Her Last Goodbye
She had embarrassed him his entire life.
Steve Monroe watched the man standing behind the podium. A priest whose face looked as weathered as the suit he was wearing. The wicker casket, her casket, sat at the end of the stage on the bowling alley carpet.
A woman, perhaps his aunt, was weeping in front of him. Her hat, partially obstructing his view of the stage, looked like it was purchased at the same store some of the flower arrangements on the stage had come from. She blew her nose, her hanky flapping a solemn farewell.
He glanced around the room at all the faces. Some familiar, but most unfamiliar. Steve looked from the priest to the casket, and then stared at the ground, wishing this would be over already.
“Who can comprehend the mysteries…” the priest’s voice trailed off.
Steve remembered how she was at all his games, not missing one. Wearing the matching team colors and waving her obnoxious homemade signs, standing out from the other moms like a thorn amongst lilies. Sometimes, and he hated when she did this, she would even paint her face. Her voice a megaphone, letting everyone know she was in the gymnasium.
“Steve, isn’t that your mom?” His teammates would grin.
“Huh? No.” He shook his head, annoyed. “Not my mom.” But he turned as red as the face paint his mother was wearing. Why can’t she be normal, like other moms?
When he got a scholarship to an out-of-state university, he jumped at the opportunity, never looking back. She cried from the porch, watching him leave, arms folded across her chest, as if trying to hold something that was slipping away.
Even then, she came to visit, making a point to tell him she worked extra night shifts to pay for the plane ticket.
“But it was worth working overtime if it meant getting to see you.” Her eyes sparkled when she looked at him and he hoped she wouldn’t start crying. He hated when she cried. It made him feel uncomfortable.
The priest looked around the room.
“Would anyone like to share a fond memory of the departed?” A man he didn’t recognize, stood, and shuffled forward.
Steve thought back to how she would call him every week, and always at the most inconvenient times. Sometimes he was driving to practice, and other times he was in the middle of class. Once, she even called when he was with a date at the movies.`
Most of the time he would let the call go to voicemail, pretending he didn’t see it. By the end of the day, he would forget she even called. He told himself it was because he was busy.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” The girl was a few years older than him and he vaguely remembered seeing her in a photo at a family event he missed because of practice.
“Thanks,” he said. Maybe she was a neighbor.
“Your mom was one of the kindest people. Always happy.”
She was definitely a cousin because he could see the family resemblance when she started to cry. Her furrowed brow reminded him of his mom when she would wait up for him when his practice ran late.
Steve remembered how she always furrowed her forehead like that when she looked worried about him.
“Why are you sitting out here?” he’d ask, sounding annoyed.
“I wanted to make sure you got home safe,” she replied, smiling up at him from her rocking chair.
“I told you, mom.” He always felt irritated when she did this. “You don’t have to wait up for me. I have a key. I’m not a little kid.”
“I know, honey.” She paused and her brow furrowed. She looked like she wanted to say something more, but just stared at Steve. “I put your dinner in the oven so that it’d stay warm. Will you tell me about your day?”
“I really don’t have time to talk.” He grabbed his dinner, feeling his face get hot. “I have a lot of homework to catch up on.”
“Okay, honey.” She watched as he went to his room and closed the door.
A man stood up in the reception hall, waving his hands. Steve recognized him. It was his uncle, his mother’s little brother.
“Hi, all. I put a little something together that I think—” He paused, then cleared his throat, taking off his glasses. “How ‘bout I just show you.”
A video collage appeared on the screen.
The first few pictures were of Steve’s mother from when she was younger. In one, she was wearing a dress, hair in pigtails. She was pulling her brother in a wagon. In another, she was sitting on her daddy’s lap, looking up at him and smiling. Steve didn’t recognize his grandfather. He had passed away before Steve was born.
But Steve did recognize the look on his mother’s face. She looked at him the same way.
“She sure did love her daddy!” shouted a voice from the back of the room. Several murmured in agreement.
A few more pictures of Steve’s mom, from when she was young, flashed across the screen. But the majority of the montage consisted of pictures of her with him. Steve watched the screen as the pictures flipped like a deck of cards.
One, of her teaching him to ride a bike.
Another, them dressed up in matching Halloween costumes.
The next, them learning to surf at the beach.
In each one, she was smiling at him.
As the photos changed, the memories of how she had always been there with him, came flooding back. Every milestone. Even when he told her he could do it himself.
Now she was gone.
Steve stood, bumping into people, not caring as he rushed outside. He sat on a bench, hanging his head, crying. He wished she was with him now.
But he was alone.
He would have to do this himself now.
Benjamin Bishop resides in Riverside County, CA where he enjoys the beach and camping. Benjamin has both a Bachelors and Masters in English Literature. Benjamin was co-winner of the 2023 haiku contest on TheHumanist.com, has both fiction and poetry published in Clever Fox Literary Magazine, and has poems published in the upcoming poetry anthologies, Fly and Wild, published by Hey Hey Books.