Sisters

Beth watched a cold drizzle streak across the car window blurring the view of the passing farmland. The gray clouds hung low causing her ghostly reflection in the glass. Beside her, David drove in silence with his clean shaven face losing its summer tan and, as usual, his blond hair needing combing. Nevertheless, her husband was striking in his dark blue suit.

“This is going to be one dreary day,” he said, “and I’ve got a lot of work to do at the office.”

“We’re going to my grandfather’s funeral. Couldn’t you be a little more considerate of my feelings?” Beth said popping her jaw into tenseness.

Beth remembered that in the beginning of their marriage, she tolerated David’s workaholic attitude. Now, his desire for great achievements made her wish he was seeing another woman. Then I’d know how to fight back, she thought. Swelling tenseness narrowed her oval eyes and creased her forehead.

“I’m not being inconsiderate. I just made a statement I think both of us can agree on.”

“You always have a lot of work to do at your office and, yes, you are being inconsiderate. This isn’t pleasant for me, either.”

Beth turned again to watch the passing farmland. She recalled riding horseback with her Grandpa through the same rolling countryside. They swung wide away from the arching reach of stout elms and followed white washed fencing to gated ends. Back then, his thick white hair tousled in the wind while her pigtails spiked the air attempting to keep up. Grandfather was always younger than his body, Beth thought.

Tears swelled in her eyes. Regret flooded Beth for the waning contact that seeped between them over the years. The laughter associated with the time of horseback rides was distant.

“We’re leaving right after the funeral,” ordered David defiantly. “I’ve got to get back to my office tomorrow.”

Beth knew too much about David and she could picture his thoughts racing about work. “You’re obsessed with getting that vacant director’s position.”

“If you would listen to me sometimes you’d know that selection is in two weeks and I’m not the only competitor for it,” David snapped back. “I need to work on my marketing presentation in the morning. It could determine who gets the position.”

“You already told me rumor has you in the lead. Can’t you think about other things for a change?” Beth recognized David’s focused look and she found herself challenging it.

“I don’t have time to explain all this,” David said. “Seems like all you’re thinking about is this funeral. All I’m asking is that we not spend all day here.”

“Look, David,” Beth said sharply. “We can’t just leave like that.” She snapped her fingers releasing a small explosion of anger, “and you’re damn precious work can wait. This is my grandfather and my family. I know that doesn’t mean much to you, but it does to me.”

“All right.” David said, then paused. “I’ve never liked funerals. Besides, I feel awkward here and you haven’t seen your grandfather in years.”

“Yes, since we’ve been married,” His pacifying me won’t work, she thought. Besides, his last statement hurt. A card here and there over the years was not enough for Grandpa.

“I just don’t see any need for me to be here. I hardly knew your Grandfather. Besides, aren’t you going to tell them today?”

“Don’t be absurd. I can’t tell them after my grandfather’s funeral. And, could you please not mention anything? I can’t deal with more than one crisis at a time,” Beth said. Their visits to separate lawyers and David’s plans to move out in a few days tormented her.

“All right, all right. But, you’ll have to tell your family soon.”

“I know, but not right now, please?” Beth wanted the argument to end.

Both turned their attention away and rode in silence. How am I going to tell Mother that I haven’t a marriage anymore, Beth thought. Sometime ago she realized David pushed too hard with his work and marriage interfered with his priorities. Only the sound of the car slicing through the rain was heard between them.

Arriving at the farm house, David maneuvered around several cars cluttered along the dirt driveway. On their way to the long wooden porch, Beth and David warded off misting rain with separate umbrellas. The well lit house defied the shadowy weather outside.

Inside, most of the men grouped in the living room near the wet bar where David went. Beth smiled at her father who stood among the men, but his attention was elsewhere and he did not notice her. I used to be more comfortable with Dad, Beth thought. I’m not going there with David already taking away my opportunity.

Most of the women milled around the dining room table in an adjacent room. There, Beth did not see her younger sister Annette, Mother, or Grandma among them. Respectfully, she chatted with her aunts and cousins before wandering into the kitchen.

“Beth, I’m glad you’re here,” Grandma greeted her from the kitchen table.

“Grandma, I’m so sorry,” Beth said hugging the aged woman. Grandma had a youthful plumpness to her features and strength to her grip. Her long gray hair was pulled back into a bun as normal.

Mother sat in her authoritative pose with her dark blue dress pressed exactly. Seated next to her was Annette who matched Mother in facial features. As usual, Annette always kept a closer relationship with Mother, Beth thought. Annette’s long ashen hair was neatly combed and pinned back. Her burgundy dress had a slight print of flower petals along the collar and hem that accentuated her large brown eyes. Beth felt guilty about her plain dark, emerald green dress she wore. She felt sloppy and out of ‘color’.

“It’s too bad you couldn’t be at the viewing last night,” Mother said. “Father looked wonderful. But, at least Annette made it.”

“I’m sure Beth couldn’t help not being at the viewing, Mom,” said Annette. “I live a lot closer and Beth would have been there if she could.”

“I did try to come, Mother,” Beth said, angry at her mother’s comments and puzzled by Annette’s defense.

“Anyway, I’m glad you’re here today,” Grandma said. “It’s good so many people came. John would have been pleased.”

“Why don’t we go in to the dining room,” suggested Mother. “Other guests have probably arrived.”

With Mother leading, Annette past close to Beth and whispered, “Don’t pay any attention to Mom. She’s upset about Grandpa’s death. Besides, you know Mom has to have everything perfect.”

“Yeah, but she’s right. I should have been at the viewing last night.” Beth angrily remembered how David came home late so they missed the viewing. She did not want to go alone and have to answer questions from Mother over David’s absence.

The two younger women followed the two older ones into the quiet conversations of the house. Gratefully, Beth allowed the swarm of relatives to envelope and hide her. That way any serious comments were avoided.

When the time came to leave, Beth pressed for her and David to ride alone despite Mother’s insistence that fewer cars be used. Beth did not want to be trapped in a discussion about herself, David, and their future. Mostly, though, she wanted to be alone and she knew she would be that way with David. In the end, it was Dad who won the argument for Beth, irritating Mother.

The funeral home was in a converted house. Where it once had life, now it hosted the remains of life. A brief, cordial ceremony was given by a preacher who knew her Grandpa and the words made the audience quiet. Beth thought so many thoughts at once that she could not focus on any single one. She tried to hold back tears, yet she ended up patting them away with a torn tissue.

Beth sat between Dad and David while Annette sat close to Mother. I don’t have Dad’s attention like before, Beth thought. It could be David’s presence, Grandpa’s death, or a stage of maturity. Beth wondered what was family and kinship.

From the funeral house, the cars formed a procession and drove through town toward open farmland and eventually to a cemetery. Among the lolling hills, large hardwood trees spread out among marble and granite monuments. The rain had subsided, but gray clouds hung threateningly low. On a bright day, it could be peaceful here, Beth thought. Many more people arrived to crowd around the canopy casket and listen to the sermon.

As the preacher spoke, Beth repelled the thought that it was the end. Yet, it is, she thought. A generation has past. Things have changed like curtains pulled closed across a stage when nothing more is to be seen.

Beth remembered herself as a ten year old walking between Dad and Grandpa, each of whom gently clasp her hands. The three walked along a well worn cow path, across pastured lands, and between rounded hillsides as a fall season’s chill invaded. The setting sun began to leave everything to darkness. The men she was descended from conversed in deep tones with talk that did not matter to her. It was their voices that were a comfort like the soft blow of wind high in the trees. The memory gave way to thoughts about her wedding when she exited childhood and entered marriage by passing from one man’s hands to another. She realized that when she passes out of marriage, no man will be there to hold her hand. She should be stronger.

Walking away after the funeral, Annette asked Beth, “You’re coming back to the house, aren’t you?”

“Yes, for a little while.” Beth sensed an urgency in her sister’s voice and suddenly David’s wants irritated her. “But if David wants to leave early I can stay and catch a ride back later.”

“That’ll be great. I’ll see you at the house,” Annette said as she quickly caught up to her husband, Rick.

On the way back Beth told David, “Annette wants me to stay awhile. So if you’re in a hurry to leave, go ahead, and I’ll find a way back.”

“I hope you’ll find time to tell them about our divorce.”

“Funny, I thought it was a separation,” Beth said. “Anyway, don’t worry I’ll tell my family, but right after Grandpa’s funeral is not the time.” Beth felt tears swell in her eyes, yet she contained them.

“I’m sorry. Tell them whenever you want. They’re your family.”

Beth rolled down the window to let the coolness contain her emotions. The rain started again and she let the water dampen her hair and steal down her neckline and back. Yet, her burdens did not lift and soon she was back at the farm house.

Beth walked alone leaving David behind. He could have been like one of the trees nearby or a cloud passing overhead. Invisible to her consciousness. In the house, there was no opportunity to speak to Grandma because Mother flanked her protectively. Instead, Beth talked to her father, but it was not the same as she remembered. He had a distance to him and Beth did not think she could go with him. A hug from him made her feel like a small girl again and she was not sure she liked the fatherly protection. David came over. He stole the respect Beth desired from her father. David was not leaving and Beth would not stay.

Beth did not realize before the funeral how she had drifted away from her tomboy self to a different person. In losing touch with Grandpa, she had also separated herself from her father. Womanhood signified not only growing up, but moving strongly on. She would reacquaint herself with Father at another time in another frame of mind, she thought while walking away.

Beth felt drawn to the women of the family that she had not known. Still, she eluded their condolences and instead found Annette alone in a back bedroom sitting on the bed and staring out a pane window.

“Annette, why are you sitting here alone?” Beth asked.

“I just got tired of the people,” she replied. “It was a nice funeral, wasn’t it?”

Beth sat on the bed beside her sister. “Yeah, Mom out did herself. But, I wish I had seen Grandpa more these last few years.”

“I was always jealous of you and Grandpa when we were kids. But, that was how it worked out – you with Grandpa and me with Grandma.” The words came suddenly from Annette with a tone of resentment.

“I’m sorry you felt like that.”

“I didn’t mean it to sound hateful. I just don’t want it to always be that way.” Turning to Beth, Annette continued, “I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?” Outside the room, people could be heard leaving. Beth wondered if David was among them.

Annette turned her gaze back toward the window. “I’m afraid Rick is seeing another woman.” A pause.

“How’d you know?”

“I was suspicious for a while because of strange perfume and when I called him at work he wouldn’t be there. Then, I found a note in his pocket from someone named Suzie.”

The tears came then and Beth held her younger sister. After a few moments Annette drew away saying, “I’m sorry. I really don’t know what to do.”

“You’ll have to decide what’s best for you. But, you have to at least tell him you know.”

“What if he wants to be with her?”

“It’s better to find out now than later.” Beth wanted to instill hope in her sister. How can I do that when my own marriage is over? she thought.

“If Rick and I split, Mom will be angry. She’s put so much pressure on me for my marriage to succeed and for me to have children.”

Mother would accept my failed marriage, but not Annette’s, Beth thought. Dad would be my problem, yet he will not put the pressure on me that Mother will put on Annette.

“Forget, Mom. She’s not married to Rick and you are. Do you want Rick back?”

“I don’t know.”

It grew lighter outside as the clouds began to clear. Beth reached for her sister’s hand unable to talk. They sat silently together on the bed waiting for the house to empty of parents, husbands, and family.

Published April 23, 2003, by Sanskrit