Lilith

(c) 2016, Tara Moeller

“She’s coming?” Amanda stares, mouth gaping enough to show the little white teeth the dentist has given her. “She’s coming to the funeral?”

I shoot a quick glance to the side. Amanda’s mother weeps in the front pew, her shoulders heaving under the great dull blackness of her dress.

“Yes, she’s coming. They were married for fifteen years. Why wouldn’t she come?”

“They’re not married now!”

I want to say that, technically, her mother isn’t married to him now, either, but I bite it back, swallowing the bitter words. They get stuck on the way down and I choke, covering it with a cough. “They were still friends.”

And they had been. My mother had always kept a good relationship with my father after the divorce. She made sure I was still a part of his life, and that he was still a part of mine.

“She can’t be here.”

“It’s not invitation-only.”

“My mother…”

My mother is coming. Don’t worry, we’ll sit in the back pew.” I turn on my heel and leave, swallowing even more angry words. I think I am going to be sick.

There is no one sitting in the back pew and I drape my black cardigan over the back, spreading it out enough to mark the seat for two people. I can’t sit down yet; I need to move; I want to beat my fists against the wall.

Father Mulroney would not approve.

From the back of the church, I can still hear my stepmother, her sobs loud and wet. I can hear Amanda, speaking to her in a stage whisper: There, there Mummy. It’s okay Mummy. I’m here.

A hand touches my arm.

I start and turn: My grandmother, his mother.

The pearls at her neck are old – my grandfather gave them to her when they were first married. She wore them at her wedding. It was the “something new.” She still has her veil, carefully packed in a vacuum bag, along with her embroidered lace handkerchief – the something blue.

They are for me when I get married.

But the pearls are old now, yellow instead of white, restrung after I pulled them off her when I was three. I was told the story when I asked her about the faint scar on her neck. I think I was twelve when I asked.

I raise my brows.

“Any sign of her?”

I shake my head and turn back to the tinted window. Rain drops race down, leaving tracks. My reflection is dim in the window, next to my grandmother’s. I have her nose and I am a few inches taller than she is now. I remember when she used to be taller than me, staring down that long nose in disappointment.

“She’ll probably arrive just before, so no one gets upset that she’s here.”

My grandmother snorts; an unfamiliar sound. Her reflection sneers; an unfamiliar expression. “I doubt that woman would even notice. Unseemly, wailing like that.”

I can barely remember my grandfather’s funeral; I was only five when he died. All I can remember is sitting with my mother and my father and my grandmother, staring at a closed casket. I think I fell asleep.

“To each their own, I guess.”

We stand silent, watching for her, just inside the double doors. The tinted glass keeps out the sun, keeps the chapel in perpetual shadow. Raindrops gathering momentum down the glass, joining together, little streams making little rivers that race to pool at the bottom. They streak downward, making our reflected faces cry without our mascara running.

The rain thickens for a moment, the heavier drops battering the roof. The drops hit the pavement, the ground, the grass; some of the drops bounce–hailstones. There is a flash of lightning, followed by a slow roll of thunder. The wind buffets the windows and they shudder.

After a violent minute, the wind quiets and the rain eases back to a drizzle, and I see her car, at the back of the lot, a small compact squeezed between someone’s Mercedes and an off-road, jacked-up-by-three-feet truck.

“There she is.” I grab my grandmother’s wrist, and it feels skeletal in my hand. A tall, lean woman in a black dress walks toward the church, her head down beneath a black umbrella.

My mother.

My grandmother cranes her neck, the pearls sliding, spinning with the movement. She doesn’t smile, but she nods her head once.

“I’m going back to the front. Maybe that woman has calmed down.”

I think my grandmother is being overly optimistic but I don’t say it out loud. That would be rude.

When my mother reaches the door, I open it, pulling her in and taking her umbrella to shake the water away. She smiles at me and reaches her lips toward my cheek, her hands heavy on my shoulders, forcing me to dip down to receive the kiss. Her lips are cool and her cheeks are damp from the rain.

Father Mulroney smiles at my mother, though it is not a big, welcoming, glad-to-see-you smile. It is thin and papery; an “oh god – you’re here” smile.

Mother nods at him without smiling and we pass him by, sliding into the chapel and the back pew. I sit near the aisle.

My mother nods and smiles at Mrs. Corprew, who is sitting in front of us. The woman’s steel gray hair is cut short and spiky, even though she is likely going on seventy. She wears a trim, dark-gray suit with a deep purple shirt; she is not wearing a hat. She was dad’s secretary for as long as I can remember.

Frowning, I realize that I have never met Mr. Corprew. For a moment I consider that slight, but then Mrs. Corprew smiles back at us and turns in the pew, reaching one hand of the back to grasp my mother’s hand.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” She whispers the words to my mother but I catch the quick glance in my direction.

My mother smiles back; her eyes crinkle at the corners and the dimple in her cheek winks. “So am I.”

The music starts, a deep bass of mourning, slow and painful. I can feel it rattle in my chest.

My stepmother’s wails punctuate the music, a duet of horrible sorrow. Amanda sits next to her mother, her arms around the woman’s shoulders, patting away like the woman is on fire.

I reach out my hand toward my mother and she takes it in hers, squeezing gently, stroking it with her other hand. I try to ignore the wailing without success.

My mother appears to be succeeding though. She sits serene in the pew, staring ahead at the open casket, her mouth soft, neither smiling nor frowning. The diamond studs my father gave her for their tenth anniversary twinkle at her ears, like little stars.

Those, too, are destined for me when I wed. Her dress, in airless storage since the day after she wore it, is waiting, too.

The heart-shaped gold locket my father gave me when I turned sixteen, the year after the divorce, weighs heavy around my neck. Inside is a photo of him from college, from before he met my mother. On the other side, there is a photo of my mother, from when she was in college, after she met my father.

The eulogy begins and the wails from the front recede. My mother inhales a single, sharp breath. Her eyes water and her nose begins to seep. The gentleman in front of us, next to Mrs. Corprew, turns to offer my mother his handkerchief. She shakes her head, carefully taking one of her own from her purse. I cannot see them, but I know that her initials are embroidered in one corner, in an emerald green slant, with a little yellow rose beneath them.

She put them there herself. She buys plain white, soft cotton squares and hand embroiders the initials in the corner. When I was seven, she taught me how to embroider my own initials. The thimble had been too big for my skinny fingers, so I hadn’t used it. I remember getting upset when I pricked my finger and got blood on my new white hankie.

My mother had given me a new piece of cotton and new thread and I used the thimble and didn’t get any blood on the second one. She had taken the ruined one and embroidered a camouflaging pink rose over the red spot, carrying it in her purse for years.

She wipes her eyes and nose, her movements slight and unassuming, careful not to smudge her makeup. It is not over-done, but I can see her face powder; it gathers in the lines at the corners of her eyes.

When the eulogy is over, Amanda helps her mother stand, holding her up. A red rose is in her mother’s hand; I can see it shake from the back, a petal falling before she gets out of the pew. Amanda and her mother walk to the casket; the woman shaky on her feet, and Amanda stumbles keeping her upright.

She places the rose on my father’s chest, nearly falling head first into the casket, but Amanda pulls her back.

My grandmother, standing in the pew, starts forward, then stops when she isn’t needed, waiting to help Amanda get her mother back into her seat.

Amanda stays standing next to the casket. I rise and walk forward. The aisle seems endless and I feel heavier the closer I get to the front.

A woman waits–it’s the organist–two white roses in her hands. Amanda takes hers and quickly places it in the casket, jerking her hand back like something bit her.

I am oldest, his daughter by birth. I should have placed my rose first.

Amanda doesn’t even wait for me to place my rose before pivoting and trotting back to her mother. I place my rose and catch the stem of Amanda’s with my fingertips, placing it next to mine. Exhaling, I let my hand linger on his chest, just for a moment. He is cold and his suit is stiff.

My father was always warm and soft, hugging me, holding me. He smelled of cigars and old spice and orange slice candy. He always had a bag of that candy in his pocket; if I’d had my way, he’d have one in there now.

But he doesn’t. Instead, is has his rosary and small Bible, never opened.

I turn away from the casket.

Amanda sits next to her mother, the woman once again sobbing. My grandmother still stands in the pew, watching me. When I pass, she reaches across Amanda and her mother, grasping my hand and squeezing it. I stop and she leans over, kissing my cheek, giving me a one-armed hug. I hug her back, a quick squeeze.

She lets go of my hand and I walk back to my mother. When I sit, my mother reaches for my hand and holds it. She does not squeeze, just holds. I hold back.

My tears start, welling behind my eyes, a heavy, wet pressure. I try to keep them back; I don’t want to cry here. I don’t even know most of the people sitting here in the church. These are people who knew my father, but not me: business contacts, coworkers, country club members. Some are from after his life with my mother, when I was only a part-time child. They don’t know me, either.

My mother offers me a clean handkerchief from her purse, but I shake my head, pulling one of my own from my pocket. It is neatly folded, the soft green of my initials small in one corner, an ivy leaf swirling beneath them.

Soon, the final prayers are said. My stepmother leads the procession from the church, followed by Amanda, then my grandmother. I remain in the back pew with my mother.

My grandmother catches my eye and nods. I pat my mother on her knee.

I get a watery smile in return.

Many people pat my shoulder and nod to my mother, passing by in a slow march out the door. It is still raining; the swirl of wet sweeps inside. Just inside the door, my stepmother speaks in low tones to those leaving, Amanda’s higher voice, an echo.

I cannot hear my grandmother. Perhaps she has braved the rain to go to the church’s hall, a separate building on the edge of the parking lot, a covered portico stretching between the two buildings.

When the last mourner files past, I exit the pew, my mother close behind.

“Just a minute.” Her voice is small in the grandness of the chapel, and just a bit raspy, though she hasn’t smokes in over a decade. She walks to the front and stands by my father’s casket. I join her there, and stand beside her, arms crossed over my stomach, hands clutching my elbows. It’s hard to look at his face; it has no smile, no frown–no expression at all.

My mother, too, does not wear a smile or a frown, but there exists a softness in her features instead of stiffness: in the droop of her lips, in the slack of her cheeks, in the red rimimg her eyes.

She sighs, the sound coming from the deepest part of her. Reaching into her purse, she pulls out a small, withered rose, the red faded to purple. It shakes in her hand, one petal falling to the floor.

There is another sigh, this one softer, shorter. She gently places the dried rose next to the fresh ones, resting her hand over my father’s now-still heart before trailing the fingers of her other hand over my father’s cheek, her thumb glancing over the corner of his mouth.

I pick up the dropped petal and keep it in my hand, thinking, at first, to put it in the casket with the rest, but it crumbles. My fingers crush it even further, releasing the last remnants of fragrance. I brush my palms together to get rid of the last pieces sticking between my fingers.

We turn together and leave the church arm-in-arm, our legs moving in unison, right, then left, then right again. We are not in a hurry; the rain still falls, the sky still dark. Slow-moving cars wend their way through the parking lot; not everyone is going to the reception.

We share the black umbrella, strolling, avoiding the gathering puddles. She will not be at the graveside service. I want to leave with her, but can’t voice it, knowing I have to stay here; that I must go to the reception and then to the interment.

There is a small part of me that wishes I was five and asleep, being carried to the car on a strong shoulder. The car would be warm, its engine humming steady beneath the erratic staccato of rain. I would be safely belted in, a rolled sweater placed under my head.

My grandmother waits at the separate door to the hall. I raise one hand so she knows I have seen her. She nods and disappears inside, the door closing on the wind and rain.

Mother hugs me at her car, brushing the dampness of her cheek on mine. She grips my shoulders tightly. I grip hers just as hard.

“I’ll be at dinner.” I whisper.

“I’m planning your favorite.” Mother whispers back. “We’ll talk, after. You can tell me about your classes, your job, and your new man.” There is a gleam in her eyes.

I want to laugh at the gleam, to share the brief expression of joy, but I feel like I will only choke instead. So I hold on to it for later.

She drives away, and I watch without waving. I don’t care that I am getting wet, standing alone in the rain. Turning, I shuffle to the reception, no longer bothering to avoid the puddles. The hems of my trousers are wet and water runs down my hair and down the back of my sweater. The wet creeps into my shoes, soaking into my hose and creeping upward to my ankles. I shiver.

I know my favorite black flats will be ruined, but deep inside, I feel that I deserve to lose them to the rain.

Clementyne

[I wrote this a long, long time ago. I mean, before I was married I think.]

(c) 2016 Tara Moeller

[Somewhere out West, circa 1850.]

Clementyne hated Sundays in August. The heat swirled around her skirts on the walk to church, sticking hot, dry, scratchy fingers underneath to irritate her skin. No amount of talcum helped when she got home, it would just make her skin sting where it had chaffed.

Father Michael’s services always rang long, too, his voice bouncing from eardrum to eardrum, causing headaches aplenty. Since Clementyne played the organ for the service, she sat right up next to the priest, her ears in direct line of his firing speeches. She had no wish for a headache today. Her head had ached the last three days trying to teach the Gulliver twins how to play Bach. Today she wanted to just lie in bed beneath her cool white sheets, being lazy and loving it, forgetting all about the piano and organ and music.

So she did. She buried her head beneath the pillow to muffle the church bells ringing. She ignored the clatter of horses hooves beneath her window as the “gentry” rode to the church situated just outside of town. It was like a parade of sorts, the women in the fine fancy bonnets and the men in their funeral blacks. It was like every Sunday was Easter and time to show off the new finery.

Clementyne pretended to be sick. She moaned a little but ruined it with a giggle that she smothered beneath the sheet. The heat slowly seeped through the warped glass of her street-side window, and she decided to shed her nightgown. Still wanting to uphold the modesty her mother and father had all but beaten into her, she slipped it off under her covers, and slid it off the side of her bed. The sheets felt sinful against her naked flesh; the faint roughness passed over her breasts and her nipples hardened.

Carefully dragged the sheet over them once again, Clementyne enjoying the strange tightness. It was like a cold wind had blown up under her winter shift and cape. She sighed, throwing her arms over her head, allowing the tops of her breasts to show above the sheet. She stretched, languid, her muscles melting in the heat and soaking into the mattress beneath her.

Sinning was fun.

Clementyne thought of the rest of the town sitting on the hard wooden pews. Young Sheriff Jones, taut muscles stretching the cotton of his shirt with that badge shiny on his best vest, sitting in his sweat, listening to the drone of the Sunday Sermon. Old Mrs. O’Hoolihan filling in and playing the organ with her short arthritic fingers, deaf to whatever was being said; she loved to play but few loved to listen when she did. Then there was Paul Whitaker, whose father owned the General Store; he usually stared at Clementyne the whole service, licking his lips and shifting in his seat. Whenever she was in the General Store, his gaze rested on her chest and rose no farther.

It was mass Sunday, and everyone would have to confess his or her sins. Clementyne realized a small amount of pleasure in creating a sin to confess at the next mass.

She was dozing slightly, a mosquito buzzing lazily around her head, when she heard the door slam downstairs. She sat up in bed, forgetting her lack of nightgown for a moment, until she felt the heated breeze against her bare skin. She pulled the sheet up and huddled beneath it and the quilt just as Father Michael and Mrs. Winters burst into the room.

Clementyne sunk farther under the bedcovers, her eyes wide round balls of blue in a translucent white face.

“My child,” said the priest, leaning over her, “Are you ill?”

Clementyne pushed the sheet and quilt into her neck, feeling the heat rush to it and her face as the priest’s face got close to her – and to her naked body beneath the covers. Heat also flooded her loins at the thought of being discovered, a thrill coursing up her spine.

Mrs. Winters moved to stand next to the pastor, reaching out to place the back of her hand against Clementyne’s forehead.

“Mah Goodniss.” The woman exclaimed in her foreign southern drawl. “The chile is burnin’ up!”

The priest drew back suddenly, averting his face a little to the side.

Clementyne forced a cough, the bedclothes sliding just a little in the effort. She tried to draw them back up, but Mrs. Winters grabbed them and tried to pull them further down. Desperate to stay covered, Clementyne inched down in the bed.

“Chile, y’all ought to get some ayer on that there hot skin of yourn. It will help in gittin’ that fever down.” Mrs. Winters tugged even harder at the sheets.

Clementyne stared at the minister, who stared back at her chest, steadily being revealed by Mrs. Winters’ ceaseless tugging. She thought she would die of shame any minute. The priest didn’t move but continued to stare.

“Oh, oh p-p-please Mrs. W-Winters,” Clementyne stammered out her whispered plea. She drew in a long breath. “I’ve already tried to do that, beyond even the sheets.” She implored the older woman to understand, but Mrs. Winters kept up the tugging.

Father Michael’s eyes kept getting larger and larger, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his neck, synchronized with every tug from Mrs. Winters. The big black Bible in his hands, clasped to his chest when he entered, shifted lower, until it hovered just below his belt buckle.

Clementyne licked her lips and Father Michael’s apple bobbed hard. Clementyne swallowed and focused on Mrs. Winters, batting her eyes in what she knew was a “Southern” way; Sally Winters, Miss not the Mrs., had explained it all to her after last year’s Labor Day picnic. “Mrs. Winters,” she made her voice soft. “I’m really fine, you don’t have to worry about me. How did the choir do this morning?”

She wasn’t sure where the question had come from, other than the Good Lord himself put it into her head, but it was a miracle. Mrs. Winters stopped tugging. The choir was something about which Mrs. Winters loved to talk. It was a welcome distraction and Clementyne used the opportunity to pull the covers up.

“The choiah tried theih best to accompany Mrs. O’Hoolihan, but her playin’ is just not up to yourn. She forgot ta bring her eyeglass and was squintin’ ovah the music the whole service.” Mrs. Winters sat on the edge of the bed and arranged her skirts around herself. She looked like she was settling in to stay a spell.

Clementyne nodded. She wanted Mrs. Winters to talk all day as long as the priest was in her room, even if it meant listening to a lecture about the choir.

Father Michael leaned forward again, his eyes resting on the scalloped edge of the quilt. Clementyne could feel his eyes but refused to look at them. Somehow, she didn’t think purgatory could be as bad as this.

Mrs. Winters was off in full steam. Every off-note and wrong chord was regaled, accompanied by emphatic little jumps of her body. Clementyne realized that the older women was completely distracted and once again felt the pull in her groin, the thrill of sin that had first prompted her to stay in bed this morning. Twitching her lips slightly, she let the quilt and sheet fall slightly and leaned toward Mrs. Winters. Her cleavage, made buxom by the fold of quilt underneath, was an impressive display, and she noticed that Father Michael’s mouth fell ajar.

Power swelled in her breasts with every inhale. They seemed to puff higher and higher above the quilt. Father Michael’s neck grew longer and longer and he shuffled on his feet. Clementyne wondered if anything on him tightened the way her nipples had this morning. Just the thought had them doing it again.

Clementyne sighed, shifting beneath the blankets. She felt the heat once more between her legs.

Mrs. Winters sighed long and loud. “Ah do hope that y’all will be feelin’ bettah next Sunday, so’s the choiah will have a propah tuen to sing ta.” The older woman stood up, smoothing down imaginary wrinkles in her skirts.

“Uh.” Father Michael cleared his throat. “Yes. I also hope you will be feeling better next Sunday. We’ll let the rest of the congregation know you have a fever but are on the mend.”

He hastily backed out the door, Bible held at the juncture of his thighs, followed by the jovial Mrs. Winters calling out advice all the way down the stairs.

Clementyne rested back on her pillows, shifting her legs to relieve the pressure and the moisture gathering there.

Maybe she’d be ill next Sunday, too.

Failure

The Kickstarter attempt to fund a new game (Awkward Compliments) developed by me and three friends did not meet its funding goal. It was far, far below what we needed to fund a short run print.  Even if we tried to fund a shorter print run (the smallest the printer allowed) we weren’t close.

We’ve been discussing what went wrong with our Kickstarter attempt.  Was it a problem with the game (beta testers loved it), the cost ($20.00), or a lack of engagement (maybe this one – but we sure tried).  From what gaming folks have said when we were finally able to ask, it’s just not the right time for card games. It would do much better if it was an app.

So we’re looking into that.

But for those who did support our initial effort–and really would like to get a physical copy, we’re working on a POD version.  It needs to be uploaded to a POD game site, and the price won’t be as low as what we were offering on the Kickstarter, but we are hopeful our backers won’t mind and will still want a copy.

And, we’ll be offering physical copies for sale at various conventions (Marscon and Ravencon in Williamsburg, Virginia in the Spring; Con of the Mountain this fall) and at other venues, like local gaming stores. So be on the lookout for Awkward Compliments available near you.  Or check out the website (http://www.awkwardcompliments.com) for links to the publisher.  We aim to be ready by this weekend.

And as always, why be suave when you can be awkward!