(The Funeral is a story I wrote after my grandfather died in 2017. For legal purposes, the characters are all made up.)
She was dead. There was no doubt about it. Lips stretched from one side of her face to the other, I wondered how many sutures situated the humorless smile together. We were all gathered round the casket, each one of us staring into it with horror.
“Who is she?” My brother was held in my father’s arms. He leaned uncomfortably close to the body.
“They,” my mother took a moment to compose herself. “They brought the wrong body.”
We took a collective step back.
“Oh my God,” My father touched his head as he did in all stressful situations. “Well, where’s Aunt Franny?”
I shrugged staring at the paper thin skin, “I guess she’s still at the morgue?”
My mother’s face had begun to glow red. “Where the hell is Mr. Tibbens?” Mr. Tibbens was the funeral director and the sole holder of my mother’s rage. He was a tubby Tibbens. I was amused with this fact until I looked back at the body.
“Take your brother,” My dad handed Max to me.
“Dad he’s eight,” I stood him up. “He can walk.”
Max stuck out his tongue, my father begging me to behave. “I’m going to figure out what happened,” He left and my brother's eyes began to shift.
“Can I touch it?” Max put his hands on the side of the coffin.
I was at a loss, “Touch it?”
“Yeah,” he tried to pry himself up, “Jeremy touched his dead grandma and told everyone at school. This is a stranger so I’ll get to tell more people.”
His logic was solid but it was also disgusting. “Okay? Just don’t tell Mom and Dad.” I lifted him up. He sunk his finger into the dead woman’s cheek and pushed her head to the side. I stifled a gag, the head bobbing for a moment before settling into it’s final position.
“Happy?” I said putting him down. Max became quiet, his chin sinking into his chest. “Max?” He was perturbed, tears filling his eyes and his cheeks going red. “No, no, no, no,” I bent down. “Oh my God, Max, don’t cry.” I looked around for my parents.
“Let him cry,” My estranged uncle appeared behind me with tears as large as my brother’s. He bent down and touched Max’s shoulders. “We lost a good woman didn’t we buddy?”
Max went to hug me as I took a deep breath. “Uncle Rick,” I didn’t know he’d show up. “I’m so happy you came.”
It should be noted that my uncle hadn’t seen us or Aunt Franny in six years. He lived fifteen minutes down the road with his only contact being a bouquet of flowers sent twice a year to Franny. It was a simple gesture. A reminder that he was sniffing out his inheritance.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” He walked to the coffin, the tears becoming heavier. “Oh Franny,” he touched the woman’s chest. “Oh Franny, you were taken too soon.” My mother who cared for Aunt Franny for nine years would have disagreed. “We had such good memories together.”
I hesitated, “That’s not Aunt Franny.”
He leaned towards me, his tears dry, “Excuse me?”
“That’s not Aunt Franny,” I tried to smile. “They delivered the wrong body.”
He took his hand off the dead woman’s chest, “My God, who’s running this place?”
“A half wit named Tibbens,” My mother came back into the room with my father. She arranged her jacket, pulling invisible specks of dust from it. “We’re going ahead with the service.”
I cringed, “Without Aunt Franny?”
“Without my aunt?” Uncle Rick pretended to be astonished for the masses to see.
My mother smiled. She had waited for this funeral for nine years and there was very little that was going to derail it. “The body will be at the graveside.” She made us all sit down. “Franny wouldn’t want us to wait so consider this a place holder.” She started shushing us, "Now, every one be quiet. It’s about to begin.”