Mrs. Mary’s Funeral by Hannah-Beth Floyd
Submitted to The Coup: Lucid, Vol. 32 (2014)
When I was a girl, around seven or eight, my mother lost our home. We were coming back from a potluck after church and my shoes had been hurting my feet all morning. During lunch I was able to take them off and pull up grass with my toes but now she made me put them back on account of the broken glass that littered our apartment complex. They had changed the lock to our apartment; my mom spent the rest of the afternoon in the admiration office while I sat in a plastic covered chair in my sundress. It only took us until three in the morning to pack everything up.
“Where we going momma?” I asked but she never answered, just kept piling clothes and toys into cloth shopping bags with a knitted brow. I followed her around complaining about my shoes for a while, but as night fell I found my way to the front seat of our 63 Plymouth Valiant. The engine labored to turn over a few hours later, and my mother turned out to the empty streets.
We drove all night; my mother bounced her knee impatiently while sucking hard on a cigarette and going deeper into downtown. She finally stopped behind a 24-hour grocery store.
“Stay here, baby,” she said, shutting off the car completely. I unbuckled myself and stood on my shoes that I had kicked off hours earlier to see. She made her way to the front where an ATM glowed. She tapped on the screen and a moment later banged her fist against its side, crushed her cig into the pavement, and started back for the car wrapping her pink cardigan around her like a quilt. I shrugged into my seat and pretended to be sleeping. She came into the car and put her head on the steering wheel and began to cry.
The next morning I changed from my sundress into my uniform in the bathroom stall of a McDonalds. Mom dropped me off at school sort of frantic; when she picked me up she smiled like everything was normal and said we were going to the park.
At the park we held hands walking the paths. It was late March and trees had just begun greening and the air smelled of Indian Paintbrushes and Honeysuckles. I ran ahead, and through the tree line I found a dirt path.
“Are we allowed this way?” I called back to my mother. She walked up slowly.
“I don’t know, baby.” She took my hand again. A roaring came from the pavement, and a stout man on a four by four turned into view from the trees. He had a blue button down with the city logo embroidered into the sleeve.
“Sir?” I asked stepping forward. He saw me and came to a stop, shutting off his roaring engine.
“Are we allowed this way?” I said pointing to the little dirt path among the trees. The man smiled and looked at my mother before responding.
“Yes miss?” he said. I repeated myself.
“All of this belongs to you, miss,” he said in a thick Hispanic accent. “You may go wherever you’d like because the park is yours.”
“Did you hear that momma?” I asked turning and smiling. She nodded sweetly and thanked the man before he started up his engine again and took off. She and I walked down the path I had found and ended up getting lost for hours.
“It’s good to see you.” My mother said as Mrs. Mary opened the door. Mrs. Mary was a widow from our church that lived in a neighborhood by our house. My mother had her number from a choir social a year earlier and had made a call while I was in school. The woman allowed us in and showed us where to keep our bags. The kitchen was warm and smelled of cornbread.
“Honey, why don’t you change out of your school clothes.” My mother said as she opened a suitcase onto the high bed. “I’m gonna talk to Mrs. Mary before dinner.”
“Ok, Momma,” I said. She bent to kiss my forehead and smiled.
Last February a church member had told me Mrs. Mary had died. I flew in from Carolina for the funeral. I hadn’t spoken to my mother for years, and when I saw her in all black beside Mrs. Mary’s casket I choked. I touched her arm as she stared into the closed eyes of Mrs. Mary and she spun round. We sat together through the service, and when the time came we each tossed a handful of dirt into the hole above the woman who gave us a home.
My mother and I went to coffee that afternoon in our black. She said she’s never told her family what had happened, that her father didn’t think she was ready for me back then.
“I was young,” she told me, “I’m sorry it all happened.” She said flicking the black lid of her cup and biting her lip.
“You did what you could.” I said finishing mine off.