Wednesday, February 24, 2010


After all yesterday's fun and excitement, today's post will be a little more serious. So be prepared.

I've been thinking about the Nine Muses Challenge that Sarah Jayne did last week over at Writing in the Wilderness. I don't write dark. I never have. I don't even write grey. I just don't see a need to. That being said, I also watched Persuasion on Masterpiece Classics on Sunday night. I'd never seen it, nor read the book (until now) however I took the quiz "Which Austen Heroine Are You" on someone's blog last week and I found out I'm Anne Elliot, so it was a special treat for me to see whom I was most like. And well, yes, I must admit after watching Persuasion (and also having finally read the book) I AM most like Anne Elliot. In more ways than six.

I've had this next blurb stewing around for awhile and after watching Persuasion, decided to let it out.

****DISCLAIMER -- to me this is very dark, almost black, about a funeral so feel free not to read it, it's kind of depressing. And also, I have a lot of swearing in it, so if you have delicate sensibilities, please don't read it either.


She slipped into the church quietly, smiling weakly as a member of the funeral home held the door for her, his black suit coat jacket still covered in rain drops on the shoulders. He handed her a program as she moved past him and walked silently down the far left aisle to the front of the pews. She heard the whispers of the congregation as she walked, and knew they were whispering about her.

Her bitch of a sister-in-law had heard the chatter and turned, so by the time she got to the family, her brother Charles has stood.

"Where the hell have you been? We waited at the house for forty-five minutes," he whispered hoarsely.

She genuflected and made the sign of the cross. Kate ignored his question, moved into the pew and whispered back, "Don't swear in church." She knelt down wearily on the worn leather kneeler. Kissing her rosary beads, she didn't even bother trying to pray but for the sake of the rest of her family, made believe. She gazed up at the statue of Saint Joseph holding the infant Jesus and wondered why the artist had painted their lips that awful shade of red.

Again she made the sign of the cross and leaned back into the pew. Her trench-coat was still soaking wet and made her skirt damp, her legs cold. Her feet were frozen in her shoes and she tried to stamp them as quietly as she could to warm them.

Her Uncle Randall leaned over the pew from behind her and whispered, "Are you okay?"

She turned and smiled, "Yes, Uncle, I'm fine."

The organist began the music and the congregation rose as one. Slowly all eyes turned to the back of the church. Father Brannigan blessed the casket, gave the small font of Holy Water to one of the alter boys, retrieved the incense from Father Alvarez then turned and preceded the casket to the alter.

Kate sat numbly, staring at Saint Joseph. She smelled the incense long before the casket came to rest in front of the alter and was grateful it overpowered the cloying smell of the flowers. She had no thoughts, she couldn't seem to form any. She instead watched the alter boy trying to tie his shoe and not fall off his chair. Father Brannigan droned on, sometimes in Latin, the way her mother liked mass, but most of the time in English. Kate didn't bother listening to Father reciting her mother's virtues. Kate had heard them all her life and knew she could never live up to any of them. She also tuned out Uncle Matthew as he gave the eulogy.

She moved through the mass with ingrained methodical habit, rising, kneeling, sitting, rising again. The organist began playing the opening notes to the Ave Maria and before Mrs. Kelly sang from the choir box upstairs, Kate knew that was the end of the mass for her. She would not make it through that song and did not want to feel the comfort from another when she began to weep. She wouldn't cry for her mother, she had already done that and there were no tears left to shed. No, she would be crying because the Ave Maria always made her cry.

She gathered up her small purse and umbrella and left the pew. She ducked out the little side door to the left of Saint Joseph that led downstairs to the church hall. Escaping through the exit door to the outside, she breathed a heavy sigh. She fumbled in her purse for a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled deeply.

Her brother Michael slammed out the door, "What the fuck is wrong with you? Leaving Ma in the middle of her mass."

Kate choked on her drag and looked at Michael with contempt, "Nice talk from a good Irish Catholic boy like you. I couldn't handle it, but of course you wouldn't understand that."

He was her eldest brother, the one who had kept the family together when Pop had died. The one who had laid down the rules, the one who had become the 'man of the family'. He was fifteen years her senior and the weight of his responsibility had left him with nothing but loathing for his youngest siblings. He had given up his own dreams for them and this made him bitter. Kate felt it now, as he looked at her.

"No, no Katie, I don't. Ma's up there in a fucking brown box and we're going to put her into the ground and all you can think about is having a damn cigarette."

"No Michael, that's not all I can think about. Do you have any idea how hard this is for me? Do you? Do you even see beyond your own fucking grief?"

Michael unclenched his hands, staring at his youngest sister. She had never used language like that before and it scared him. "All I know is that there's a church full of people up there expecting us to be united as a family when we put our mother in the ground. If you're not there, you know there'll be talk."

Kate took another drag and looked at her brother, disgust showing plainly in her eyes. "That's the whole point Michael, do you think I give a flying fuck what those people think? Where were they Michael, when Ma needed to go to the hospital? Where were they Michael, when Ma was puking her guts out in the toilet? Where were they Michael, when Ma peed herself every night? Did they come to help with the sheets and the laundry when she shit herself? Did they come to offer some sort of comfort? Stop by to say hello, how are you? Did they even bother to send a fucking casserole? No, they didn't. And neither did you. Or James, Peter, Charles, Rachel, Sarah, or Rebecca. No one did, except me. I took care of Ma. You all had your own lives, and kids, and work, and fucking little league. Not one of you fucking bothered to see if I needed a day off, or an hour, or just enough time to take a fucking shower and shave my legs so Ma would have someone with her. Do you have any idea what I've been through?"

She pressed her eyes shut and leaned against the freezing wall of the church.

"I'm sorry Katie, I know this has been hard on you." Michael tried to assuage his guilt.

She opened her eyes and looked at her eldest brother. His hair was nearly white, and the beer belly pushed itself over his too-tight slacks. When had he become so old? He was only forty-five.

"No Michael, you don't know. You have no fucking idea how hard this has been on me. And neither do the rest." Kate threw the cigarette on the ground and stepped on it with her black ballet flat.

"Look, they're starting the procession to the grave sight. C'mon, I'll walk with you." He said softly and touched her elbow.

"I'm not going. I said good-bye to Ma a long time ago. I don't need or want to watch her get lowered into the ground." She took a step toward the parking lot, then turned back to Michael. "She was always afraid of the dark Michael. I thought, you of all people would have remembered that."



sarahjayne smythe said...

Oh, Anne. This is lovely. I can see and feel it all. Grief, anger, all wrapped up in guilt. The emotion is palpable, the dialogue spot on, and your descriptions of the setting are impeccable. Welcome to the dark side. :)

Kristen said...

That was absolutely amazing. The entire dialogue was real,
I could feel all of the anger and grief that the MC was going through.
Wonderful job!!

Falen said...

we were sort of talking about this at my writing group and it came to my attention that i like weirdly whimsical things mixed with horrible violence. I like the balance and counter of the very dark and the light so i always find it interesting when people say they don't like the dark (or the grey). I love how we're all so different

Tara said...

This was really great. And, I can say from personal experience, you really captured what it's like taking care of a dying parent on your own. I had almost the exact same reaction about going to my mom's funeral and got flack from family members, but it was just like you described--I'd already made my peace and said goodbye. Very well done.

Piedmont Writer said...

Sarah Jayne -- Thank you for the kind words. You were the impetus of this. I figured I'd try it. Welcome to the dark side.

Kristen -- Thank you. I've had the conversation just not the actual event.

Sarah A. -- That's what sparked my interest in writing this, the difference between light and dark. I think the experiment was just to see if I could do it. Maybe I'll try it some more. It seems to get all my frustrations out.

Tara -- I'm sorry you had to go through that. I hope I didn't bring up any bad memories for you.

Summer said...

It's hard to think of the appropriate words, but masterful writing, Anne. Unlike you, I have trouble writing light stuff. Darkness is my nature, I suppose, but you did a remarkable job.

Piedmont Writer said...

Summer -- Thank you. I guess that's why God made us all different. Dark and light.

Shelley Sly said...

I always love when I read something like this: something that makes me feel like I'm watching the scene instead of reading it, because that's how real it is. Only really great writing can do this for me. This is really beautiful. (I'm a fan of the dark stuff, so this was up my alley.)

Davin Malasarn said...

This is beautiful writing, Anne. It's smooth and the characters are well done. The details are nice too. I happen to like dark writing, and I write dark matter a lot. Having read a little bit of your other work, I'd say that you have a bit of a dark streak that I really like. :)

Piedmont Writer said...

Shelley -- Thanks so much. Geez, maybe I should think about switching genre's eh?

Davin -- Thank you kind sir, high praise indeed, considering I just sort of "mashed it up" as I went along.

Nicole Ducleroir said...

This was a powerful excerpt. Bravo! I loved that you included odors in the descriptions. Nothing transports me (mentally) to church quicker than the smell of incense and burning candles, and "cloying smell of flowers" was a spot on description for the overpowering scent of too many flowers. In a florist shop it's a wonderful smell, but at a funeral it really is unpleasant.

It's good to step outside your (writing) comfort zone!

Piedmont Writer said...

Nicole -- I'm really grateful I have so many friends here that write in so many different genres. It's amazing what my mind can do given the chance to stretch its imagination. I've been writing regency for so long I think I finally convinced myself I needed a little break. The problem is now that just with this little bit I've written, I want to expand it to something more. What, I have no idea, but I'm pushing myself to get on with Richard and Amanda. Maybe I'll do something fun with it over the next few weeks. Maybe.

Tara said...

Not bothered at all, Anne. Just wanted to comment on my experience to let you know you really nailed it :)

I love writing high tension/dark and action scenes. Considering MC is in the FBI and deals with human traffickers for a living, I get to do both a lot.

I didn't find this dark at all, more somber. And very well done.

Donna Hole said...

I'm feeling the guilt. I'm of an age to need to care for my parents, and the task falls to my younger sister. Just b/c she's closest. And the favorite.

I'm sure you've captured a lot of my sister's emotions here. Guilt and grief look a lot alike at funerals. And I really like how she snuck out early, unable to handle putting her mother in the ground or listen to any more music.

Well done. And it didn't feel all that dark to me.


Erin Kuhns said...

Anne, I thought this was very well done. I got wrapped up in the scene and I could see it in my mind's eye perfectly. Loved the ending too.

P.S. Dark rules! (lol)

Piedmont Writer said...

Tara -- thank you again.

Donna -- I'm at the age where I'm taking care of them now. And I know someday that conversation will happen.

Erin -- thanks. Yeah, I'm kinda' liking this whole dark, somber, grey area. I'm thinking I might have to continue this somehow.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Palindrome said...

Darkness is my thing so I appreciated this fully. I try to write something upbeat but then my Muse takes a dark always. I'm dark and twisty.

Piedmont Writer said...

Hannah -- Thanks. It seems I have another side to me that I never knew existed. I'll have to explore this further.