I sat glaring at the back of his head. He had insisted that I sit beside him, because as he said, “It wouldn’t look right.” However, I didn’t care.
My eyes glanced over at the silver casket adorned with pink carnations on top. Tears filled my eyes as I stared at the word, Mommy, spelled out in white carnations. I jumped slightly in my seat when a hand wrapped around mine.
“Are you all right, Richie?” I looked into my aunt’s concerned eyes. Like mine, they were filled with tears. They were tears for a sister who she had loved until the end. Not like him.
What could I say? My heart was broken. I didn’t know what to feel; so many emotions were colliding inside my mind.
Should I feel sorrow? Anger? Rage? I looked at the back of his head again. This time it was bowed in prayer. Rage consumed me. I wanted to spring from the pew on which I was sitting and pound him unmercifully.
“And we pray for the loved ones of Judith Ferguson,” prayed the minister dressed in a purple robe as he held his folded hands before him. I watched as he looked up and smiled gently at me.
“Be with this family, Oh Lord,” he spoke solemnly. “We pray that you be with her devoted husband, Richard.” He looked up and gave me a stern look when I let out a stifled laugh. My aunt reached over and once again squeezed my hand. He turned around and our eyes met. His narrowed as my eyes filled with rage. I hated him and he knew it.
The minister closed his eyes and once again continued the prayer. “We ask, Dear Lord, that you guide and protect the children whom days ago lost a mother. Let them always remember the love she shared with them for the short time she was on this earth.”
My head collapsed into my aunt’s lap as she held me tightly as we both wept. Loud sobbing could be heard throughout the church. I looked up when my sister broke from his embrace and rushed to the silver casket and began screaming, “I want my Mommy!”
He rose and pulled her back to her seat and put his arm around her. He told her to be quiet. Be quiet? Not even now could he show any compassion. He knew what we were all thinking.
“Be with these children, Dear Lord,” the minister spoke louder above the mourning going on around him. “Be with Richie, Melinda and Andrew as they try to understand why their mother was taken from them at such a young age.”
He looked down from the pulpit and smiled slightly. “God has a reason for all things. Be comforted in knowing that she now sits beside Him in Heaven.”
I glared up at him. He knew I didn’t believe him. He knew I no longer believed in God. If God was such a wonderful God, then why did He take our mother from us? Why had He let her suffer so much?
I looked at the back of his head. And why did He let him destroy her? I looked up again and scowled. My aunt placed a protective arm around me. She knew. She witnessed how he treated her only sister.
I don’t know what the minister said next. My mind stared blankly at the closed casket with the pink and white carnations on top. The choir sang a song, but the words were muted as I thought back to the last time I saw her alive.
“You’re a wonderful son,” she had said as she reached her frail hand out to mine as she lay dying in the hospital bed. “It’s a shame I’ll never be able to see you grow up.”
My body fell gently against hers, careful of the tubes and needles running into her body. “I love you, Mommy,” I wailed. She put her small hand on my head and petted it.
“Be strong for me, Richie,” she whispered gently. “Melinda and Andrew are going to need you now, more than ever.” I nodded my head as tears continued to fall down my cheeks. She patted it once again, and then her hand fell to the side of the bed. She once again had fallen to sleep. The next day she would be dead. She was only thirty-seven. That was six days ago.
I looked up again just as the choir was singing ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow.’ Some fat woman with a microphone was parading before my mother’s casket singing loudly. She was twirling a handkerchief in her hand and would stop to wipe her tears away with it. People around me were crying. My uncle was holding my inconsolable aunt as she mourned in the pew beside me.
My baby brother stood up in his seat and looked back at me. He held out his arms and I reached out and pulled him into my arms. I then sat him in my lap and rocked him gently as he cried. He turned and gave me an angry look, but he knew he couldn’t say anything, at least not in the church. I glared back at him. I hated him and he knew it.
Andrew looked up with tears running down his cheeks. He was so small wrapped up in my arms. I leaned down and kissed him gently on his forehead. I then wiped his tears away, but new ones would form as quickly as the old disappeared. “Why did Mommy have to go away?”
“I don’t know,” I mumbled. I pulled him tighter into my chest so that he couldn’t ask me anymore questions that I couldn’t answer. How can you explain to an eight-year old boy why his mother was lying ten feet away in a silver casket adorned with pink carnations with white carnations spelling out the word Mommy?
He again turned and whispered, “Is he all right?” I just glared at him. Why would he care? He never cared before. Now, however, everyone was watching. He had to put on his fatherly act. It didn’t fool me. I looked away and looked down at the gentle face of my brother- a face red with tears.
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I looked up and noticed that everyone had their heads bowed as the minister once again lead everyone in prayer. “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.”
The church echoed with the word, “Amen.”
He then turned and reached for my brother, but I refused to let him go. He scowled and then walked to the casket and hugged the minister in the purple robe. I put Andrew down and my aunt grabbed our hands and led us from the pew to the front of the casket. My sister, Melinda, walked over and clutched me tightly around my waist.
Like Andrew and my mother, she was small. They both had her blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. She looked more like Andrew’s twin than a sister who was four years older than him. At fifteen, I was the big brother. However, I looked like him. I had black hair and brown eyes. Why couldn’t I have looked like them?
We stood before the silver casket, the three of us, with our arms wrapped tightly around one another. He stood beside Andrew. When he attempted to put his arms around us, I pulled them further to the side. He wanted to put on a good show for those who had come to say goodbye to my mother. But we all knew, and he knew we knew.
For the next fifteen minutes people walked up to the casket and gently touched the side. Then they would approach my father and tell them how sorry they were for our loss. Each time he would tell them he appreciated their sentiment, I would glare past my brother and sister at him.
He hadn’t been around the past year. Why were they telling him how sorry they were? He hadn’t been sitting late at night holding her hand while her body withered away to someone that was unrecognizable as our mother.
He was living with his whore in a loft apartment downtown. He abandoned my mother when she needed him the most. He abandoned all of us when we needed a strong shoulder to cry on. I hated his intermittent visits because it always left her sad and depressed. And her body ached more after he left.
I looked over and glared when his sister wrapped her arms around him, and they stood crying before her silver casket. “She was such a dear, sweet person,” she cried. But she knew. She knew how he had left us and now she too was putting on a show for those around them. My body surged with hatred for them, all of them. They knew how he had treated her, and now they were filled with hollow remorse.
She walked over to me and tried to pull me into a hug, but I stepped back. When she reached down for Andrew, I pulled him before me and wrapped my arms protectively around him. Her eyes narrowed, but she attempted a smile.
“She’s in a better place now, isn’t she?” I wanted to spit into her heavily painted face. How could she stand before three small children suffering for a mother who had endured so much pain for a year and make such a statement? Andrew started sobbing in my arms and I pulled him away and led him to the bathroom located in the basement of the church.
“Richie!” he shouted out. But I took Andrew’s hand and quickly walked away. Melinda ran up and took my other hand as we walked down the stairs. Aunt Barbara, who had comforted me during the funeral, ran up and took Melinda’s hand and led her away. We exchanged a quick, knowing glance. She hated him as much as I did.
We walked into a stall and together relieved ourselves. My brother’s hands trembled as he unzipped his pants. His hands shook greater when he zipped his pants back up. He looked into my face and let out a labored moan, reminiscent of a sick animal. He then fell into my arms and violently wept.
“Why, Richie?” he muttered into the front of my now wet shirt. “Why is Mommy gone?”
There was nothing I could say that would help him understand. I didn’t understand it myself.
“Richie.” My mother had walked into my room and sat down on the bed. It was a little over three years ago. I was the age of Melinda then. She took my hand and squeezed it. “We need to talk.”
I knew from the worried look on her face that she was going to tell me something bad. I had been preparing myself for my father’s leaving. They had been arguing almost daily, and I thought she was going to tell me they were getting a divorce. But when she squeezed my hand and tears filled her eyes, I knew it was going to be far worse.
She reached out and gently rubbed the side of my face. “You’re such a handsome boy.” Tears of sorrow filled her eyes. She sat up straight and took a deep breath. She then uttered the words that would change all our lives.
“I’m sick,” she said tearfully. I wrapped my small arms around her.
“You’ll be all right, Mommy,” I assured her.
She reached out and pulled me onto her lap and held me tightly. “I’m really sick, Richie.” Even my young mind comprehended the warning in her voice. “I may not get well.” Her body shook as she clutched me and cried.
I pulled away and stood looking down at her. She was pretty. She had always been pretty. Her blond hair was pulled back behind her head and wrapped in a pink bow- her favorite color. Her blue eyes twinkled from the tears that had formed in them. She smiled gently at me and took my small hands and squeezed them.
“Do you remember when grandma got sick when you were a little boy?” I nodded my head as she squeezed my hands tighter. “I’m sick just like her.”
“But she died!” I wailed as I leaned in and wrapped my arms around her. I thought back to how my granny had gotten sick. She was in and out of the hospital. Since I was only six at the time, my visits to her in the hospital were rare. When she came home to die, she was so weak that she could hardly eat. Soon she didn’t even know who I was.
I could hardly see my mother’s face when I muttered softly, “Are you going to die?”
When her face softened and she smiled meekly at me, I knew the answer. She didn’t have to say anything else. “Let’s hope not,” she managed to say. “I’m going to get new treatments that weren’t available to your granny.” She then pulled me into her bosom and held me tightly.
She pulled away and stared pleadingly at me. “I want you to promise me something, Richie.” I nodded my head. “You’ve got to help me with Melinda and Andrew. I’m not going to be able to take care of them all by myself.” I again nodded my head sadly.
I asked, “What about Daddy?”
“He’ll help too,” she responded. But I could tell by the look in her eyes she was doubtful. Even though I was too young to understand, I knew then that they didn’t get along. Many times I had hidden myself under my covers at night as they screamed at each other in the den.
And she did get sick. Very sick. When she received chemotherapy several months later, she lost a lot of weight. Her beautiful blond hair was replaced by a brown wig. After her treatments she would lie in bed and sleep most of the day. She became a skeleton lying upon the white sheets.
It was up to me to deal with my little brother and sister. I tried to ward off most of their questions with vague answers. “What’s wrong with Mommy?” Andrew would often ask me.
“She’s sick,” I’d say. “But she’ll get better,” I would reassure him, knowing that she probably never would.
She did get better for a while. She said her cancer went into remission and she began to gain weight. For about six months she became the mommy we knew once again. Unfortunately, this was the time that he decided he would break the news to her about his whore.
Since I was much older and was beginning to understand about sex, I could comprehend most of the arguments they had. My father is a homicide detective and she is a dispatcher for the police department. She is three years older than him and has two children. One is a boy my age. The other is a boy about two years younger than Andrew. I have never met them, but I did see him eating dinner one night as they sat on the patio of a downtown restaurant.
I was riding my bike home from baseball practice. He had the nerve to call out my name and motion for me to come over. “This is Linda,” he said with a smile as he put his arm around her. I gave him a disgusted look, jumped on my bike and pedaled away before he even got a chance to introduce the two boys. The wind had dried my tears by the time I had arrived home, but the hate in my heart remained.
Two months after he walked out and moved in with his ‘new’ family, Mom got sick again. She tearfully informed me late one night as she lay in her bed that she probably would not get better.
She didn’t. She died five days ago. And now, upstairs he stands mourning the wife he didn’t love. If there is any kind of justice in the world, a bolt of lightning would come down from the sky and strike him dead. Then I might get rid of this hate I feel for him.
Suddenly, there was a soft knock on the bathroom door. The knob slowly turned, and my Aunt Barbara stuck her head in. “Is everything all right, Richie?” When she saw Andrew clinging to me with his head buried in my chest she rushed over and pulled him away.
“Oh! You dear, Baby!” she cried as he broke down once again. Melinda walked in and I walked over and embraced her. A man entered, but he quickly left when he saw the distraught situation before him.
After several minutes my aunt stood straight and walked over and pulled a large amount of paper towels from the dispenser. She walked over and wiped Andrew’s face dry. She then handed me some towels and I wiped Melinda’s face dry and then myself. I walked over to the mirror and looked back at the image before me.
I had aged so much over the past year. My once youthful face was taut and hard. I don’t think I had laughed or smiled the past three years. Looking back at me was a stranger I no longer knew. I looked at my long black hair and dark brown eyes. I was looking more like him every day and I hated it. I was beginning to grow a slight mustache that seemed to appear magically one night. At first, I was beaming with pride until I realized that he too had a dark, bushy mustache. Now it no longer made me feel like a man.
“Let’s get back upstairs,” she said. “They’ll be taking your mother’s body out to the hearse soon. Your Uncle Ray is a pallbearer.” I grabbed Andrew’s tiny hand and led him back toward the stairs.
“Where have you been?” he asked in an angry, hushed tone. “I’ve been standing here by myself.”
“They’ve been with me,” responded my aunt equally angry. “Sorry you had to look like the mourning widower,” she said glaringly. I turned away and smiled slightly. Only Aunt Barb had the nerve to talk to him that way. Everyone else was afraid of the great detective, Richard Ferguson. But not my aunt.
Not only did I inherit his looks, I was also the unfortunate recipient of his name. I’m Richard Ferguson, Jr. I hate my name. My middle name is Kyle. For a while I tried to get people to call me that, but I was unsuccessful. However, they do call me Richie instead of Richard. I guess I can live with that.
The minister walked up and whispered something in his ear. He approached and reached out to touch my shoulder, but I quickly stepped back. “We are supposed to follow behind the casket down the aisle,” he instructed as they turned my mother’s silver casket toward the large double doors. I looked around and noticed that everyone was standing. Most of the women were wiping tears from their eyes with wet tissues.
Again, he tried to position us beside him behind mother’s casket, but I stepped back beside my aunt. “She shouldn’t be here,” he hissed angrily. I reached down and took her hand. Grabbing Andrew’s hand, I stepped defiantly past him and stood behind the casket as the pallbearers started the journey down the aisle. Aunt Barbara grabbed Melinda’s hand and we marched slowly as the mourners who had come to pay last respects to my mother wept openly at the sight of three motherless children. I knew he was behind us, but I didn’t turn to see where. He shouldn’t have been here anyway.
Once outside I waited to see which limousine he got into, and then I led my brother and sister into the one behind. My lips formed a slight smirk as he glared at us. Uncle Ray and Aunt Barbara rode with us. Andrew sat in my lap and looked out the window and waved to some of our family that he recognized as they headed to their cars to follow in the procession.
We rode silently inside the limo. I kept my eyes glued to the hearse ahead. I still couldn’t believe that my mother was lying inside it alone in a casket. The sun was shining brightly, and the casket would occasionally glisten when it made a turn. Tears started to well up in my eyes.
I had tried to be strong like she had asked me to be. It was now my responsibility to protect my little brother and sister. However, I didn’t feel strong. Not now. Not after having to share the last hour with him. With her no longer alive, I felt empty. My life had been in overdrive for three years. Now that she had died, I was drained of any strength that remained. As I stared at the hearse making its slow journey to the cemetery, I wished it were me inside instead of her. I no longer wanted to deal with the reality that was now facing me.
Andrew moved in my lap. Instinctively, I pulled him tighter to my body. If I couldn’t understand what was going on, how was he expected to understand? I looked at Melinda. I was her age when mother told me she was sick. I’m sure she was aware of what had happened, but could she comprehend how our lives had now changed?
Tears once again emerged when I thought of what would happen to us. I know that my mother had discussed it with Uncle Raymond and Aunt Barbara, but they had not spoken about our fate. However, my mother spoke once of it when we were alone.
“What will happen to us?” I had asked her late one night as I sat vigil beside her bed. Little did I know at the time she would be dead two months later.
She turned and looked sadly at me. She extended her hand and I got up from my seat and took hers as I sat on the side of the bed. “I’ve made arrangements for you to stay with Aunt Barbara,” she said weakly. “But I’m sure your father will go to court to gain custody of you, Melinda and Andrew.” She closed her eyes and remained silent for a minute before speaking once again.
“It’s not my wish,” she said as tears welled up in both our eyes, “but he is your father. Barbara probably won’t be able to stop him if he does.”
“I hate him, Mommy,” I cried. “I don’t want to live with him.”
She gave me a stern look and squeezed my hand tightly. “Nothing good ever comes of hate,” she whispered weakly. “It will only destroy your soul. Promise me you will not fight with him if you do have to live with him.” She closed her eyes and fell asleep before I had a chance to object. We never talked about it again.
I looked out the window as the hearse pulled into the neatly manicured cemetery. We followed as it climbed a hill and stopped beside a tent. Uncle Raymond got out of the car and approached the hearse. He stood on the left and helped pull my mother’s casket from it. My aunt indicated that we were to get out and follow my mother to her final resting place. When I looked over and saw him waiting for us to exit, she had to pull me from the car.
“Just a few more minutes, Richie,” she pleaded. “It’s almost over with.” I reluctantly got out and took Andrew’s hand. If it hadn’t been for my little brother, I probably would have watched the remaining ceremony from the backseat of the limousine.
As we approached the tent, he indicated that he wanted us to sit in the seats positioned in front of the casket. I turned and pushed my way back through the throng of mourners approaching the tent. Many looked confused as I made my way past them.
“Richie!” I heard a familiar voice. “Wait up!”
My best friend, Gabe, ran up beside me. “Are you all right?” I stopped and turned toward him. I couldn’t remember seeing him at the church even though I knew he would be there.
Gaberiel Dyson, Gabe for short, had been my best friend since the third grade when he and his family moved next door. I was attempting to shoot a basketball into a net above the garage door when I heard a voice behind me.
“Your form is all wrong,” the boyish voice said. I turned and saw a brown-haired boy about my age standing about twenty feet away.
“There’s nothing wrong with my form,” I responded as I heaved the ball at the net. It landed on top of the garage and then bounced to the ground. He giggled as he picked up the ball.
“Sure there is,” he replied cockily. “Watch.” He placed his feet firmly on the ground as he tossed the ball over his head and straight into the net. He then stood back and grinned. “See,” he smiled. “I told you.”
He spent the rest of the afternoon showing me how to shoot a basketball. Even today, I still can’t play basketball very well. Gabe is a starter for our varsity team. He plays forward position; but since the starting forward is a senior, he doesn’t get much playing time.
“Yeah, Gabe,” I replied sarcastically. “Everything is just great.” A worried look appeared on his face. He approached me and threw his arm around my shoulder. He held on to me as I fell to the ground and started crying.
I could hear the minister in the purple robe saying, “We can take comfort that our sister in Christ, Judith Ferguson, is with God this bright morning.” I buried my head into the chest of my best friend and cried. He said nothing as he held and rocked me.
Soon I was aware that people were beginning to walk away from the tent. A pair of strong hands lifted me from the ground. At first I fought, thinking it was him. But I recognized the voice of my Uncle Raymond. “Don’t Richie,” he said soothingly. “Let’s get you home.”
I really don’t remember much about the drive home. I remember looking back at my mother’s casket sitting alone. Everyone had walked away and had headed to their cars. I wondered if she’d be lonely tonight when the sun set and the night air cooled.
The driveway was already filled with cars when our limousine pulled up in front of the house. Cars were lining the tree-covered street, and I noticed that several of our neighbors had come out to stand on their porches as we exited the car. Most had been at the church and were now standing reverently as we made the journey up the sidewalk and into the house.
He was already standing at the door greeting those who had come back to share in the food he had catered in. He started to say something, but I brushed past him and followed my aunt into the kitchen. Andrew was following behind, holding the belt loop on my pants.
“Sit down.” She pointed to the stools beside the kitchen island. She then went to the refrigerator and pulled out a gallon of milk. She poured the milk into glasses and set them before us.
He walked into the kitchen and walked around the island until he was before us. “Would you boys like something to eat? There are all kinds of food in the dining room?”
“I’ll take care of them, Richard,” my aunt replied sharply as she looked angrily at him. “If they want something to eat, then I’ll get it for them.”
I watched as they stared angrily for several seconds at each other. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” he mumbled as he turned and left the room.
I almost spit my milk out when she softly muttered, “Bastard.” She had said what I had been thinking since I first saw him in the church.
We sat quietly in the kitchen as the noise from the dining room and living room grew louder. Soon it sounded like a party was being held inside the house. The louder the noise grew, the angrier I got.
People came into the kitchen to express their sorrow to me, Andrew and Melinda. My aunt would quickly direct them back into the other rooms. Gabe came in and sat down beside me. We didn’t speak, but I was glad he was beside me. He had been with me the past three years, so he understood how I was feeling.
I was becoming more upset as the loud talking grew into laughter. I could hear him burst out into loud laughter. He wasn’t even thinking about her. He was soaking in the attention he was receiving. She was now a forgotten memory to those in the other room.
“I’m going to my bedroom,” I announced to my aunt as I stood. Gabe got up and put his hand on my back. Andrew grabbed my hand and walked with me as I entered the dining room on the way to the stairs.
I turned toward him when I heard him burst out in another fit of laughter. She was standing beside him with her two boys. He had brought them into our house on this day of mourning!