From The Sky - Part II

Six weeks after the funeral Darla married Dad in a simple civil ceremony. It's hard to say what mortified my aunts the most: the fact that the wedding wasn't performed by a priest or that my mother ignored the rules of mourning. My aunts, you see, believe widows are obligated to no less than a full year in a black dress. All of my mother's dresses were red, including her wedding dress. It was the only one she left behind when she skipped out.

I was born less than a year after the wedding. From what I've heard, my mother found my existence distressing and considered me the single greatest threat to her freedom. I'll be civil and say perhaps she just wasn't the nurturing type.

A few days shy of my first birthday, with the house in a frantic orgy of preparation for a party carefully orchestrated by my aunts, my mother left town with a jazz musician and disappeared from our lives forever. "I need to see more of the world," said the note she left behind. No mention of me or Dad, and none of us can forgive her that. So as I said, she's gone and good riddance.

I still had my birthday party: my aunts made sure of that. Of course I don't remember any of it, but there's a picture from the party in a photo album on my Dad's coffee table. I'm in a pink dress with a small ribbon in my hair, and I'm sitting in Dad's arms. We're at the dining room table, and there's an immaculate white linen tablecloth with plates of food covering nearly every square inch. A big Italian cream cake sits in front of me, a huge affair with chopped nuts running around the top edge and pillars of pecans all around the bottom. There's a big fat candle stuck smack in the cake's middle. I look like I'm cooing something. Dad looks like he wants to throw up. His eyes are bloodshot. Monkey fur. My aunts are all lined up behind his seat, not a one of them wearing a smile, though it looks like Aunt Zia is right on the verge of a smirk. An empty, accusing chair is to my father's right.

My aunts thought Dad would ruin me somehow, raising me by himself, but I think he did the best he possibly could. They won't say it, but I know my aunts agree with me. He surprised them. It couldn't have been easy for him, but I turned out fine. I didn't end up a drug addict, an unwed prostitute or a psychopathic ax murderess.

I apologize; I'm meandering a bit. It's hard, you see, to talk about my mother. I can't even discuss her with my father. She did a lot of damage when she abandoned us. I've got kids of my own now, and yet there are still times when the house is quiet and I'm sitting on the porch watching fireflies after a hot day, or maybe October leaves falling, or a January snow-sky approaching from the West, and I wonder what terrible thing I did before I could even walk that made Darla leave. It's a dull, aching pain I can't salve, and it hits me without warning from time to time. You would think by now it wouldn't bother me anymore…you would think. But a mother's love or thoughtlessness leaves a mark for life.

The only time Dad mentions Darla is when he plays cards with his pals. When I was growing up, I'd be watching television on Wednesdays…Dynasty at nine, St. Elsewhere at ten…and somewhere around Dad's fourth beer I'd hear him say, "Fellows…never date a funeral girl." The room would go quiet for a few seconds, then someone would make a bet and the game went on. This little hiccup occurred every week over all the years since Darla left, right up until the last game the night before Uncle Gio died. There will be no more games now; everything has changed where my father is concerned.

Never date funeral girls...

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