Two Good Suits
lices of 'French' apple pie and slabs of Aunt Tilda's brown cornbread lay scattered about on every table, a single birthday candle burning atop each. The lit desserts offered what somber light they could. Gramps diner, way out on the interstate, had never been that bright.
Gramps' open casket teetered on two barstools in the far end of the diningroom beneath the dry limbs of a dying spider plant. Gramps was the only one tall enough to water it. The 'Happy Days' jukebox behind the coffin glowed a dull, neon green.
Sis and I moved slowly along the mourning line that snaked behind the counter, through the pool room, and ended somewhere in the kitchen. The closer we came to Gramps, the more her fingers wiped dust off booths and tables, flicked wax bits off pie and cornbread, and delinted my aubergine houndstooth sportcoat. I had planned on wearing my black one, but I splashed bleach on it that morning.
I held Sis' busy, balmy hands as we approached. Gramps looked great. A little waxy, but not charred like I expected. His face had burned off in the kitchen's grease fire. Luckily, Gramma stopped the fire with baking soda. I bowed and examined the gouges in the unpolished floor. Sis leaned against the coffin, her eyes shut, her lips muttering.
The box crackled. Sis' hands popped up, palms flat-out.
Sis stared over Gramps, her face green from the jukebox. The three-legged barstool, the one closest to Sis, supporting the head of the casket snapped from the pressure. The other leg exploded into splinters--all those years of brawling, mostly between Gramma and Gramps, all those yellow glue and duct tape repairs, those termite epidemics, those endless fat men and women named Bubba with powerful, trucker tushes.
The tolls were up; the stools collapsed.
I had one eye on Gramps and one on Sis. I didn't know whom to save. The casket hit the ground, but remained undamaged. It almost righted itself--had Gramps not bellyflopped out before us. His cheek rested on my sister's patent leather pump with a raw steak plop. Gramps settled, streaking fleshtoned base on her shoe. Luckily, he didn't come near me.
Sis faced me, mouth and eyes panting. I braced her shoulders. Her eyes pleaded to leave, but Gramps' head pegged her foot down. I shook her, tried to snap her out of it. Finally, she lifted her wrists to her temples. Her face flushed like some cartoon character who gulped down Tobasco. Eyes shut, her chest heaved inward.
A Technicolor spray. A stream of reds and yellows splashed my lint-free aubergine houndstooth. I held her shoulders, fought my impulse to dash to the dry cleaners. Too late. Another ruined sportcoat.
First published: June 1993