Hazel Mercer delighted in a regular luncheon with friends, and awoke early on the first Wednesday of each month to prepare. She owned a variety of fire engine red dresses, blouses, skirts, and hats. Even the last wisps of her hair, dyed red, belied her ninety-two years.
On a hot August Tuesday, Hazel banged her cane. Sixty-five year old Marcia stuck her head in the doorway, “Yes, Mother?”
“Well, ‘bout time you heard me. I need a manicure. Take me to the salon in an hour,” demanded Hazel in a peevish tone.
Marcia said, “I promised the library I’d work the eleven to two shift.”
Hazel’s already thin lips disappeared in a frown. “Oh, that old librarian hasn’t a clue on schedules. Tell her you’ll be in after my manicure.”
“Yes, mother,” said Marcia. In an hour and fifteen minutes, she pulled the brown Chevy Malibu out of the garage, while her mother fussed at her for being late.
“You need organization skills, Marcia. Did you at least comb your hair before leaving the house? I swear I don’t think you’re my daughter. Your sister learned grooming tips from me and she’s gorgeous.”
“Yes, mother,” said Marcia. “Of course, she’s not busy picking up after you, is she?”
Hazel did not awaken Wednesday. Marcia peeked into her room after a quiet morning. Usually there were demands for ironing or other preparations. Instead, a very silent, very dead Hazel did not issue a peep. Marcia called the undertaker, and then dialed her sister, in Malibu, who returned the call after Pilates.
Marcia reviewed her mother’s final checklist (music, Bible passages, outfit including boa) and followed it with a few variations. On the morning of the funeral, she picked her sister up at her hotel. They hugged and Sally said, “Well, she lived a long life.”
“Too long,” said Marcia.
“Wow, okay … we’ll talk later.”
“No need. Will reading tomorrow at Mr. Warner’s law office. No point letting this linger. Mother’s gone and you can be gone again too.”
“Now, Marcia. I sent money to help.”
“Yes, you did. Believe me, mother showed me the check every month. No calls. But that check showed up on time. I’ll give you that.”
A sea of hats bobbed in the pews and murmuring comments flowed as the sisters walked up to the altar. Marcia glanced into the casket and said, “I am done answering to you. For once, mother, you had no choice as I took your dignity.” With that, Marcia turned and strode out of the church.
Sally watched her go and then stepped to the casket. Hazel reposed, dressed in green not red, a Wal-Mart tag affixed to the sleeve.