My clothes were stiff that morning. The brand-spanking-new blouse was blue and floaty, but ironed within an inch of its life. Long-sleeved and laying tensely on my bed, it was lineless and starchy smelling. I wrinkled my nose. The skirt was worse – black and loose and long, resting at my knees and ironed. Though I was tired, sleep had long left me and deserted my puffy eyes to haunt my mother, who was a ghost by the coffee-maker.
"Ready?" she rasped, swallowing a sip of scalding coffee, no sugar.
I nodded plainly, tugging at the skirt and smoothing invisible wrinkles. I'd have no breakfast today. It wasn't worth it. Though the sun was rising, it cast a haunting gray film over everything; clouds sheathed its warm light.
Slinging her red purse over her bony shoulder, my mother stretched out a blue-veined hand at me. It was the hand that wasn't already gripping her Styrofoam cup. I took it. I relished the clammy stickiness that clung to her skin. It meant she felt as I did.
Forlornly, I gazed at our gray-washed car. Dust encrusted the window; old bug guts dried in the summer heat on our windshield. Duct tape held our rear-view mirror loosely on. I let go of my Mother's hand. Crawling into the seat, I smelled the old Civic's signature scent: old fries and the stale smell of gym clothing.
The car wheezed to a start. It was still hot. Hesitantly, I cracked a window and felt the heat waft in. Because it sped past my flushed face with speed, it felt nice. Reminded me of warm, careless days swinging my legs on a park bench and burying my face in the coldness of vanilla ice cream.
"Shut the window, Posy," sighed my Mother. I did, hearing the loud squeak that indicated the window's slow rising. I was forced to look at the crescent-shaped marks of dried raindrops. My lip curled at my ankles. My feet had been stuffed into black, shiny shoes and lacy, frilly socks. From the meticulously clean smell that hung around them, I had the idea that my Mother might have ironed them, too.
Our car passed dingy, barely-alive yards with vibrant green patches of weeds springing themselves over crusty, brown grass. It hadn't rained in a long time. That showed you how long it had been since we'd washed the car – it was still carrying its war-scars from the rains of April.
We pulled into the parking lot. Those same stubborn weeds sprouted between mangled cracks in the pavement. Softly, I kicked one, scuffing a black shoe.
My Mother pursed her lips wearily. "Come on."
I followed her past the sympathetic looks and handkerchiefs dabbing at falsely watery eyes. After a while, I gave up on the people whose heads turned down at me, whose ears longed to hear so much as a sad sniffle before they buried me in overly-sweet perfume and chubby arms clasping my head to their chests.
Blue flowers were everywhere. There were artificial blue roses, pale violets, and any kind of flower I hadn't heard of. All in blue. Nothing black except the outfits. It was like they had been through what I had, I noted with a frown. My Mother and I took our seats at the front of the room full of chairs and more people, more breathing bodies with red lipstick and combed greasy hair.
The Minister coughed, as did several people to hide their small sobs. "Now then, let's get started."
He pointed to a picture of my big brother – Klaus, blond as a platinum credit card, smiling bigger than the Cheshire cat. "This young man was a fine specimen of what God wants every young person to be," he said strongly.
I knew he was lying; Klaus was downright bad. He'd sneak out to the 7-11 late at night, so late that when Mom woke up in the morning, she'd wring her hands and gaze at him sadly.
"Oh, no, Klaus," she'd say, pacing and not knowing what to say. "Oh, no."
In the end, I'd find myself digging into a bag of Cheetos and sitting in his lap. I got in trouble, sure, but as long as Klaus always came home, it would be fine.
It wasn't fine anymore.