Never the TwainPeggy Eldridge-Love
They were watching him. Dozens of pairs of eyes watched as the tall, unnervingly handsome black man plucked a peach colored rose from the massive spray atop the white casket, touched it to his lips and finally walked away.
He was the last one to leave, the last one to turn his back on her and surrender her remains to whatever was to come next.
They watched him from a distance, quietly, tearfully, a few repeatedly touching tissues to their own red, swollen eyes. They had withdrawn a respectful distance, but they didn’t want to start to leave until he was through. They felt it was the least they could do for her and for him.
You could see his pain. See it in the bow of his back as he gave in from time to time for just a moment to the silent sobs that were wracking his body. There was nothing more they could do or say. There was nothing more to be done to try to quell his awful grief but simply let him be.
He had been ignorant of their continued presence and to the repeated clearing of throats of the Baptist minister or of the two wily-looking funeral directors who had stepped from beneath the open green tent which covered the casket a full fifteen minutes before he made his own exit. He wasn't aware that experience had taught them the longer he remained the harder it would be for him to leave or that they were growing concerned, whispering between themselves as to who should go and try to gently escort him away when finally he turned, of his own volition, to leave.
He was too caught up in his own thoughts though to acknowledge them or anyone else as he left; something he’d be sorry for later. He’d tell the minister and the funeral directors as much in the handwritten notes of thanks with the enclosed generous personal checks as a show of his deep gratitude at how tastefully they had each handled the services. He didn’t acknowledge them then though because of what he knew awaited him just a short distance away.
The look of exasperated displeasure that sought to bore a hole through him from the coal black eyes of his father, Moses Lawrence, who sat watching him from the limousine parked at the edge of the road was unavoidable. Wyman tried not to allow his father’s clear disdain make him feel worse than he already did, but he could not. Yet today it wasn’t that he couldn’t for all the usual reasons. Today, the way he felt, the things he thought, were different.
They were her only family, he and Moses. She had never married, never had the 3.5 children she used to joke and tell him she planned to have one day. Instead, all she had was a wall full of degrees and accolades that now hung in the empty office at her clinic in downtown Kansas City. Degrees initially she had been driven to earn to please Moses.
He and Moses may have been her only blood relatives gathered on this balmy fall afternoon, but an entire community had turned out to honor her memory. There had been hundreds of people in and outside of the Hallelujah Baptist church mourning her sudden unbelievable death. And it seemed that at least two hundred cars had joined in the procession that snaked slowly across the city to the cemetery to lay her to rest.
They, like he, had deeply loved her. Dr. Nora Lawrence had been a god save to too many of them to ever count.
That was the problem Nora, he whispered, closing his eyes as he neared the limousine. She had been so intent upon making sure everyone else was secure, everyone else was happy, that her clients had the kind of health care no one else had ever been willing to provide them that she failed to make sure she had the kind of care she needed herself.
It was how she did everything. Caring more for everyone else than for herself. And it was how she died. On Monday afternoon she had simply collapsed in the hallway of her clinic. Within a half an hour the massive arterial aneurysm she suffered had taken her life. She was two weeks away from her thirtieth birthday.
“What were you trying to prove, Wyman?”
Moses Lawrence seethed through gritted teeth as his only son slid his lean six-foot-three inch frame onto the back seat of the limousine next to him. Moses didn’t want the driver who opened the door for Wyman to hear him.
The car door was quickly pushed to and the two of them were alone, but Wyman didn’t respond. He kept his eyes focused forward, the rose clutched tightly across his knee.
“Oh, so you’re not going to answer me now, huh?” Moses shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his own aging bulk over six feet, but his skin was nearly as black as his eyes, unlike the tallow, barely tanned skin of his son. He had often concluded it was his son’s color that made him weak at times. “Do you realize how foolish you looked standing up there glaring at that coffin all that time? Where’s your dignity?”
Wyman glanced at him, a look of such deep agonizing trauma flashed from his eyes that Moses sat back against the seat involuntarily. Wyman’s anguish was as physical as a heavyweight’s jab.
“Be quiet, father.”
“Be still, please.”
Wyman shifted his glance forward again, surprised at his own words, but there was something in his body language that neither he nor his father was familiar with. Moses leaned towards him, intending to challenge it, but another short quick glare from Wyman silenced him. Instead Moses simply grunted.
The driver opened his door, slid in behind the wheel and turned to look at them both briefly before turning his full attention to Moses. “The director said you weren’t sure if you wanted to return to the church for the repasts?”
“Take me home.” Moses replied flatly. The driver nodded, turned around and put the car in gear.
They rode in silence a few minutes before Moses spoke to his son again. “I suppose you’ll be going.”
“For a few minutes, yes, I’ll go to the church.” Wyman replied without looking at him.
“And do what? You don’t know a soul there and they don’t know you. You’ll make a blubbering idiot of yourself.”
Wyman turned slowly. “Why? Because I might shed a tear for my sister?”
“What good is crying going to do her?”
“I’m not crying for her, Moses. I’m crying for me.”
Hearing Wyman call him by his first name infuriated Moses. He spoke through gritted teeth once more. “Don’t be insulting.”
Wyman refused to look at him. He knew he was safer not to.
“And what makes you think I don’t know any of those people? They were Nora’s people, her life. I did know some of them. I knew them because they mattered to her.”
“Her craft mattered to her, her extraordinary skill – as it well should have.”
“The people were what mattered. You should have seen her with them. How she touched them, listened to them, learned who they were and cared, really cared what mattered to them.”
“What a waste. Where she might have been had she listened.”
“Did you know she was learning to speak Mao Chinese? She learned to communicate in the language because there was a family who moved into the community and spoke only that language but needed a place to go for health care. Nora found out about them and urged their neighbors to let them know that they could come to her.”
“No wonder she wasn’t making the money she should have been.”
“What a waste.” Moses repeated, the edge of his words laced with finality.
Brittle silence filled the car again until Wyman sat up and turned abruptly, startling Moses once more.
“Did you love her at all?”
“Of course I loved her!”
“I don’t believe you. “
“I’ve given my whole life for the two of you – how dare you suggest –“
“She needed a life – she needed to just be. Did you know what she really wanted to be was a dancer?” Wyman’s voice broke. He turned away, the sudden surge of strength ebbing with the sensation of new tears burning the back of his eyes.
“Get a hold of yourself, boy.”
“Is that what you have had all this time, hold of yourself?”
“Why are you mocking me? Because I didn’t fall out in the floor and roll like a field hand when you told me she was dead? Because I am not flooding my pillow with tears, you don’t think I loved her?”
“You haven’t shed a single tear for her, father.”
“Oh, so I’m father once again? Well, make up your mind. Either I’m Moses to you now or I continue to be your father. If I’m your father, respect me. You can’t have it both ways.”
The weighted tension grew palatable as the autumn countryside in all its brilliant reds and oranges flashed past their windows. Though the man gave no indication of doing so, Moses was keenly aware that the driver was listening to their every word. It infuriated him that his son was being so unguarded. He was thinking of the driver when Wyman finally spoke again.
“I think I’ll call you Moses from here on.”
“Have it your way, Wyman. Just remember, you are the one who decided.”
Wyman turned towards him and caught his eye. “I promise you, Moses, I will never forget.”
©Peggy Eldridge-Love 2010 – All Rights Reserved