Madeline in Her Coffin
Madeline in Her Coffin
by Gay Degani
Too much lip gloss, too much mascara against blue-veined skin. She has tiny eyelashes, almost white, burdened now with thick black makeup. No one could see with caterpillars weighing down their eyes.
Madeline’s cap of iron hair curls along her forehead, her cheek, her chin. The diamond studs she bought on her seventieth birthday are hidden. Maybe I should tuck back the gray. She would want the stones to gleam.
The designer dress I chose for her belonged to her own dead daughter, my poor dead mother. An expensive chiffon print. Lilies, I think. I forgot to bring matching shoes.
I wonder if she’s hovering somewhere over her coffin, glaring at the organist’s borrowed pumps. Or maybe at the moment of death, Madeline’s soul filled with after-life awareness. Understanding finally the irrelevance of shoes. The waste of diamond studs.
I glance at the space above for wisps of ectoplasm. Angels wings. A darkening vapor. But all I see is a chorus of pine trees murmuring beyond the church’s trestled glass ceiling.
My uncle, standing too close, leans in with coffee breath, his hand pressing my hip. “She was good to you. You should be grateful.”
I move down the mahogany casket, away from him, and away from her face. I glance back. A blade of sun catches the gloss veneer of her mouth below the caterpillar eyes.
I wonder if she knows about her son. I wonder if she knew before? Did she ever linger outside the closed door of his bedroom and eavesdrop, papery knuckles poised to knock. Did she decide he was a good boy, after all, and walk away? Did she shrug off that slash of doubt she had to feel? Conceal it with a bandage?
I know how she survived. Her son wouldn’t—couldn’t do anything wrong. He could have women. It was none of her business what he did, anyway, even in her own house. He was a man now. He had his own life.
But did she ever think about me? Did she turn away from his door and come to mine? Did she listen there, pretending to hear me breathing the sleep of innocence? Or did she return to her own room, her own warm bed, to let suspicion scab over?
At the cemetery, the dirt, piled high on a carpet of fake grass, is as black as the coffin. My uncle’s hand rests on my shoulder, his thumb snake-oil therapy against the naked base of my neck.
With Madeline gone, there’s no one left to worry about but myself.
–refers to the word funeral in Dawn Corrigan’s short fiction piece Golden