My contribution to Our Write Side’s Master Class prompt!
I used Melancholy Occasion, and wrote a bit long. Check out the rest of the posts here.
Mother practically danced down the stairs. Her elegant black dress was freshly steamed and fluttering around her like she was caught up in an unkindness of ravens. Bespoke, of course. A dainty hat perched precariously on her head, black lace tracing a dark pattern across the pale porcelain of her face but not quite able to disguise the gleam in her eye. It would be taken for unshed tears, of course. She had a black silk handkerchief to complete the costume. To delicately dab at teary eyes or twist between lace gloved fingers. To flutter to the ground as she swooned into some kind gentleman’s arms, overcome by grief.
Mother loved nothing better than the drama of a melancholy occasion. Not even the husband for whom she donned her carefully curated wardrobe of grief. Number 3.
I hadn’t known Roger well enough to truly grieve him – home only at the holidays requiring a well-bred and loving daughter in Mother’s cast of characters since the age of 7, I hadn’t known any of my stepfathers well. I appreciated the way he had spoken to me as an equal, though, and regretted that I would no longer have the opportunity to work for his company this summer. Since their marriage 3 years ago, I’d been able to attend the summer-camps and activities of my own choosing, a vast improvement over the endless dance camps of the artistic daughter my mother would have chosen.
I certainly hadn’t known him well enough to look as hollow-eyed as I did, but as a part of Mother’s production of Grief, I’d been cast as bereft daughter. She really was a masterful makeup artist, rimming my eyes faintly with the pink of hours of weeping, bluish circles of a grief-tossed slumber disguising my perfectly well rested cheeks. At my previous stepfather’s funeral, she’d put tear-tracks down my cheeks, but apparently 17 was too old for such blatant displays of sentimentality.
Mother stood at the entrance and accepted cheek kisses and condolences with a tremulous smile. I did my best to seem forlorn and supportive at her side while memorizing the tread of the carpet. I was, according to her, simply her rock in these trying times.
“Jeremy!” she gasped, her voice sharper and louder than the role of grieving widow demanded. I peered up through my eyelashes in surprise. She never broke character.
The man’s suit was expensive and well-cut, but in dark gray. Youngish, I guessed – somewhere in his 20’s. Too young to be an executive, and thus outside of the realm of people my stepfather worked with who would have been known by my mother. Worth knowing by my mother. But not dressed in black, the expected colour of attire for a relative. What intrigued me most was that he didn’t seem taken in by my mother’s dramatics.
“Sandra,” he said, voice bland. “I see you’re keeping up appearances well.”
Her fists were clenched like she was considering violence and I held my breath. I could see her steel herself, unwinding her hands, clutching her handkerchief and immersing herself once more in her role.
“Jeremy!” she cried again, collapsing forward and forcing him to embrace her or allow her to fall at his feet. “I’m so glad you made it!”
Jeremy pushed her upright with a firm hold on her upper arms. “I’m sure you are,” he replied, leaning in as though to kiss her cheek. Instead, however, he whispered, “Which is why I had to hear about my own father’s death from the family lawyer. I guess you didn’t quite have old Lareby wrapped as tightly around your finger as you had hoped.”
As he turned away from my mother there was the faint but recognizable sound of silk ripping. Well trained as I was, I passed my mother a replacement handkerchief from my purse even as the son I hadn’t known Roger had turned toward me.
The corners of his eyes scrunched up in an instant of amusement and I swallowed my embarrassment of having been caught out providing replacement props in the middle of the play.
I shook the proffered hand, keeping my own expression neutral as this surprise scene-rewrite inspected me.
“You weren’t at the wedding,” I said, cogs turning in my mind as I tried to adjust to the new information. I wouldn’t have pegged Roger for an uninvolved father, and the shock of meeting his son for the first time loosened my tongue.
“You were?” he raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.
“Maid of Honor,” I replied, and added, “Mother and I have always been close.”
Another flash of amusement and he replied, deadpan, “Of course. Like sisters, I’m sure.”
I bit back my own amusement and, after a check to confirm that my mother wasn’t paying attention, I said, “People often mistake us as such.”
Jeremy snorted, and I felt oddly pleased.
A solemn man came to let my mother know that it was time to head out to the burial, offering his arm to escort her out of the church.
Jeremy surprised me by offering himself as my escort. I was rather used to being the rock that trailed behind the leading lady.
“I suppose you’re surprised I’m here?” Jeremy asked.
“I’m surprised you exist. News to me.”
I regretted being so blunt. He was, after all, at his father’s funeral.
“I wasn’t exactly around much, though.” I offered when he continued to be silent. “Boarding school.”
“Interesting choice for such a doting parent.”
The barb might have struck home if I hadn’t come to terms with the role I played in my mother’s shows, but I ducked my head in acknowledgement anyways. I might not agree with her tactics, but at times they were effective.
“Sorry.” Believable, but not to someone raised in the theater of Mother’s making. There was real venom there, and it wasn’t directed at Roger.
I shrugged and changed the subject.
“Did you work with your father?”
“At times.” Intentionally vague.
“Will you take over now?”
“Well that’s certainly a question.” So, yes.
I waited for two steps and gave up.
“I was going to work there this summer.”
“Oh?” Wariness. He thought I wanted something from him.
“I didn’t know him very well, but I appreciated that he treated my interests like they were legitimate. I mentioned my interest in accounting and he offered the opportunity.”
“My father was always good at looking for potential.” Grudging.
“He was better at finding employees than he was at finding… friends.” Wow, that was a lot of anger.
Mother clutched my hand as we arrived at the burial site, pulling me close.
“How is that poor dear boy?” she hissed, fingers digging into my wrist.
I thought back to the conversation. “Holding up well, all things considered. I don’t think I’ll be getting that summer placement at Roger’s company, though.”
“Oh darling, I am sorry.”
“You really are close. So much information and not a word that could be completely taken as such.”
Mother’s head snapped around so quickly her neck cracked. Instead of sitting in the front row, Jeremy had slid into the second row, and apparently listened in on our conversation.
“Jeremy, darling, whatever do you mean?”
Jeremy smiled, thin-lipped. “I think I can answer your real question more clearly, Sandra. It all goes to me. The house. The other house. All of the houses, really. And the cars, boats, et cetera. Roger had his will changed quite recently.”
In spite of being genuine, Mother’s faint coincided well with the arrival of Roger’s casket. Draped in the arms of her handsome stepson, she really stole the show.