Matt, as next of kin, receives the news from the prison warden. Then he calls me.
“Dad’s dead,” my brother says. “How’ll we divvy up the estate? You get the coffee mug and I get his sharp leather belt?”
We had been expecting this, but still my limbs soften. I sit down abruptly.
“I’ll handle the funeral,” he says. “Same church as Mom?”
I agree, surprised. Matt seems calm, suddenly capable.
When I arrive at the church, the bare coffin is already in place. Matt, in jeans and shirt sleeves, is waiting. The ceremony is short: no hymns, no eulogies. The vicar says a few words and then the coffin is carried to a waiting limousine.
I pause, bewildered, as the funeral car moves out of the churchyard gates.
“Where are they going?”
I turn. My brother smiles.
“Crematorium. All booked, all paid for.”
“But – he reserved a grave next to Mom.”
“She’ll enjoy the extra space,” Matt says.
Startled, I remember my father’s rage when I suggested cremation for Mom. Matt had been there in the room, had heard that explosion, too.
Matt pushes up his shirt sleeves, turns his wrists to display the tender skin of the upper arms. The uneven circles, once a blistering, agonizing red are fading now, just gray dents in the flesh. I have two circular scars also, on my shoulder blades. Our father’s drunken defense against the demands of two small children was a cigar with a burning end.
“You remember, don’t you,” my brother says. “How he loved fire.”
Mary McCluskey has had prizewinning short stories published in The Atlantic, The London Magazine, StoryQuarterly, London’s Litro Magazine, on Salon.com, and in literary journals in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong. Her novel, INTRUSION, is scheduled for publication by Little A in March 2016. She divides her time between Stratford-upon-Avon, in England, and Los Angeles.
Read and interview with Mary here.