was a certain smell in funeral homes, a cloying mix of flowers and old lady perfume. Lily felt her allergies welling up, causing her eyes to water. She sniffed in the most unladylike way possible, but it was a funeral. If anything her allergies were her saving grace, she looked like she was mourning.
Not that she shouldn’t be mourning, but Lily found it increasingly difficult to make the tears come. Behind her the dark steel coffin stood like a sentry. She kept staring at it out of the corner of her eye. The silhouette of his face – one she knew so well. Her fingers swiped at the water gathering on her lashes and she brushed her nose. She shared that nose with the dead man. It was one of the only physical traits she could easily recognize as having come from her father.
It had been a little over six months since her father had sat everyone down in the living room after dinner and delivered the news like he was passing out a slice of after-dinner desert.
“I have cancer,” he said.
There was no soft opening line, no easing into it. He was as blunt and blatant as always. It wasn’t in his character to sugar coat anything, and it seemed cancer wasn’t going to be any different.
The silence that followed had set her ears to ringing. Lily heard her step-mother asking questions, but it was only her father’s words that she heard.
A year. Maybe two.
Her father and Hannah had only gotten married last year. They hadn’t even had their first anniversary yet. Lily should have felt bad for her. Both of them had been married before, but where Hannah’s husband had collapsed while mowing their front yard, Lily’s mother had simply up and left. One morning she woke up and said, “I don’t love you anymore.”
Then she left.
Lily was eighteen when Hannah came into their life. She was too old for a new mother, but she would have given her a chance, if Hannah hadn’t absolutely hated her. Maybe hate was the wrong word, but there was a level of competitiveness there that had formed a wedge between them from the very beginning. Hannah looked at Lily as if she were the only thing standing between her and a perfect marriage. Lily’s father adored her, they had habits and traditions, things that belonged to them. It wasn’t like they hadn’t tried to include Hannah, but she wanted no parts of Christmas Bingo. She wanted no parts of anything that was between father and daughter and had slowly managed to end each little ritual like she were stomping out a stray ash from the fire.
Lily had been planning on college to get away, give them the space they needed. Her father’s cancer news put a hold on her applications and before she knew it she’d missed deadlines. Real tears filled her eyes then as she thought about having to take a semester off at home with Hannah. The house seemed so empty without her father in it.
Lily stole a glance to her other side, watching the way fat tears rolled down the perfect arch of Hannah’s cheek bones. A small birdcage black veil covered the top half of her step-mother’s face, attached to an entirely too large hat. She wore a form-fitting top, black pencil skirt, small kitten heels. As if sensing Lily’s stare, she turned and gave a smoldering look through the veil.
“My brother will sit in the front with me,” she said.
Lily’s eyebrows raised in shock. She was his daughter. She belonged in the front pew, the one where the sign “Family Only” hung from its little white ribbon.
“Why don’t you go find somewhere to sit down?” Hannah more commanded than asked her. She spun her head back around to embrace another person in the long line of mourners. Lily squeezed past the pair and went to find another seat.