Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
After the confrontation with Sean Mappin the remainder of the evening passed uneventfully and by nine the aunts had left and only a few stragglers were left chatting and saying their goodbyes in the foyer.
Hailey decided now was a good time to visit her mom without the prying eyes of others.
She sent Nan out to wait in the car and went back into the viewing room.
As she entered, the heavy scent of flowers was overpowering and nauseatingly sweet.
She forced herself to approach the coffin.
Mother was laid out, hands joined in prayer, looking serene as if in deep sleep.
Aside from the rouge and the gaudy red lipstick, she looked much the same—at least, much the same as she did the last time she visited her.
The memory of that last visit came rushing back, its details so mundane, so unexceptional.
She could still hear Mother complaining about the gardening service, and as Mother droned on she wished Birdie weren’t on vacation, so the two of them could giggle behind her back.
It’s strange how people always want to know someone’s last words, expecting death to elevate them some how, but in Mother’s case, there was nothing exceptional—just another day and another rant.
She examined the face in the coffin as if seeing it for the first time.
It was strange how politeness prevents close examination of the living, but death permits a cruel analysis of a corpse.
It turned out Mother was right—she always said Hailey didn’t resemble her at all.
Over the years, she’d always resist her aunts’ insistence that there was a resemblance—but if there was, she couldn’t see it.
Her thoughts turned to the photos in the family album.
She always left it sitting open on her coffee table—why, she wasn’t sure.
Inevitably, people would scan through, stumble upon the picture of Clare and make the usual comparison.
But it didn’t bother Hailey. She didn’t mind looking like Clare—‘Poor Clare,’ as her aunts would call her.
Regardless of their barbs and innuendoes, she always liked Clare—possibly because she was also a black sheep, or more probably because she inherited her aunt’s much thumbed copy of Poems of the Romantic Revival and liked the same verses.
Then there was her favourite picture—the ornate gold-framed portrait of Clare in profile—her luxuriant chestnut hair bobbed in 1950’s style and reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor in the film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Clare was beautiful, but disturbed—fragile as Magnolia and according to Birdie, just as fragrant.
It was strange though that she’d be standing here beside Mother’s coffin and unable to conjure up even one precious moment of nostalgia.
She knew why. The truth shouted at her: She had never been loved.
In all those years, looking to Mother for affection and protection, she never once heard the words that would make her feel she mattered at all.
She’d sit with Birdie watching movies on television and marvelling that families always had this emotional closeness that eluded her in real life.
She never told anyone, but she spent years longing for a TV family. She kept her thoughts private, fearing if Mother found out, her eyes would flash a look that said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ and that would be the end of that.
Hailey is a sullen child, Miss Kelly wrote on her report card.
She remembered how the comment agitated Mother.
“That stupid young girl,” she overheard her say to Birdie, “What does she know about life?”
She wasn’t sure what Miss Kelly knew about life, but was sure that ‘sullen’ was not a compliment, but it must have summed up exactly who she was.
She began to cry for that sullen little girl who had never been told she was loved.
She allowed the tears to fall freely and land like dark rain drops on her mother’s light grey dress.
In time, they would dry to tear’s circles marring an otherwise perfectly coiffed and made-up mannequin—but for this action, she would not repent.
All the other sins of her life she would humbly disown and pray to God for forgiveness—but not for this one.
This sin was her life.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.