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A Dance with Death

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𝑰𝑰 - part one

“Oh holy father, may her cold heart find warmth in the fires of hell. May she be absolved of all her sins. May her soul find rest at last, but may it marinate in the flames of purgatory for a bit first, you know, just to make her a bit more conscious about all the faults she made in her past life…”

I almost chuckled as I watched the pastor bow down, his hands and lips moving to bless my grandmother where she lay in her casket. Cal’s sarcastic voice was a low hum in my ear.

“He is so not saying that”, I huffed in return as I pushed my shoulder against hers, throwing her off balance and causing her to wobble a bit in our pew. Someone behind us hissed. “We’re in a church. What if the you-know-who hears you, huh? What if the big guy decided to strike you down at last?”

It was supposed to come out reprimanding, but I couldn’t help but smirk too, whatever the pastor was doing taking simply way too long to stay still. He could’ve embalmed her entire body twice in this time and drank a bottle of that holy wine to boot. Even the choir had run out of things to say – or sing.

“If we have to pretend he’s Voldemort in his home, I fear God will doom us anyway, babe”.

Cal sat back beside me, her bright red hair tickling my arm as she threw it back to glimpse at the crowded church behind us. Dan leaned our way from my other side. “If he’s absolving her from her sins and all that, do you think he’s open to suggestions? I’ve got some stuff to add that I’m sure God would like to know before getting to her final judgement. You know, like that time she called me a secondhand mattress because there still was this dude in my room when she came to visit?”

“She never had a problem with you being bi.”

“Of course, not. She just had a problem with me actually exploring that sexuality any further than a chaste kiss.”

“In her defense, that guy was way trash”, Cal chimed in.

I shoved the both of them again, this time harder, but all that resulted in was making the two of them grin more, their poorly suppressed noises echoing through the large open space. The voice behind us cussed for us to be quiet.

I definitely didn’t blame the other people here for being solemn, but I couldn’t in all fairness blame Cal and Dan for being a little unruly either. I was just thankful that they’d showed up at all.

It was supposed to have been Ian sitting in the pews next to me, but a last-minute meeting had called him away, with him promising he would arrive at the wake together with his father later.

I hadn’t been as annoyed by that as I would’ve expected. If I was going to be completely honest with myself, I kind of preferred having Dan and Cal here anyway, sharing what was not-entirely-a-sad-event with the only two people who knew just how much of a meddling hag my grandmother had been.

The woman had been… difficult.

It wasn’t that she’d consciously tried to ruin my life. It was just that she’d been fierce in controlling every little detail of it, and she had been scarily good at it. Where I lived, what I studied, who I dated… If it didn’t pass the Annetta-vibe-check, I wasn’t allowed to do it, and if I did so anyway, I best believe she found a way to make me chance my mind.

Cal and Dan were the only two people who knew all about that. I wouldn’t say they’d been like second and third children to her, but from the second she’d taken them on as subtenants in the apartment she’d rented for me, she’d ‘taken them under her wing’, with all the consequences that entailed.

I knew for certain that she’d cared for them. At least up until the moment that I’d tried to break up with Ian rather than move in with him.

The how and the why were still unclear to me, but for some reason she’d gotten it into her head that my decision had been influenced by Cal and Dan, and that was the end of all her kindness towards them. She’d had no trouble taking away my choice. One day, we’d all been college students, and the next, I’d basically been a trophy wife – with my friends being forced to look for a new place with less than a week’s notice.

Whatever reasoning she’d come up with had never made sense. She was the one who’d always insisted we talk things out among the three of us. She’d always raised me to be independent – to make something for myself rather than rely on a man.

What was more, she had never even liked Ian. She’d approved of him because he came from a good family and knew how to use the fancy cutlery, but whenever he wasn’t around, she’d called him a daddy’s boy, and she openly shat on his spending habits. Her favorite pastime had been reminding me why it was important for me get my possessions into writing before I tied the knot.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she just hadn’t trusted me to get by by myself.

“Fin. I think he wants you to say your goodbyes first.”

Dan pulled me from my thoughts with a nudge in my ribs, pointing towards the pastor who had taken a few steps back to nod my way. The open casket loomed beside him.

“No thanks”, I shook my head, gesturing to the man in robes that he could continue whatever he had in mind for today without involving me.

“Are you sure, babe? I know she hurt you, but this is your last chance. Maybe just stare at her forehead a while as you tell her adios.”

I understood what Dan was trying to say, but whatever ‘adios’ had needed telling had been said some time ago. I’d already gotten way more in my head than I had planned for. If I spoke to her ghost now, it was going to end with neither of us finding rest.

It would be just like my grandmother to haunt my ass over a snappy remark made to a corpse.

“I’m sure. I’m not in the right state of mind right now. I’ll just mutter some things to her when I spread her ashes or something.”

Dan nodded vaguely, tossing a look over his shoulder to see if someone else was getting up. We’d reached that part of the service, at least.

“Maybe just walk by her, then? We can just wave. Or we can pretend you’re too distraught to look at her.”

“Yeah, come on”, Cal supplemented as she took me by the hand, throwing her arm over my shoulder as if I was in dire need of comfort. Dramatic music started playing while we moved to the front of the church.

It was possible to make it to the exit without having to go by all the pews filled with my grandmother’s friends, acquaintances, and former partners, but we had to pass by the casket, forcing me to be closer to her than I’d been in the past half year.

It felt rude not to eat least peek her way.

“Wait.”

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