EVANESCENCE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER Part 5 – Snapshot
EVANESCENCE – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Part 5 – Snapshot
The house was finally quiet. Charlotte, never fond of forced socializing unless it was related to work and therefore paid, was officially sick of people. Her cheeks hurt from baring her teeth and smiling. She had run out of banal chit chat and the patience to listen to the grief aphorisms offered by friends and family and neighbors and everyone else in town who wanted to participate in someone else’s death drama.
For first time in two weeks that Charlotte didn’t have to take care of anybody but herself. She foolishly thought her caregiving duties would officially terminate when her mom died. She didn’t realize that death as a concept didn’t end with the actual death. It just dragged on and on, until every detail was exhausted, the funeral arrangements made, phone calls, emails, and texts answered, every casserole and pie eaten, and every wilted flower thrown out.
“She was so lucky to have you here with her up to end,” they all said, one after another on an endless loop. “You’re such a good daughter. She didn’t have to die alone.” It took a couple of times before Charlotte learned to temper her response to this line of reasoning.
“She didn’t even know who I was,” she snapped the first time few times she heard it. “It wouldn’t have mattered if it were me or some random stranger.” After several shocked looks, Charlotte learned to look down, clasp her hands together, and quietly murmur “Thank you.” It also helped to dig her fingernails deep into her palms. Charlotte was glad the social phase of death was over, and she could go back to saying what she actually thought.
Charlotte looked at the clock. It was 4:10 in the afternoon, technically too early for a drink. It was finally cooling down a bit. She had opened every window in the house to clear out the stale air. The family home was almost empty now, and she was getting it ready to be sold. Charlotte tried to summon some sort of feelings up about this. Should she be sad? Nostalgic? Was is normal not to feel anything at all?
Charlotte, her sisters and brother had worked for a week to pack up and empty the house. They each took a few things, sentimental items, easily packed or stored in the trunk of a car. She and her siblings were too far entrenched in their own adulthood to need anything essential. Each of them had houses with silverware, blankets, pots and pans, furniture; all the accoutrements of adult life. There was nothing of real value in the house, not even on a kitsch level. Her parents were solidly middle-class with four kids and not a lot of extra money. Charlotte decided it would be best to donate everything from the house to charity.
The remaining chore was the hardest. Charlotte sat on the floor trying to decide what to do with the remaining stacks of old pictures and assorted mementos from her family’s shared past. A few years ago, her brother John had consolidated all the family photos into individual thumb drives and gave them to everyone for Christmas. It was a great present; everyone loved it. But the hard copies, the original pictures, lost their significance. Reproduced and always available, somehow made them less compelling.
She piled everything into a big box; photos of the family from the 1950s through the 1990s, travel souvenirs, old report cards, letters from her dad to her mom when he was stationed at Fort Dix during basic training. The photos had a brittle shiny look that digital couldn’t convey. Some were wrinkled, stained, missing a corner. Most of them had the date and the event commemorated on the back in her mom’s perfect cursive. Pre-Facebook status updates without the option to “Like.”
If there were any grandchildren, Charlotte would pass the box on to them and let them figure out what to do with it. She was exhausted by the cleaning, packing, and yardwork it took to get the house in good enough shape to sell. Her tolerance for these duties was at its end. Maybe she’d just throw everything away.
Charlotte picked up a photo of her family next to a Christmas tree with piles of presents beneath it. Her long dead grandparents were in the photo too. Everyone was smiling except for her grandfather. She flipped it over. “Christmas, 1973.” Charlotte stared at her grandmother. She had forgotten how much her mom looked like her when she got old. She tossed the photo back into the box on top of the pile. There were probably 300 photos.
Charlotte suddenly recalled an afternoon shopping with a girlfriend on Abbott-Kinney after a tipsy lunch in Venice. There were so many retail stores in the neighborhood that a window display had to be significantly outré to lure customers inside. Charlotte was staring a collection of corn husk dolls spray-painted silver when her friend grabbed her arm and dragged her to the next window.
“Charlotte, you’ve got to look at this,” she said. “It’s crazy. Who are all these people? Or the real question, who were all these people?”
In the store window, artfully scattered on a black velvet fabric, were dozens of old snapshots of the dead in open caskets. Men in suits with white hair and rouged cheeks, women dressed up like they were going out to a fancy dinner. A little boy in a small white coffin, his head resting on a blue tufted satin pillow. Everybody’s eyes were closed, their mouths set in neutral positions. Charlotte was incredulous.
“This window wins,” Charlotte said, laughing. “This is really fucked up. Who throws out family photos, and better yet, who collects them?”
Charlotte stared at the box of her family photos. She wished she hadn’t remembered that store window. Now she couldn’t throw any of this stuff away. She’d drop it off at John’s house before she left to Mexico, then pick it back up and store it alongside her boxes of things she couldn’t throw away back at her house in Los Angeles. Everything that made up a life, everything a person was could be packed away into a box and stored the basement. It was depressing.
There was a knock at the front door. Charlotte decided not to answer it. The knock became more insistent. Charlotte continued to ignore it. Whoever was at her front door was now actually pounding on it. This made Charlotte so angry that she jumped up and ran to the front door.
“This had better be an emergency,” she said, jerking the door open. It was Jenny.
Charlotte stared at her without saying a word. Jenny crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. Charlotte looked at her garishly tattooed arms and her long hair, dyed a hard, bright red. She was dressed like her teenaged daughters, in jeans deliberately torn at the knees and a tight tee shirt with the slogan “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas,” written in glitter across the front.
“I’m not doing this with you,” said Charlotte. “Go home. I’m leaving next week.”
“Good for you,” Jenny said. “I’m not going to miss you. We aren’t exactly friends. In fact, I can’t stand you, never could. Can I come in? I don’t want the neighbors to see us.”
“Hell no,” Charlotte said. “I’m not kidding. I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, it’s over. You have nothing to worry about.”
“Do you think I’m worried about you taking Danny from me?” Jenny laughed. “You still think you’re hottest thing around, don’t you? Haven’t you grown up yet? Oh, right, you haven’t. You aren’t married. You don’t even have any kids. You’re the same as you were in high school. But now everyone else is an adult.”
“Just because I didn’t have a litter of kids doesn’t mean I’m not an adult,” Charlotte snapped. “It just means I’m better at birth control. Seriously, go away. I have things I need to do before I leave. I don’t want to talk about anything with you. Move on. I have.”
“Well, here’s the thing,” Jenny said. “Danny’s going with you.”
“No,” Charlotte said. “He isn’t. You guys have four kids and you don’t work. You need him. If I were you, I’d just pretend it never happened. I don’t love him. It was just a thing.” She turned around to go back inside, but Jenny grabbed her arm. Charlotte looked around to see if any of the neighbors were watching. They probably were. Thank god she was getting out of here soon.
“Listen Charlotte,” Jenny said. “Danny’s going with you. I don’t care where the fuck you go, but get the hell out of here. Did you think I didn’t know what was happening between you and Danny? Do you think I’m that stupid? Everyone in town knows. I’m glad you two found each other again. I’ve been wanting a divorce for years.”
Charlotte clenched her fists and dug her fingernails into her palms. “Look Jenny,” she said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking or what I was doing. This whole thing with Mom was freaking me out. I’m really sorry. I told Danny it was over after my Mom died.” She blinked back tears. Charlotte covered her face with her hands as tears ran down her cheeks. She was appalled that she was crying in front of Jenny, but she couldn’t stop.
“By the way, I’m sorry about your mom,” Jenny said.