In families there was always some question nobody wanted to answer,
like a stray thread loose in a sweater. You could tug at it all you wanted,
but in the end, all you’d have was a pile of twisted yarn.
~ Sarah Sullivan
The first Saturday morning without Mother.
That was the thought that came unbidden to her upon awakening—not that she and her mother were ever that close—but it was an adjustment, nonetheless.
The sunlight poured into the kitchen nook where she sipped at her coffee and checked her email on her laptop.
Saturday, September 30, 2017. Her laptop calendar showed the funeral parlour viewing times. She couldn’t even remember making an entry.
Outside, a grey squirrel hopped across the lawn, blindly obeying an ancient prompting from somewhere deep in its DNA.
Winter is icumen in, she mused, replete with frost, pumpkins and funereal rites.
The morbidity surprised her. Melancholic, she might be, and at times, subject to black depressions—but, morbid? Where on earth did that come from?
U. R. Dunn maybe.
She toyed with the cryptic message left on her phone’s Caller I.D.
‘Done’, as in dead? —A possibility—as in, ‘you are so done.’
The terse idiom actually made her smile. Nan was right—it did sound adolescent.
All of a sudden, her skin began to crawl again. What was it? Something weird that happened recently.
Then, it came to her—her freshman lecture on the metaphysical poets. They had covered John Donne’s poetry with a special focus on his use of conceits and puns—that was it! —Donne’s poem, A Hymn To God the Father.
U.R.Dunn. What if it meant Donne? But, I am Donne? It made no sense
It was a coincidence though, and her gut instinct kept sending her in that direction.
Argh! I’m driving myself crazy.
She dropped the riddle and focused on the upcoming ‘trial’ that awaited her from two to four that afternoon—and if that wasn’t enough, after supper, from seven till nine.
‘Trial’ was the operative word when it came to her aunts. Although the Church of England was not responsible for the Spanish Inquisition, she could see Aunt Alicia, wife of the vicar of St. Andrew’s, seated in judgment wearing the robes of Grand Inquisitor.
‘Wilt thou recant?’
She would if she could, if only she knew her sin.
The death of her mother forced her to come to terms with her place in the family.
She recalled rainy Saturdays spent poring over the family tree, the various branches meticulously documented in black ink in the huge King James Bible that sat on the coffee table in the front room.
The neatly written entries went all the way back to the seventeenth century, but the part she found interesting began at the top of the third page with Grandma Edith and Grandpa Lyle.
There was a sepia portrait in the cedar chest of the two of them posing stiffly, Grandpa in suit and vest and Grandma in a floor-length dress.
She really knew nothing more of either of them other than a stray comment made once by her mother that Grandpa Lyle, ‘liked to keep his distance.’
He obviously didn’t keep his distance when it came to Edith though, and five girls were produced from that coupling.
Beatrice, her mother, was the eldest and after the passing of her parents, by virtue of primogeniture, became the titular head of the clan. The rest of the girls, in descending order in terms of birth were Alicia, Evangeline, Lillian and Clare.
Alicia was now a sixty-five year old spinster and Clare, the youngest, had died in her fiftieth year.
Hailey had not known any of her cousins, although she was aware that both Aunt Ev and Aunt Lil were married and each had two children.
Such was her scant knowledge of the family tree—other than a box of photographs of nameless relatives and other mysterious strangers.
She began to feel panicky just thinking about her aunts—it seemed every time she focused on them, the same symptoms would return—she’d experience palpitations, shortness of breath and a suffocating feeling akin to claustrophobia.
She wanted to run, but where would she go—where could she go to hide from her own mind?
She practiced the deep breathing Trish taught her—breathing slowly in to a count of three and then, slowly out to a count of four. After a few minutes, she felt better.
The phone rang, startling her, but a quick glance at the caller ID reassured her—it was Nan.
“So you made it through the night?”
How could people like Nan be bright and cheerful so early in the morning?
“Yeah, I only popped two Clonazepam on top of the wine we drank—I didn’t wake till the alarm.”
“You set an alarm on Saturday mornings?”
“Had to—today’s going to be rough and I figured I’d get up and prepare myself.”
“More like you’re going to work your self into a frenzy by the time of the viewing. Hey, why don’t you come out with me this morning?”
“I don’t know, Nan…”
“Nonsense. It’s a beautiful fall day and I thought I’d drive downtown to the St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market—I haven’t been there in ages, and after pigging out on chocolate last night, I need to get back on track with healthy eating. What do you say—Pick you up in half an hour?”
She estimated the odds of winning the argument with Nan at a thousand to one and wisely concluded to cave in and tag along—besides, it might take her mind off things, at least for the morning.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.