Part II: Journeys (Chapter 13)


Westbound on I-80, Exit 132–Joliet, IL

When I was 10, Nana started dragging me to viewings and funerals.

I dreaded going, especially when I couldn’t figure out why I was there.

Like knowing the corpse would have been helpful.

Did she flip through the obits every day to look for juicy prospects, ones that would most likely serve a major spread afterwards?

I always thought in terms of food. We always did seem to eat well, my reward for paying my last respects.

Funerals were bad enough, but the viewings were the worst. You had to kneel before the body and say prayers to speed the dearly departed’s soul to heaven.

Attention all Catholic souls! Detour to Purgatory!

I must’ve earned an eternity of Indulgences for hundreds of withered corpses.

No getting out of it.

After my protests, Nana would shake her head and say, “If you don’t obey, they’ll have to pay someone to go to your funeral.”

I would clench my fists and allow her to lead me away to the funeral home and the church.

Once, we went to the viewing of a baby who had died when his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, strangling him. As I kneeled before his small wicker coffin, I couldn’t believe he was dead – he was beautiful, a perfectly formed cherub with rosy cheeks, maybe just asleep – so I reached out and touched his hand.

Still and cold.

It wasn’t the coldness that struck me so hard, but the absence of energy – the lack of life force running through his veins.

I jumped up and dashed out of the funeral home, Nana running close behind me to drag me back.

I don’t remember anything else about that viewing.

Getting dragged to funerals continued throughout my early to mid-teens; then, one day, I stood up to Nana and said I was no longer going to funerals of strangers.

Pappa backed me up.

From then on, I was spared.

Now I realize she was at an age when her friends were beginning to drop dead. And she always had lots of friends.

Perhaps she didn’t want to face her own mortality alone.

Nana recruited my cousin Ashley, 10 years my junior, to take my place beside her.

As far as I know, Ashley still accompanies Nana.

When Nana dies – any time now – I’ll look around the funeral home for all the strange children who are offering up their Indulgences for the withered woman in the casket.

They just better be there, or I’ll grab them off the street.

I’ll even pay them.

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