One morning, seemingly without warning, mother asked us to don on our formal wear. I didn’t understand why but Caroline apparently did. She was very perceptive, noticing how mom was dressing all in black and Emily was in a black gown with black shoes, Caroline immediately ascertain that they were going to her parent’s funeral. While the most of us were polishing our shoes and eating a light breakfast (funerals usually don’t elicit hunger in most of us) Caroline locked herself up in her room, refusing to come out.
Her dress was well-starched and well-ironed; we weren’t able to afford any formal wear for her but found a pair of dress shoes our neighbors tossed out onto the curb and polished it with used motor oil (we can’t afford shoe polish) until it’s spick-and-span. We even applied a little makeup on her and darkened her eyebrows, yet she cloistered herself in her room. Mom was concerned she wouldn’t attend the funeral and said, “Ricky dear, could you go to your cousin and convince her to come with us?”
Being the ruling dame of the household I could not disobey my mother, although I hate it whenever mom uses me as a weapon of subterfuge to force another person to do something against their will. I went and knocked on the door of my room, and asked, “Could I come in and get a tie?”
For a while I thought Caroline had decided not to open the door under any circumstances, but my tie excuse apparently deceived her into thinking that I was merely coming to retrieve a silly piece of silk and did not have ulterior motives, so she opened. I wasn’t planning to wear a tie but since it was my pretext to come into her room I’d look like a liar if I didn’t, so I decided to put on a nice, quirky bowtie. As I was struggling to put it on I asked, “We’re burying some dead people today, do you wish to come join us?”
Caroline did not respond, she merely sat on her bed and stared at the floor, almost unaware I was in the room. I ran up to her bed, jumped up and sat on it, sending ripples of vibration across its surface. Caroline responded to the bed’s motion by stretching her neck, but after a few minutes she returned to her lackadaisical self.
“Well, the truth is that we’ll not be responsible for burying them, a backhoe has probably dug the hole which the caskets will be thrown into. The pallbearers will actually carry the caskets and lower it into the grave so all we have to do is sit and watch the somber procession, the boring eulogy given by sappy relatives and the preacher doing the whole ‘dust to dust’ thing. I heard they’ll be serving shrimp cocktails, light hors d’oeuvres and chilled sauvignon blanc as concessions so it might be fun, you can drown your sorrows in ‘Napa lightning’ as I call it.”
Caroline moved her head a bit, I didn’t know what it meant but I was glad she was responding, and what I said didn’t go into thin air. I fiddled with the tie a little while but the ‘bow’ part of the tie keep turning out funny, it was getting frustrating to the point where I said, “Shit! Why can’t you tie behave yourself?” The “s” word got Caroline’s attention, she turned around and showed her sublime face (even at such a young age a meager dab of makeup accented her natural beauty so much that I was a little taken away when I first saw her dolled up), took the tie from my left hand and started tying it for me.
“The tie goes around like this,” she started to explain, tucking the tie underneath my collar, making me feel embarrassed for my previous attempts wrapping it over my collar. For quite a small girl she had strong hands, but she was quite gentle tying the tie, making sure that she wasn’t strangling me as she tightened the bow. The whole time my eyes were paying attention to her face, her faced looked rather indifferent as she focused attention on my neck, she might as well be reading a newspaper or a textbook. Her fingers moved so naturally, as though she was born to tie ties. She was very quick and I was very satisfied with the results, as a matter of fact I even looked at myself vainly in the mirror to inspect my tie and adjust it.
“I never knew you know how to tie a bowtie.” Caroline smiled slyly and said, “My father taught me a thing or two. He used to sit me on his table before work and watch him dress, he laid out his ties which I liked to play with. Noticing this, he taught me the Windsor knot, the half-knot and the bowtie, now I know them all.”
“Is that all your father taught you?”
“Well, let’s see; he helped me out with my math homework. The heck, he virtually taught me math; I was often too sick to attend school and what I learned was mostly through him. He read me everything, from Clifford the Big Red Dog to Time magazine, all those months which I couldn’t leave my bed he was always beside me, wearing his hairnet, surgical mask and gloves. He tried comforting me all the time, often using his sense of humor and never-failing optimism. I had always been afraid of clowns, nonetheless I didn’t mind when my father dressed as a clown for Halloween, with his gentleness he took what were boogymen in heavy makeup and wigs and made them appear to be the most kind and understanding people.”
“You seem to remember many positive experiences of your father,” I remarked rather innocently.
Caroline’s face lit up as though she was experiencing an orgasm (girls of her age don’t have orgasms, at least I thought), she laughed delightfully (although to ears that are not used to her voice this would sound like the blood-culling screech of an eagle), and said, “Daddy was a wonderful man, truly. He was there with me the most of the time when I was sick, we saw each other at least once a day if not more, and he even gave up his job which garnished us with the salary that was necessary for my medical treatment, for years we lived mainly off of welfare.”
“And how about your mother, what were your memories of her?”
She was struck with terror, her face twitched before she broke down into tears, “Mom! Her brains, brains, everywhere, and not a piece of it in her head!”
“I’m sorry, but could you remember anything about her when she was alive?”
Her tears abated and she started reminiscing, “She’s the one I miss the most. I don’t think, with the possible exception of the time I’m enjoying a good banana cream pie, there is a moment that I spend without thinking of my mother. They told me that her death was painless, but I couldn’t believe it with so much blood spilling out from the back of her head.”
I thought she’d be forever mourning her mother in her room, so as I was about to leave I told her, “Mom said you can stay in your room if you want to, she understands you’re too distraught to come to the funeral.”
After sobbing for half a minute she said with her whimpering voice, “No, I’ll go, I want to say goodbye to them for the last time when I still have the chance.” It was rather unexpected that she would come along, I guess my fears of my failure to convince her was just self-flagellation. Perhaps I do have a persuasive personality that is characteristic of all snake oil salesmen and politicians.