This story is by Krishna Vaidya and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This was crazy. I walked into the banquet room for the lunch after the burial and took a seat in the corner of the room. Sunlight streamed in from the ceiling-to-floor windows. The room smelled strongly of flowers. A line of plastic, white tables with red tablecloths on them were put together on the side. On the tables was food. Food, flowers, and sunshine. Why were we celebrating death?
Around me, people dressed in black began to line up. Words whispered and murmured into ears flew around the room and into my ears. They were definitely talking about me. Who wasn’t? The somber expression on their faces made it seem someone they loved had died. Why were they here? Their lives hadn’t changed. They weren’t affected. I looked down.
A pair of shoes was approaching me. I looked up to see Mrs. Cecilia, my next-door neighbor. Her wrinkled face was twisted in a way that gave me this feeling of déjà vu. Ugh. I knew what was coming.
“I didn’t get any chance to tell you how sorry I am, dear. Your parents were fine people, “she said, moving her cheek muscles in a way that might be her version of ‘ the pity smile’. Sorry? Who was she kidding?
This time black heels were coming my way. They had a silver Venn diagram symbol on them but a little of it had chipped off in the middle. My aunt approached me, Stacy in her arms.
“Are you getting any food?”
“Maybe,” I replied stonily, not looking at her make-up splattered face.
She sighed impatiently and shifted Stacy and her designer handbag onto one arm. She used her free hand to raise my head and to force me to look at her, digging a red-painted fingernail into my flesh.
“You must behave. What will people say? Look, I understand; it’s human to be upset. But at least fake it on the outside.”
She enunciated her vowels. Nobody liked her better with a British accent! I looked back at the polished marble floor. She sighed again and went away.
Above the tables, were two large rectangular portraits of my parents. My dad’s colleague, August Finch, had painted them. He asked me before the burial whether I liked the way he had ‘captured’ them in the painting. I nodded, but the painting was never close. My sweet always-happy mother couldn’t be ‘captured’ in one mediocre painting of her smile. You couldn’t hear my dad’s boisterous laugh. Memories of them took me back to the last time I saw them.
I rummaged through the endless pile of clutter on the couch. The printed papers flew to the floor.
“Mom, I can’t find my history notebook!”
She flipped the pancake and stepped away from the marble kitchen counter.
“It’s right there. I can see it, John,” she said pointing to the dining table was in the middle of our L-shaped ground floor.
I packed my bag as fast as lightning. The knob on the door opened and Dad came in from his morning jog.
“Good morni — you haven’t eaten yet?”, Dad said, “I have to go early to work today and drop your mom off!”
“I know,” I said, “I’m trying! You know what, Mom, forget it. I’ll buy something at school instead”
I ran out of the house.
I wish Dad could have dropped me to school that day. I wish I would have stayed back to eat. At the least, I wish I could’ve taken one last look at them before my life changed forever.
I miss so much about my old life. I miss my room full of stars and spaceships. The photo collage above my glossy white desk. The old wooden bookshelf stuffed with science fiction and fantasy books. I miss the dusty attic I would explore on rainy gloomy days. Old high-school photos of my parents and their family. Faded letters written in impressive cursive. I miss my large television and couch. Now all of that would be someone else’s.
That’s when it hit me. I didn’t know my future. I didn’t have to go stay with my terrible aunt and cousins. I knew they didn’t care. I could find myself a home. The phrase ‘Think twice before you act’ ran through my head in a familiar voice. I’d heard it so many times before. I would usually groan but not today. I looked around. Stacy was in her dad’s arms and was squealing at the sight of chocolate ice cream. Aunt Joan pursed her lips and reapplied her lipstick. Gary and Peter were playing a video game underneath the table. I made my decision.