#tuesdayserial: tilly with the others part 1


"I think I should stay, Owen," said Tilly. She felt guilty wearing a beige trench coat. It should have been black, but the one time Beth had dragged her out to shop for a funeral ensemble they had only found beige. At least her dress and stockings were black.

"The funeral director says you're supposed to go before they replace the soil."

Tilly stared down into the open grave, at the extra-long casket that held Marcus. Even Canadian graves looked different and wrong to her, and she wondered why after forty years of life in North America she still compared everything to home. Marcus had always corrected her and said Canada was home now. There was, she now realised, not going to be anyone around anymore to correct her.

"Depression! I told you!" was hissed behind her, and Tilly turned to see that Beth was standing at Owen's elbow.

"Owen's lost his father," said Tilly, drawing herself up to her full height and resenting that it meant she was still a good four inches shorter than Beth. "He's allowed to be depressed."

"I meant you, Mrs. Zondernaam."

Tilly tilted her head and looked down her nose at Beth. "I had almost forty-five years with Marcus. He was a wonderful man. There is nothing to be sad about here." And I'm your mother-in-law, so call me by my first name already.

"He shouldn't have smoked."

"It was normal for salesmen to smoke when he started in business."

"Let's not have a fight now." Owen stepped between his wife and his mother. "Ma, please. The caterers are expecting us for the wake."

Wake. More rituals to go through. Tilly turned her back on them, facing the grave again, but when she felt Owen's hand on her shoulder she knew she would have to give in and go with them. She walked back to the funeral home's limousine with Owen's arm around her. If she looked away, it almost felt like walking with Marcus again.

They settled into the limousine, and Beth pulled out her cell phone. She entered a speed dial code, muttering about checking up on the babysitter.

"Leslie babysits the girls all the time," Owen said. "If anything was going wrong, she'd call us."

Beth ignored him. "Hello? Hello? Mercedes, put Leslie on the phone. She's doing what to Emily? Oh." She held the receiver away from her mouth and stage-whispered to Owen, "Leslie's washing Emily's hands. What would Emily's hands need washing for?"

Owen shrugged.

"What honey? I'm in the funeral car with Daddy and your Oma. It's.... no honey, Oma's sad right now, you can't talk to her."

"I'm fine. I'd love to talk to her," said Tilly, holding her hand out for the phone, but Beth twisted away towards the car window. Owen patted his mother's knee, trying to comfort and apologise without saying anything in front of Beth.

"I'm glad you're having fun, sweetie, but I need to talk to Leslie now. I need to talk to Leslie... Hello? Oh hi Leslie. Is everything all right? Yes? Yes?"

Tilly watched the highway signs going by outside the window on Owen's side of the car. Owen tried to have small talk with the driver about the limousine, explaining that he sold luxury cars for a living. Tilly let the discussion of performance and suspension types wash over her.

The next thing she knew Owen was nudging her to get out of the car. Beth was already standing outside. Tilly heard her say "catatonic" and wondered if Beth knew what the word really meant.

Owen led Tilly to the church hall, found her a drink and a plate of cheese and vegetable sticks, and seated her at one of the tables. Tilly thought he would settle Beth next, but to her surprise, Owen sat down with her. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and Tilly realised he was trying to get his head to the same level as hers. She almost felt like laughing, wanted to remind him that men looked ridiculous sitting like that when they were wearing neckties, but she saw he wanted to say something serious.

"Dad worked hard all his life to make sure you would have a comfortable retirement, Ma."

"I know, Owen, I kept the accounting books, remember?"

Owen squirmed in the short-legged plastic chair. "I just don't see why you wouldn't want to be taken care of."

"I've taken care of myself all my life. Oh don't say it, don't," she said, seeing Owen start to protest, "I know you think your father did everything, but accounting and housework counts as work too. Your father always understood that."

"And the times when I'd come home from school and you were staring out the window with your morning cup of tea untouched in front of you, and you wouldn't move or talk or show any sign anyone else was even there until Dad came home, how was that taking care of yourself?"

Tilly blinked, surprised at the frustration in her son's voice. "I just got to daydreaming, that's all."

Owen grunted. "Beth and I worry about you, Ma."

"If it's so wonderful, you and Beth can move to the retirement home. I have other plans."

"Like what?"

"Diane says she can sell the house in a week in this market. And the car's already sold, you took care of that for me."

"And where are you going to live?"

Tilly took a moment to brace herself. "I'm moving back to the old neighbourhood."

Owen sat up straight. "What old neighbourhood?"

"The Annex."

Owen rolled his eyes. "Ma, that neighbourhood's for young people."

"It is not. Lots of seniors live there so they can shop at Honest Ed's."

"I thought you were going to say you were going back to Holland. I guess it's better than that."

"Oh Owen, don't be stupid. When would I get to see the grandchildren?"

"When are you moving?"

Tilly braced herself. "Tomorrow."