Marie Smysor Watson
Good Time Sally
I only went to the funeral to see if she was really dead. And if she’d stay dead this time. Grandmother had a bad habit of coming back to life during her funerals. She said she couldn’t help it, it was just the way she was wired, but I think she did it on purpose. For fun, because she was an old lady and she was bored, mostly, but also because she was mean. I was third in a long line of grandkids - nineteen, to be exact - and the third girl, so she didn’t care for me one bit. The feeling was mutual, and so I went to the funeral - her third too - to see if she’d finally went and done what she’d been threatening to do for years. And that is, die.
My father was there and his three older sisters, all standing in a row, each bobbing their heads like sunflowers in the breeze, murmuring to the long line of people that snaked out the door and into the parking lot of the local hardware store next door. Funny because Grandmother had worked at that hardware store here in my little hometown and that’s why there were so many people in line. They liked her. Behind my dad and aunts - all blonde, all Midwestern fat - was a swarm of my cousins and their kids. There were a few tears, especially from my two oldest cousins, Claire and Teena, whom Grandmother treated with a certain deference because they were the kids of her oldest daughter, my Aunt Genny, and who fit the mold of “Dutiful Granddaughters” as established by the grand matriarch. They both still fixed plates for their husbands, long past the time when it was considered wifely, or even cute. I was never married, so that was another knock against me. Grandmother also thought I was a lesbian for a while, which actually didn’t bother her one way or the other, only that I was doing something that she could never do. I didn’t bother to tell her that I’d only kissed one girl and that was in high school on a softball bus. Let her think what she wants. The only other person crying was my brother Mack, who was probably upset that his meal ticket was dead. Well, maybe dead. Mack never was able to hang onto a dime and he borrowed more money from Grandmother than the Pope had fancy robes. He didn’t like to work, or he didn’t like to work too much, and so he leaned heavily on his oldest grandson status to get by. Funny because Dad was her only son, and the youngest to boot, and she never did cotton to him too much. Maybe her give a shit was already broken by the time he came along.
I bypassed the winding line and went straight to the casket. I wasn’t dressed at all appropriately but if she was really dead, what would she care? Her hair was a golden brown with a greenish tint to it from too many box dye jobs. Grandmother was eighty, but she told everyone she was sixty-nine. I told her recently what dirty thing that number stood for and had to duck when she threw a shoe at me from the kitchen. She always had really good aim. Funny because I only ever had mediocre aim myself.
It’s hard to believe she’s really gone this time, Aunt Doe said to a stooped gentleman. I snorted softly, or what I thought was softly, but Aunt Doe gave me a menacing look from her place in line between Aunt Genny and Aunt Tommy. Aunt Doe was the least fat of the three, which made her the least nice, but not as mean as Grandmother. Aunt Doe was just your garden variety mean. Like she wouldn’t let you have any candy because it’d ruin your appetite, even though she secretly binged on fun-size Snickers in the pantry before every family meal. And she wouldn’t let you sit on the good couch in the living room, which she called the parlor like she was a Charleston debutante or something, instead of the daughter of a hardware store queen and a middling farmer. Grandfather was long dead. He knew how to stay that way too. Dad always said you could set a clock by his Dad and I guess that meant that he was always the same, season after season. He only ever had one funeral.
Aunt Doe shot me full of holes with her look. Or she would’ve if I would’ve let her. She long since lost the power to hurt me, ever since I grew up and away from her and her sisters and her mother. Even though that meant leaving my father, which hurt some as he was my only living parent, and my brother, which hurt considerably less since Mack was only interested in Mack.
I looked back at Grandmother. Her face was still slack, her hair still the same sickly color. Her hands were still folded, but there was something changed. Her left hand, clasped over it’s right, the middle finger now folded out as if it were pointing out her ugly shoes. Grandmother always wore the ugliest shoes.
She sure was a Good Time Sally, the old gentleman said, chuckling as he stepped towards my Aunt Genny who was next in line and who smiled with her mouth but not with her eyes, because it was probably the tenth time she’d heard that same stupid thing in the past hour. Sally was Grandmother’s name. I laughed out loud because it’s exactly what she deserved but she did not jump at my laugh and I began to wonder if she had died, finally and for all, when I saw her eyebrow twitch.
I see you, I said, loud enough for Aunt Tommy to cough. Whether she was trying to save me, I don’t know because I didn’t turn around. Funny, she had a very distinctive cough - it sounds like a cold engine trying to turn over - so I knew it was her. She’d always been the most sympathetic of the three, but even she had drifted away from me over the past decade, choosing instead her safe life, with her four sons that all worked for their father managing rental properties in this dump of town, the place I came from but would not go back to.
Nothing from the casket, a very luxurious affair that was no worse for wear, despite being its third use. Dead people can’t get anything dirty. Except she wasn’t dead.
Can’t you just die, I said to her in a low whisper, bending over the casket like I was sniffing something that's gone bad.
What’s the fun in that, she whispered back, and then her face began to crumple in on itself, just like that one time I went into the hardware store where she worked and pulled a box of nails out from underneath the stack just so I could see them fall, tumbling to the floor all happy and shining, quivering in a mass. And then she was gone and the rest of the sorry tableau began to fall too, just like the houses of cards that Mack and I used to build on childhood Sunday afternoons when we were bored and lonesome for other people, and they collapsed into each other, so easy like stacking folding chairs on a cart and my father was the last to go, because he was the last in the line or for another reason maybe, and he looked at me and said, The trash needs to go out tomorrow, and then he too folded and vanished, like sunshine does at night.
Mack’s breathing was heavy and dogged, like he’d just run up and down the stairs a few times. Dad snored from next door. Light spilled out into the hallway, down near the end. Mom had been driven to her midnight reading again in the spare room due to Dad’s noise. My softball pants itched where the short elastic legs cut into my calves. I’d fallen asleep in my uniform again. I’d have to get up and change soon because Mom didn’t like it when I did that. She also didn’t think Mack and I should be sleeping in the same room anymore, but that still happened too. You can’t always get what you want, I whispered, and I was pretty sure this was a totally original thought, because that’s the kind of thinking I did in the middle of the night, pressed up against the wall in the smallest room in the house, listening for signs of life from my brother, while just down the road a half-mile, a bumpy and pitted road, Grandmother was probably still awake too, thinking of all of the things she hadn’t ever thought of before, and laughing a deep-throated laugh, I bet, at how she’d outsmart us all. Family is nothing more than the people in it, she liked to remind us as she counted heads to make sure we were all present and accounted for, and that she hadn’t missed one of us in all the confusion. Funny but I never thought of it that way until she said it out loud.