God called her home, they tell me, and I nod and smile like I agree. There are no tears, no sadness shown. I’m numb, watching a movie, not my body, certainly not the emaciated corpse of the woman who gave birth to me eighteen years ago. The flesh that is left sags from the bones, but that is not my mother. Those high Scandinavian cheekbones more prominent than ever, looking like mine, except that’s not me. It’s not me responding, not me smiling and answering calls. These people might be relatives, but they’re not mine. Blue-eyed, quiet, come from Washington and Montana and Minnesota with names I’ve heard in stories all my life, but it’s not me who heard those stories. It was someone else, long ago, a different girl with too-small bones and books and dreams and short blonde hair. Not me giving directions for people streaming from I-15. Whoever I am, wherever I am, I am a corpse too. The hollow cavity in my chest filling with bacteria, formaldehyde, sunken in. Bones in a waxy shell. That’s what I really am.
Someone smiles when Robin arrives. She’s tall as a man but lovely, dark hair and blue eyes. Ruth always wanted a daughter with black hair and blue eyes and her third child was born that way. She rejoiced. Months later the hair became blonde and that desire was filed away. Her niece Robin got the black hair and blue eyes instead. Now they both stand and look at their daughter, cousin who now has no hair at all and the blue eyes are under eyelids strange with heavy mortician’s makeup. Strange on a woman who did not care to accentuate her features. Cheekbones of a model, what a lovely jawline, aquiline nose, a face to sculpt, they tell someone. Beautiful, but in too-big Walmart shirts and long pants in summer to hide the varicose veins, present since hot pregnant summers in California, missing home, swollen with child and veins becoming thick with stagnant blood.
Robin says the corpse found happiness in doing the small things, eating cookie dough from a cereal bowl, reading novels while agile squirrels scolded each other on the cedar-planked rooftop, liked milking her Jersey cow, Farrah, always enthusiastic in brisk Montana early mornings. Gangly lodgepole pines dropped needles on the barn and not so far way, really, Mount Haggin still bright with reflecting snow in summer. Someone smiles and says she knows Farrah, the Jersey cow, bulls brought up those gravel roads in trailers to give her a calf, to steal away her milk for the family, to be filtered but never pasteurized, they say. Someone who looks like me (but could never be me, I am nowhere now) helped Ruth clean out the old freezer in the basement, found food from thirty years before, a dozen packages wrapped in white paper marked “Farrah.” Ruth is angry, will not forgive her children’s father for anything, not for that joke, not for his months in Alaska, not for anything. He’s just another corpse now (won’t we all be?) with animosity still striking at his gravestone in Ovando.
The bald woman in the casket has animosity directed at her too. A girl who looks like me smiles with only a little sadness and says she was wonderful, recalls her reading books always, always, always, (is that why she likes to read so much?) forever in a story, hiding away in pages, unassuming, never hostile, her ears willing receptacles for anyone needing to be heard. Who could ever do anything but love her? But somewhere I am standing far away from these proceedings and I hate her, I hate her, I will never forgive her. I cannot stand her. I want to smash her gravestone until the granite becomes sand, I will escape from society and scream, scream at the stars, scream until I sleep. I hate her because now I have no one, no one, no one.