"Mrs. McKay," Cinda couldn't help but babble as we cleared the threshold and headed for the car, "Do you think we should maybe skip the graveside service?" I kind of wanted to ask that too but didn't want to attract my mom's attention to me. She was in a bad mood. I wasn't feeling much better but never saw fit to challenge her. It was a cruel world out there and my town may not have been some huge city but at least I had a bed to sleep in when I could.
My mom didn't reply to Cinda but just shuffled us over to her car. There was no way she would let me drive the classic car. She only drove it to church and on special occasions. I basically walked everywhere rain, snow or heat. I heard Frank Darnell once ask her, only half joking, if she still had the original gas in the tank. Yet I knew she drove it some nights when she hadn't slept for days. She would just walk out from the front room without a word and disappear for a few hours. Cinda was respectful of my mom's car. Everyone in town was since it was a beautiful piece of machinery. There was only one mechanic who lived a ways outside the town that was allowed to even touch the car.
We settled in to our respective places, mom behind the wheel, Cinda behind her and me looking out from the passenger side. We still didn't know if we were going to watch the mayor be buried or were being taken back home. Either way we just waited with Cinda being uncommonly quiet for a change. The silence stretched and she finally had to ask, "Where did you get this car?"
I was probably the only other one who knew the real answer to that question and never saw fit to share. After all it was my mom's story not mine. Surprisingly enough Cinda had never asked me. I don't know if I would have shared but waited to hear what my mom would reply. I watched the bits of town pass by and figured we were going to the graveside. It was a short drive but long enough for my mom to reply if she wished. The skies opened up as we hit the town limits. Rain fell in huge drops nearly pinging me deaf with the force they hit the roof.
"Cinda, do you ever get tired of talking?" My mom asked while lighting a cigarette with the car's lighter. Normally she was the only one allowed to smoke in the car and she surprised me by offering me one of her cigarettes. Carefully I accepted and joined her in filling the car with a white-gray haze. I rolled down my window a bit and watched the smoke get yanked out into the rain. She glanced in her mirror to catch Cinda's eye then exhaling she didn't wait for Cinda's to reply but continued, "Gwendolyn's daddy died before she was born. He was a quiet man and we had just barely been married, a few months really, when the tragedy occurred. I never gave much thought to his family since they shunned him when he went among the lesser mortals such as us. They wanted him to stay down on the plantation and live the life of leisure their money could afford them. When he died they hastily came to claim his body. So quickly I don't think there was even time for Seth to grow chilled. Seth McKay came from quite the cultured past."
This was all more than most ever heard about my father. She nearly said the same story to me word for word. I had stopped asking once she told it to me a third time with the same words precisely it seemed and the exact same intonation and delivery. This was the first time Cinda had heard about my father. She tended to protect me and not ask me many questions because she was my friend and I think I was her only real friend.
Another smoke plume then she went on with the rest of the tale, "Seth's family knew I was pregnant but felt it would be asking too much for me to travel to their home to have Gwendolyn down there. So we came to an arrangement. I didn't bother seeing them and they sent me money for Gwendolyn's upbringing. When Gwendolyn turned sixteen they had this here car delivered."
My mom refused to ever call me anything but Gwendolyn while everyone I knew called me Lynn and the car became her trophy. What she had neglected to mention was that the car had been sent for me. She knew it and I knew it, but it remained unspoken. The stunning vehicle was supposed to be my car for driving to and from school or wherever teenagers needed to run around doing whatever in their free time. I probably could have argued I needed it but if I was honest I was perfectly happy riding my bicycle around town or just plain old walking. The car the McKay family had delivered was one of Detroit's prize automobiles. A white 1967 Ford Mustang with red interior leather seats and all the extras. It was the ideal car for a teenager of a wealthy family. My mom saw it as hers. I never argued. My mom never worked while I was growing up. She didn't have to since checks arrived monthly up until last week. I had just turned twenty-one and there came a single letter arriving from the McKay estate to mark the occasion. I happened to pick up the mail that day so I had slid the envelope in my pocket and opened it later when my mom had gone out for groceries. I still hadn't told anyone about the contents of that letter.
Cinda was quiet for another beat or two before saying, "Well, it sure is a lovely car, Mrs. McKay. Thank you for driving me." She had been brought up right and her mom was stuck working in the beauty shop that morning so Cinda would not have been able to go if we hadn't taken her with us. My mom nodded she heard and reached over to the radio and turned up the sound. The reception was bad and we ended up having to listen to a nearby oldies station. The crooners of the past eras were singing of love and loss while we headed out to the graveyard. The incongruity of it didn't escape me and from the twitch at the corner of my mom's mouth she too found it pretty amusing. Even with the dreary dark day my mom still had her sunglasses firmly perched on her face. Cinda reached into her purse and plucked out her sunglasses and stuck them on her nose. Cinda enjoyed the use of sunglasses when it suited her mostly she didn't bother because she liked the way folks flinched from her gaze. I didn't put mine on since it was getting darker outside and looked like it may keep raining. No sooner than that thought was out of my head the rain stopped. I still wasn't counting on it staying dry.
Soon we had found a spot to park and were out of the car following a line of folks heading to the gaping spot of earth where they were going to bury the mayor. I looked around and noticed everyone who had been at the service had shown up with the obvious exception of Louella. Margie must have closed up the shop because Cinda saw her mom's car when we pulled in and said she wouldn't need a ride home. Once we got closer to the open grave Cinda spotted where her mom was standing and peeled away from us with a quick bye. Obviously Cinda felt she had to pass on all the information she had learned at the service. I noticed she rubbed the first spot where my mom had pinched her so I also figured she would be telling on my mom.
The grave side service was fairly uneventful other than the on and off rain. It was about half way into the ritual that again the sky opened up. I thought it was a blessing as nobody had shed a tear for the mayor up until that point and the rain hid the tears that Mary had finally choked out with during the downfall. With the event at the back of the mortuary still fresh in everyone's mind it was with a fierce concentration that we all watched the family. The minister's words were the usual prattle and held neither warmth nor much in the way of anything personal.
Any tears left in Barbie and Ken were pretty much put on hold as Kelly Ann was standing between them keeping Barbie from physically striking out at her twin. Fury was the emotion best suited to describe the expressions on the faces of all the females from the mayor's line. Ken was still stunned by whatever had been imparted in the limo ride over from the mortuary. Since we all knew what the mayor had been up to prior to his death it sure appeared it had come as somewhat of a shock to dear old Ken. His lips were moving in response to various parts of the burial but his eyes had a dead look that probably rivaled his grandfather's in the box hoisted over the grave before them. The rainfall quickened the pace of the ceremony and everyone ran for their cars once the final words were uttered. Nobody looked back. At least that was what Cinda told me later. She and her mom were the last to leave the grave because her mom's high heels had sunk a bit in the mud that sprung up with the downpour and wanted to wrestle her footwear free without being observed.
The drive back to the house was done in silence. Again we smoked and said not a word. There wasn't much we wanted to say and Cinda's absence was a welcome relief. Our ears hurt from all we had been barraged with during the services. I wanted to sleep. My body was tired and aching from the tensions of watching and hearing what was happening in my normally quiet little town. I hoped I would be able to get some sleep if nothing more than a mere hour or two. I was starting to get really edgy.
My mom pulled up to the house and slowed down to let me out to open the garage door for her to put the car back inside until her next midnight ride. I watched the care she gave to parking the Mustang precisely in the area marked off. She had even suspended a yellow tennis ball on a string from the rafters to line up her spot. When the car was where it belonged the ball would gently touch the car on the front window below where the rear view mirror was affixed on the vehicle. I never mocked the care she gave to the parking since the results meant there was not a single ding on any part of the car and we could easily walk around and open the doors without damaging the paint. If nothing else my mom liked to keep things in good condition.
Once she had parked and set the brake she joined me outside and we closed the large door. The garage was a late addition to the small house we lived in and fully detached. There was a door opposite the large garage door that led to our backyard. Usually we entered and exited the garage through the big heavy door. In winter the driveway would have to be shoveled before we could attempt to even lift it and that was one reason I didn't mind walking or riding my bicycle. That and the Mustang was not the best vehicle on icy or snow covered roads. Not that I had ever personally driven it but from the passenger's seat I knew this for a fact. The chill in the air reminded me that soon the rain falling would turn to snow and then mom's late night drives usually were curtailed.
Silently we walked into our house. Even though there was a gathering after the funeral at the Hunter family's large house inside the town proper, what there was of it, fifty years of steadily declining property values and kids moving to one of the real 'cities' there was not the hustle and bustle a thriving community had. Instead it reminded me of a late night movie where everyone was horribly killed by aliens. We had made the unspoken decision to skip the post funeral event. It was one of the common sort of gathering that all the city officials and business owners would automatically assume they were invited to attend. Neither mom nor I had any desire to go. As we lived outside the 'true' town limits we tended to avoid anything whenever possible revolving around the mayor and his cronies. Luckily most folks were so self-involved they rarely noticed we had missed some landmark affair. Cinda would go and report back who did what and said what to me, if I was interested. Mom and I usually preferred to keep to ourselves and I knew that Cinda would easily talk her mom into going to the mayor's wake and bring back any of the juicy bits of gossip she culled from her sneaking about during the afternoon. I knew also that she would call me in a few hours and give me all the highlights. Before then I needed to try to get some sleep.
I walked back into the small room that had been mine as long as I was alive. I don't know who built the house but it was someone with no grasp of the idea of personal space. The room was in the front of the house and had a small double paned window that was long painted shut. The sun would stream in from dawn until dusk nearly all year since the house was placed on the lot in such a way as to get the most possible available sunlight. It probably was a great room when it was built as a small sitting room or sewing room but as a bedroom it was pretty cramped. My twin bed was against the wall with the least sun exposure. A small dresser and a chair pretty much filled the room. The closet was smaller than the one in the front hallway used for our company's coats. In my closet I kept a few cotton dresses that hung next to my winter wool coat and little more.
Most of my clothing and personal items were strewn in various spots throughout the entire house. I never bothered to ask for a different room since it wasn't like I slept in the bed much anyways. The living room was where I spent most of my waking time and I couldn't see the point in hassling with moving things around for another spot in the house I didn't sleep.
The clouds still emptied themselves outside my window so the sneaky bright October sun wasn't peaking in at me as I took off my funeral dress and hung it in the sparsely filled closet and slowly put on my favorite flannel nightgown. I had the no frills type of nightgown that covered me from neck to knees. It was comfortable and when I did finally find sleep it usually kept me warm. The old fashioned steam radiator in my room was pretty ancient and tended to be selective about the days it wished to work. Thankfully it was one of the days it was working so the pleasant hissing made me feel happy that heat would be part of my attempted sleep cycle.
I crawled between my sheets and pulled my flattest pillow over my head. The soft escaping steam soothed me and I closed my eyes. I started drifting and my body jerked softly as I began to chase my dreams.
Something thumped, I bolted upright in my bed and looked around confused. Sleep crusted the corners of my eyes and I knew I had fallen asleep for some small amount of time. My clock was blinking twelve. It clicked in my head that the power had gone off while I had been sleeping and I was fuzzy about what time it truly was. I wiped my face roughly and tried to figure out what was going on that woke me. The phone rang in the living room. I fumbled with my door and went out to pick up the phone. My mom was nowhere to be seen.