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Mary's Mother's Funeral

Mary delivers a eulogy to her mother, haunted by the dead woman's voice.

By Natalie McCPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
Mary's Mother's Funeral
Photo by Jackie Zhao on Unsplash

With unfocused eyes and a blank expression, Mary looked at the lavish, deep purple bouquets of violets surrounding her mother's coffin.

"Don't frown, you look like a trout," her mother's voice echoed in her head.

Instinctively, Mary straightened her shoulders. Her facial muscles tightened, pulling the corners of her mouth up into a pleasant smile. Then, she remembered she shouldn't be smiling at her own mother's funeral. For a few seconds, she experimented with facial expressions, deciding which felt right. After a few seconds Mary realized that what her mother thought of her face didn't matter anymore. She allowed her face to settle back into what her mother would've called a sourpuss.

"It's just what my face looks like," Mary would've replied, dejected.

"Don't get smart with me," her mother would've snapped as the maid hurried out of the room. Clear as day, Mary could envision her mother scoffing at her, sitting at the head of the dining table, perfect blonde hair coiffed in delicate curls, beleaguered as her pale, thin fingers struggled to open her pills. "You see the stress you put me through?"

"I'm sorry," Mary would've said, reaching out to open the bottle for her and coaxing out two pills. "I didn't mean to."

"It's all right," her mother would've said with a sigh, placing the pills in her mouth and delicately swallowing them with a long sip of sherry.

"How lovely," said a woman’s voice as a plump, reddened hand grasped Mary’s shoulder, snapping her out of her daydreamed memory. “She would’ve loved this.”

“Thank you, Aunt Kathy,” Mary said politely.

“It’s good to see you again after so many years. I just wish it under better circumstances. How are you managing?” Kathy asked, lowering her voice to a discrete tone.

“I’m well,” Mary replied instinctively. “And you?”

“I—” Kathy started with a morbid chuckle. “I’m doing fine.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Mary turned to face her aunt with unnerving politeness.

Kathy’s brow furrowed, unsure why she was so put off by her niece’s serene smile. Then, she remembered the way her own mother used to drill etiquette into her and her sister. Although she understood Mary’s compulsion to appear perfect, she still found it strange that a teenager who just lost her only living parent was behaving so robotically.

“Thank you for coming today. I know my mother would have been pleased that you could be here,” Mary said, cordial and calm as ever.

“Of course,” Kathy replied, patting Mary’s hand. She studied her niece’s face for a long moment.

“Is something the matter?” Mary asked, a note of concern in her voice so perfect it sounded like a song.

“No,” Kathy said with a resigned, sad smile, looking down at Mary’s hand. “No, I just came to tell you that it’s nearly two o’clock.”

“Oh! Of course,” Mary said with a sweet smile which instantly disappeared into a slightly flattened expression. “Thank you for reminding me. Let me go touch base with the pastor.”

As Mary walked away, Kathy slowly lowered her gaze to her sister’s coffin. Something deep within her was frightened, thinking for a moment she would find it open.

“You really did a number on her, Violet,” Kathy whispered.

The pastor stood at the pulpit. Before he’d said a word, the crowd below him began filing into the pews. Kathy sat next to Mary in the front row, tuning out the pastor’s words. Instead, her attention was drawn to her niece. Still, something about Mary’s manner tugged at a feeling of wrongness in the back of her mind.

When the pastor beckoned Mary to step forward, she stood, smoothed out her skirt with her right hand, and held delicately folded papers in her left. Mary arrived at the lectern and looked down at her speech. It was handwritten on monogrammed stationery her mother had given her for Christmas. Like everything her mother bought her, it featured marigolds. The watermark in the corner was a marigold bloom, the pages were a pale yellowy orange, and it featured her full name: Marigold Hofstadt. The first letter she’d written on it was for her grandmother.

“If you send that to my mother, she will burn it before she even reads it,” her mother had said, looking over Mary’s shoulder. “She won’t tolerate that chicken scratch.”

Mary paused, frozen, afraid that whatever she did next would prompt more comments. She knew that putting the page in the trash would get her in trouble, but continuing the letter was impossible now that her writing had been deemed too messy. She dug her nails into her palm and kept her breathing steady, not wanting to draw attention to her indecision.

Mary turned the page over, set it to the side, and started over on the second page. Her mother tsked and walked away. Her tsks were scathing but Mary was glad that that was the worst of it for now. She heard the morning’s third glass of sherry being poured and the familiar rattle of pills. Mary smiled to herself, knowing her mother would be asleep by 2pm at this rate. Moving her head as little as possible, she looked out the window and saw the snow still falling gracefully. While she carefully penned every letter as perfectly as she could, she looked forward to sneaking out with her sled to the hill behind the house.

Mary stood in front of the church and everyone she knew. The whole town had was in attendance. Before she spoke, she took a deep breath and paused for a long moment, and again, something felt strange to Kathy. She didn’t understand why, but it felt performative. It seemed like Mary knew she was supposed to look sad and was trying to do so.

“My mother, Violet Hofstadt, was a great woman,” Mary started, her voice resolute, with a twinge of restraint, as if she were pushing through a choked-up throat. “A leader of the community. The core of our family. And my best friend.”

With that, Kathy knew something was wrong.

“She will be missed dearly, every day. We may never understand why God took her from us so early. But we can take comfort knowing she went peacefully, painlessly, in her sleep. She did not suffer or grow old, as we all us know she would have hated.”

A modest chuckle circulated the room. As much as Kathy knew what Mary said was true, it seemed callous for this situation. She knew that living with Violet must have hardened Mary’s emotions, but all the same. Something about her delivery seemed too perfect, too detached.

The rest of her eulogy proceeded in the same way. Mary remained composed while telling stories of her mother’s inspirational life, her words of wisdom, and carrying on Violet’s legacy of love and generosity.

“I’ll never forget the words she said to me, just hours before her untimely death. She said: ‘Marigold, you were named after a flower, like me. You were born to dig through the earth, break through concrete, and thrive.’” She paused, with her fist clenched on the podium. “And that’s what I intend to do with the tools my mother gave me.” Mary turned to her right, looking down at the coffin. “Thank you, mother.”

Mary returned to her seat. The atmosphere shifted with her final words. It may have been in keeping with the rest of her eulogy, but there was an air of defiance, a boldness in her tone that caused a stir. The pastor continued the service without skipping a beat.

“It was a beautiful service,” Kathy said later as she drove Mary home.

“It was,” Mary replied, looking out the window and enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face.

There was a cheer in her voice that again struck Kathy. Since the eulogy, she’d witnessed Mary emerge from a shy, solemn teenager to a friendly, vivacious young woman, socializing with townsfolk and extended family with ease.

“Do you need company for a while?” Kathy asked, trying to suss out Mary’s true feelings. As much as she enjoyed seeing Mary happy, part of her hoped it was just a façade. If not, she didn’t know how to feel about her niece.

“No, I’m fine,” Mary said happily. “I’m only in town for a couple nights before I leave for my trip.”

“Your trip?” Kathy asked, pulling into the wide, circular driveway in front of her late sister’s grand estate.

“Yes!” Mary exclaimed. “I was telling others at the reception, but I guess I didn’t get to tell you.” There was a spark in Mary’s eyes that Kathy had never seen before. “I’m travelling Europe for a month, then South America for another.”

“Wow,” Kathy said, parking the car and stopping the engine. “That’s quite a journey.”

“Isn’t it exciting?” Mary gushed.

“It is. But are you going all that way alone?”

“I’m sure I’ll make friends along the way,” Mary said in a reassuring voice. “My mother wanted me to learn independence. Resilience. I’m going everywhere my mother would’ve wanted to visit, had she had the chance.”

Kathy stared at her niece in complete confusion. Of all the falsehoods she perceived from Mary that day, this was the first she knew for sure to be untrue. Violet hated travel. She liked everything in her life to be just the way she liked it and admonished anyone who ever left the contiguous United States. While Kathy processed these thoughts, Mary got out of the car and stepped towards the house.

“Aunt Kathy! Did you see these?” Mary called out. Kathy sat still for a moment, stunned, before unbuckling her seatbelt and stepping out. “I asked the gardener to do this.” Mary was standing proudly in front of gardens bounding with marigolds. Blooming orange flowers lined the entire house.

“They’re beautiful,” Kathy said, taking uneasy steps around the car.

“I’m having them put in everywhere,” she said proudly. “I felt the house needed a change. I’m going to be making some changes inside too. Or rather, the staff is taking care of it while I’m gone.”

“It’s hard when your home reminds you of your loss,” Kathy said, placing an empathetic hand on Mary’s shoulder.

“Oh, yes, that too,” Mary nodded along, clearly uncaring about that. It the last straw for her aunt.

“Is something going on here?” Kathy snapped, pulling her hand away like Mary’s shoulder was a hot stove.

“What are you talking about?” Mary’s tone and smile was serene, her demeanour unchanged by Kathy’s sudden question.

“You’re acting strange. As if—” Kathy stammered, “as if you’re unaffected by all this. Like you didn’t just lose your mother.” She grew louder and her heart raced with her impassioned words. Mary stayed calm as ever.

“My mother would’ve wanted me to move on and make something of myself. Be a productive member of the community, like all us Hofstadts.” She flashed a smile so unsettlingly perfect it chilled Kathy to the bone. “I’ve come to terms with my mother’s absence. She would want you to do the same.”

Mary turned and strode up the steps into the house, her head held high. Kathy staggered back into her car. Her mind was blank, reeling from the bizarre interaction and unsure what to make of it. As she reached the end of the driveway, Kathy noticed a pile of yard waste near the road. The gardener pulled and tossed violet after violet, uprooting them from the ground to make way for marigolds.

Inside, Mary felt satisfied with her performance that day, and more confident than she’d ever been. She walked through the parlour to the fireplace and gazed up at the mantle. There stood the last bottle of sherry her mother ever drank. She smiled as she reached into her purse. Mary fiddled with the emptied-out bottle of pills she’d dissolved in the sherry. Finally, her mother's voice was silenced.


About the Creator

Natalie McC

Writer/editor/third thinger

My dream is to write something that will rival my one Google review that somehow got 10k views.

I'm on Letterboxd

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