her chest while liquid pooled on my blouse where she had laid her head.
This was big for her, losing a child is the worst thing a mother would ever have to experience. Instead of your child burying you as a parent, you have to watch your offspring being lowered six feet away from you into the ground.
People flooded our five room townhouse as the week went by with empty sympathies and money, majority of the people were foreign to me. I knew that some were from Mona’s recording company but I was rather too encased in my own problems to even care about their annulled sympathies.
Mama and Grandma Jenny went to go clean where Mona had died and claim her spirit so she wouldn’t roam the club restless. Grandma wanted me to accompany them but I couldn’t be in that place that claimed her life. I saw that place as a territory whereby Lucifer was free to do as he pleased. Religion aside, I truly loathed that place.
The social networking world was buzzing with condolences and utter shock, or so a few of my cousins claim that’s what they’ve read. I’ve never been into the whole Twitter, Instagram or Facebook digital interface so I couldn’t really keep tabs on what the world had to say about Mona. I knew that not everyone approved of Mona or her apparels when performing so I couldn’t bombard myself emotionally with those kinds of negative comments.
I was immobile on the mattress as the week went by and I only got up when I needed to bath or use the bathroom, anything other than that came to me. A few women from Mama’s feminist society church dropped by our home to help with the preparations and offered their deepest condolences. I tried to look attentive as they reminisced times where Mona would sing in the church choir while I gazed at her in true admiration. Mona was an angel sent from above but I hated how they spoke of her as if she wasn’t here. Mona’s spirit was very much still alive and I knew she’d be laughing at them if she were here with me right now.
“Jae.” Mama calls for me from her bedroom and I find it hard to haul myself from the blankets I wrapped myself with. Mona’s coffin was already in the room, beside me, and I would occasionally stand up and stare at her peaceful, relaxed face as she rested in eternity. Only specific family members were allowed to see the deceased a day before the funeral and being her sister, I had to stay with her just like she stayed with me after I arrived into this world.
“Mama?” I murmur in exhaustion while eyeing my sister’s dark skin.
“Come meet a few people.”
Begrudgingly, I haul myself off the mattress and shuffle to her bedroom while loud chatters and sounds from the kitchen ring in my ears. Three men were seated in the room, two with copper-blonde hair and the other with jet black curls, and they lifted their gaze to meet my attention.
“This is Jaenelle Kenya Marks, Ramona’s only surviving sister.”
I take to them and shake their hands respectably as Mama expects me to. I kept my eyes down all the time until they betrayed me and decided to study the last man, who had scorching pastel blue eyes and a defined jaw that looked incredibly familiar - I felt my heart drop down to my stomach like a pin, beating hard against my ribcage and possibly bruising my skin. After bowing courteously, I crawl back to my mother’s mattress and plop next to her.
“Jae, meet Tomas, Nathaniel and Mason DeLuca,” my gaze fixates on the heated chocolate eyes “they are all your brothers-in-law.”
Those scorching pastel blue eyes though -
Mona was married?
A lot of thoughts strike my head to the point where it actually physically hurt to think. I was torn between feeling angry at Mona for keeping such information from her only sister, consoling my brother-in-law in this time of grief, or to just cry.
I chose neither. I needed to get out of the room and find a place where I couldn’t be caught trying to asphyxiate on my shock.
The August wind is cool against my skin as I find a place away from everyone’s eyes. I eventually find peace behind the tent and the darkness actss as a blanket of sanctuary. I can’t believe I wasn’t there to witness Mona build her life with her husband and more importantly, why didn’t she let me know? I’m sure she would’ve told me if she was getting married. This just vexes me, why didn’t she let me know?
Tobacco wafts in the air around me and warm breath hits against my cool skin, “Lakeisha Duckett.”
Brusquely, I span on my heel and immediately choke on my spit. Mason, a 6′3 male with a dominating and muscular stature, draws in a long drag of his cigar before exhaling it into the air, “Small world, isn’t it micio?”
“What are you doing here?” I snarl bitterly at him and he clenches his jaw at my tone.
“To pay my respects.”
I scoff, a humourless chuckle escaping my lips, “you are probably another obsessed fan, Mason.”
He wouldn’t be the first because we’ve already dealt with a few crazies who believed they had something to share with my sister.
“Mona was my fúcking wife.”
Mona...Mona was Mrs. Mason DeLuca? My Ramona was Mrs. Mason DeLuca?
He plunges the cigar in between his plump, delectable lips before tilting my chin up so I could meet his brutal, stern eyes and brushes my bottom lip gently with his calloused thumb, “Say my name again. Such a micio with that lisp.”
My eyes shut involuntarily when he leans into my neck and blows the nicotine onto my exposed skin, the smoke arousing a bubbling feeling deep within my body. The thin hairs on the nape of my neck awaken from their slumber because it’s been long since I’ve felt such gripping, beautiful intensity.
After...that night I spent with Mason I could hardly respond to any intimate offerings by any other man. It was as if Mason was the only person who would ever pleasure me - until I found out that he’s married to my sister.
“So responsive and I haven’t even touched you yet,” he muses pulling away with hooded midnight blue eyes “definitely a micio.”
I yank my chin away from his grip and I spit at the ground, “you’re sick and my sister should’ve never married you.”
"Sick? Micio, I’m hurt,” he takes another long drag while one heated hand presses against the small of my back, slowly descending down to my rear “I certainly wasn’t sick when I was the first to feed on your naked, gorgeous, divine, enchanting flesh -” a loud sound echoes in my ears and I cry rubbing my scorching palm. Drunk with power, I gaze up at him before noticing that the midnight blue pools were now sparkling with a foreign heat, “if it weren’t for respecting Mona then your backside would be aching right now.”
My chest constricts even though I find the idea quite...arousing, “You would never,”
His lips tilt into a chilling smirk and tremors start down my spine, “Laters, micio.”
The rooster screeches us all awake early in the morning, the sound of silverware, spoons and the kettle boiling rings in my ears as everyone prepared their morning coffee. I haul myself up from the mattress, sending Mama to squirm alone in the blankets and I gaze at the closed caramel ornate coffin where Mona laid. My heated palm spread across the wood as I drop down next to her. It should be me inside of that coffin, not Mona.
Mama stirs awake at the sound of my loud sobs and if looks could kill then I too would be lowered six feet underground today, “girl, you better go get your asṡ ready so we can go to the church house.”
I tighten my grip around the head of the coffin and I grunt a sober, “no.”
“Lil’ girl, what did youse just say?”
I snap my neck at her and grunt a stronger, louder, ”no.”
Mama tries to wrestle me off the coffin but I wouldn’t budge, I wouldn’t let go. Eventually, a pair of strong arms yanks me off the coffin but I continue to kick and reach out for the coffin as it seemed to get farther away from me. My throat burns as though acid has just been dunked down my oesophagus, scarring the tissue.
“Calm down,” a husky voice bellows but I shrill like a banshee in heat, there’s absolutely no way my sister will be lowered down six feet under the ground - I’ll make sure of it.
“She’s alive,” I whimper pathetically as mucous trails down my nostrils “she’s alive and she was simply sleeping. She needs sleep, I promise you.”
“Jae,” the arms place me on my feet and I gaze pleadingly at the pastel blue eyes “please. You’ve got to help me get her out of there. She’s cold.”
“She’s dead,” Mason murmurs quietly with a passive expression and I feel the roaring flames of my inferno rise.
“She was your fúcking wife! You’re suppose to help her you bloody arsehole! Go help your fúcking wife!”
Mason didn’t respond and just embraced me, warmly. I could hear the whispers of my judgemental relatives floating in the air after they’ve just witnessed my outburst but as soon as I basked into his warmth, my thrashing ceased. My figure was slumped against his body awkwardly as I sobbed into his blouse, hard. He kept to himself and watched me weep for my sister - his wife.
"Jaenelle, is it true that your sister died of a drug overdose?"
"Will you carry on with Mona’s unfinished album?"
"Who are you wearing?"
I glare inconspicuously at the paparazzi through my sunglasses as the driver opens the door for me and helps me lurch into the car. The car sinks down after Mason scoots next to me and my teeth plunge into my bottom lip once I fall victim to his sultry cologne.
My breath fogs the window as I fish out the words scattered in my whirlpool of speech, “I’m sorry...for my behaviour earlier.”
The car is awkwardly silent and I could feel the heat of his body radiating onto my black maxi-dress-clad body, “you must think that I’m probably some weird drama queen,” I snort in a humourless manner “or a bad actress.”
“I don’t...I don’t usually act like this, y’know? I’m usually mature and I’m a realist, you get what I’m saying?” listen to me; I’m throwing grammar to the wind.
Mason and I enter the church gravely and find our seats in front of the church. Familiar faces sob into their tissues and offer their condolences but I merely cock my head in the other direction until the ceremony begins. Foreign figures stalk up and down the aisle as they evoke memories of Mona and reality only struck me once I was asked to approach the podium.
“Uh,” I croak scanning the room before seeing my two best friends smile sweetly at me “honestly, I had planned to write out something during the week but...but I couldn’t bring myself to.” My whisper is broken, frail and so feeble.
“Perhaps I could maybe stand up here and talk about all of my sister’s achievements,” my eyes fall on the framed picture on her coffin, her vibrant eyes smouldering as she grins for the yearbook photo “or I could talk about how beautiful Mona was,” I could hear her light, airy giggle right now and a smile draws across my face “or I could just remind you all that Mona’s here and she’s probably striking her signature pose right now.”
I step away from the podium for a minute and do my best to execute her pose, only to fail miserably and encourage laughter from the crowd, “I thought as much,” I myself giggle as well before pointing to a woman wearing way too much make-up at the moment, “if Mona was with us in this room right now she would be laughing at your face, wouldn’t she?”
The woman’s eyes widen as large as saucers and she cracks a small smile, “yes...yes she would.”
“And what would she say?”
The woman gazes around the room momentarily before blushing, “remove all that mud off your face because you’re beautiful.”
That was so like Mona.
“And you?” I point to a fairly young light-skinned woman with hair bigger than Tina Turner “what would Mona say about that big wig you’ve got on?”
She blushes briefly before easing the wig off her shaven scalp, “remove that animal off your head because you’re sexy.”
“And you,” a deep voice catches me off guard and I find pastel blue eyes in my view “what would Mona say to you, micio?”
My throat tightens at his stare and subconsciously, I gnaw on my bottom lip before answering, “to...to finally be happy.”
I pick at my food tediously in my bedroom as hundreds of people ate outside in the tent. I refused to wash my hands because I was the last to drop flower petals on her coffin before they covered her up in soil. Four individuals lurch into my bedroom and instinctively, I recoil into my mattress without even looking up. Mama dips down next to me and three men pull their chairs closer to us. Each of them wore expensive Italian shoes so I knew it was my brothers-in-law.
“Jae,” Mama glowers at me subtly only to stop and plaster a fake smile for our visitors “why haven’t you eaten?”
“I’m not hungry,” I mutter stabbing the potato salad.
“Well,” Mama announces sweetly “we have something we need to discuss with you. As you know, you’ll be staying here for the ten day period and then you’ll be moving in with Mason DeLuca.”
I drop my fork and lift my gaze up to my mother, “why?”
“Generations and generations practice this and you’ll be expected to do so too. When a Creole male or female has passed on, it is up to their next of kin to take on their matrimonial duties and carry on where the deceased has left off.”
All men, Nathaniel, Tomas and Mason seem unfazed by this revelation, “You don’t mean...”
“After you’ve mourned and have been cleansed, you and Mason will be seen as a married couple to the ancestors until you two take a mutual decision and wed in the official westernized way.”
I snort, the laughter scraping my palate before letting out actual laughter. I roll onto my back while my stomach muscles tighten and I laugh hard at the ceiling. Eventually, after having damp cheeks, I sit myself up and smile lazily at my mother, “you’re all so funny.”
No one was laughing with me and this revelation hit me like the December icy air. My smile falls and I lock gazes with Nathaniel, whom I hope will be able to save me from this lunacy. Nathaniel breaks the gaze and I feel my heart shatter in my chest, “you aren’t serious. There’s absolutely no way I’ll marry Mason Deluca.”
“We’ll be here tomorrow to negotiate her bridal price.” Tomas smiles easily before giving me a slight wink.
“She’s well-qualified, working as one of ’em forensic investigators and I believe no man has ever seen her naked.”
“And why would you say that?” a gruff voice challenges and I immediately cast it as Mason’s voice.
“I mean look at her, this little fat thing wouldn’t even be able to seduce a male in the dark.”
I was used to it already, being roasted by my mother wasn’t anything new and I’ve learned to numb her words, “we expect her to be in the DeLuca mansion in ten days time. Mason and Jae are to consummate after she’s done mourning. Welcome to the family, tesoro.”
“I will not marry Mason and I’d rather be caught dead than to marry Mason,” I hoist my weight up on my knees as I glare at Tomas with the bitterest scowl I could muster “kill me. I’d rather be down there will Mona than to marry Mason DeLuca.”
“Tesoro,” Tomas chuckles with a tight expression “not all Italians are criminals.”
“And not all criminals are caught,” I mutter before returning back to my mattress and continuing to pick at my food.