The funeral was a grueling affair. My father was wheeled in by his brother and parked in the front row beside me. He never lifted his head—he just stared at his knees through the whole service. There weren’t very many people in attendance. Family members numbered the most. Mom has—had—a really big family. The preacher droned on and on about how wonderful Mom was and people sniffled in the rows behind me. I couldn’t cry. I had already cried all of the liquid from my body and was left dry. Everyone looked at me strangely. They asked me “are you okay?” I didn’t have the voice to answer, but a quick nod usually sufficed.
The police officer said he was drunk—the guy who hit their car. Dad’s back was broken and he would never walk again, but I think his spirit was shattered. The only thing he had said since he woke up was “it should have been me” and he had cried until the nurse sedated him.
I stayed with Grandma Jo. A social worker came to see us about two weeks after it happened and Grandma Jo told her about my nightmares. I told them it was nothing, shrugging it off. Grandma Jo told her I saw my mother in my dreams and the woman nodded sagely.
“Of course she’ll dream about her. That’s perfectly normal.”
I was wondering why I was in the room if both of them were only going to talk about me, not to me. But I didn’t care enough to bother pointing it out. I sat silently through the entire meeting, waiting for the lady to leave.
The next day I went back to school. Even the mean girls left me alone (for a few days at least). The teachers were ingratiating and it set my teeth on edge. Nobody could talk about death or what it meant to die. Even the people who thought they had the answers seemed very uncomfortable around me. I lived in a fog of uncomfortable silences and meaningless platitudes.
When my dad got out of the hospital, we moved back to our single-wide just off the college campus. My dad still rarely spoke and was learning to get around in his wheelchair. He couldn’t reach the kitchen cupboards so I would take down anything I thought he would need for the day and put it on the counter. I made my own lunches, walked to school, came home, did homework and dishes and laundry and fell into bed every night exhausted. My world had shrunk into a very small void.
Getting my dad to go grocery shopping with me was very difficult. We had to ride the bus and he refused to go to the nearest store because that’s the one he used to work at. He only wanted to deal with people who would ignore him, not the ones who plied him with insipid smiles and insightful trifles like: “nowhere to go but up” and “Eva would want you to live your life”.
I was walking home from school one day ruminating on how to make some money so I could buy peanut butter without dealing with my dad. I stopped and perused the college billboard for “help wanted”. I was thinking I could babysit or mow lawns or something when a sign grabbed my attention. It read: Is ESP real? Do you have deja vu a lot? Can you read minds? Please volunteer for an experiment this Saturday in the Tobias Lab Room 119. Drop in any time between 10 am and 2 pm. Must be 18 years of age to participate. ID required. $50 upon completion of experiment.
I walked the rest of the way home with my mind racing. How could I lie about my age? I was tall and well built and most people thought I was a college student but how could I get an ID? I contemplated stealing a college girl’s but thought better of it after realizingmy face wouldn’t match the picture. I entered the rundown mobile home feeling defeated.
“Hey dad, I’m home!” I yelled as I dropped my backpack and trudged to the kitchen. There was no response, and I didn’t expect one. I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and as I stood chewing, my eyes rested on mom’s purse slung over the pantry doorknob. She hadn’t taken it with her that awful night. I stood there and remembered all the times people had told me that I looked like her. We were called clones and sisters many times. I dumped the contents out onto the counter. A lip gloss, some change, a few receipts, her keys and a wallet rolled out. I opened it to reveal a driver’s license with an unflattering picture of my mother. I thought it would work if I wore some makeup and maybe one of her outfits. My stomach fluttered in anticipation.
Saturday morning was sunny and bright. I had picked out a very mature outfit. Tan slacks, a black and white blouse, and the sensible black shoes Grandma Jo had bought me for the funeral. I topped it off with a string of fake pearls and my hair in a bun like Mom had worn it a million times. I put on a little too much eye makeup and her lip gloss. The final touch was Mom’s purse slung over my shoulder.
“Bye, Dad!” I yelled as I rushed out the front door. I didn’t want him to see me dressed like that and carrying her purse. He might ask questions.
$50 wasn’t just a great incentive for me. There was a line out the door when I arrived at 10:15. After about five minutes of waiting, a man with a clipboard started coming down the line, looking at people’s ID and writing their name down on a lined sheet. As he came closer to me my heart began to race and I rehearsed what I would say. He asked everyone the same questions: “ID?” I pulled the wallet out and flashed the driver’s license. He barely looked at it. “Name?” “Eva Ashford” I answered confidently. He asked the same questions three more times and then told everyone else that they were not going to be a part of the experiment because they had all the applicants they could pay. Sorry to waste your time and stuff like that.
We shuffled forward slowly. The double doors remained closed until a man or a woman in a lab coat came and claimed the next person in line, ushering them inside Room 119. When it was my turn, the doors opened to reveal a young man with shaggy brown hair and a space between his two front teeth. He led me to a cubicle with a desk and two chairs and motioned me to sit in the one nearest one. He sat on the opposite side of the desk and set the clipboard down.
“Just a few things to get out of the way first”, he said with a sheepish smile. “Statistical stuff for the experiment, you know. Okay. Age?”
“30” I answered quickly.
“Sex? I think I can answer that one. Married?”
“Student”, I hadn’t rehearsed this many questions and started to panic a little.
“It’s never too late, right?” He smiled at me.
I just nodded my head and smiled back, feeling awkward.
“Okay, that’s all of those I need you to answer.” He opened a desk drawer and pulled out another sheet of paper and a stack of oversized playing cards. “So, the first part of this is me holding up a card with the back to you like this. You need to tell me what’s on the other side. Okay?”
I nodded my head and smiled, feeling more confident.
I nodded again.
“Um, a triangle with wavy things.”
He looked back and forth between me and the card for a few seconds before saying “Yeah”. He shook himself and put on his best poker face before lifting the next card from the deck.
He shuffled the deck before lifting the next one.
I let out a small giggle. The pale form of my mother stood behind my questioner, silently laughing with me.