It was the Arlens -- led by Frank -- who handled Johanna's sendoff. As the writer of the family, I was assigned the obituary. My brother came up from Virginia with my mom and my aunt and was allowed to tend the guest-book at the viewings. My mother -- almost completely ga-ga at the age of sixty-six, although the doctors refused to call it Alzheimer's -- lived in Memphis with her sister, two years younger and only slightly less wonky. They were in charge of cutting the cake and the pies at the funeral reception.
Everything else was arranged by the Arlens, from the viewing hours to the components of the funeral ceremony. Frank and Victor, the second-youngest brother, spoke brief tributes. Jo's dad offered a prayer for his daughter's soul. And at the end, Pete Breedlove, the boy who cut our grass in the summer and raked our yard in the fall, brought everyone to tears by singing "Blessed Assurance," which Frank said had been Jo's favorite hymn as a girl. How Frank found Pete and persuaded him to sing at the funeral is something I never found out.
We got through it -- the afternoon and evening viewings on Tuesday, the funeral service on Wednesday morning, then the little pray-over at Fairlawn Cemetery. What I remember most was thinking how hot it was, how lost I felt without having Jo to talk to, and that I wished I had bought a new pair of shoes. Jo would have pestered me to death about the ones I was wearing, if she had been there.
Later on I talked to my brother, Sid, told him we had to do something about our mother and Aunt Francine before the two of them disappeared completely into the Twilight Zone. They were too young for a nursing home; what did Sid advise?
He advised something, but I'll be damned if I know what it was. I agreed to it, I remember that, but not what it was. Later that day, Siddy, our mom, and our aunt climbed back into Siddy's rental car for the drive to Boston, where they would spend the night and then grab the Southern Crescent the following day. My brother is happy enough to chaperone the old folks, but he doesn't fly, even if the tickets are on me. He claims there are no breakdown lanes in the sky if the engine quits.
Most of the Arlens left the next day. Once more it was dog-hot, the sun glaring out of a white-haze sky and lying on everything like melted brass. They stood in front of our house -- which had become solely my house by then -- with three taxis lined up at the curb behind them, big galoots hugging one another amid the litter of tote-bags and saying their goodbyes in those foggy Massachusetts accents.
Frank stayed another day. We picked a big bunch of flowers behind the house -- not those ghastly-smelling hothouse things whose aroma I always associate with death and organ-music but real flowers, the kind Jo liked best -- and stuck them in a couple of coffee cans I found in the back pantry. We went out to Fairlawn and put them on the new grave. Then we just sat there for awhile under the beating sun.
"She was always just the sweetest thing in my life," Frank said at last in a strange, muffled voice. "We took care of Jo when we were kids. Us guys. No one messed with Jo, I'll tell you. Anyone tried, we'd feed em their lunch."
"She told me a lot of stories."
"Yeah, real good."
"I'm going to miss her so much."
"Me, too," I said. "Frank...listen...I know you were her favorite brother. She never called you, maybe just to say that she missed a period or was feeling whoopsy in the morning? You can tell me. I won't be pissed."
"But she didn't. Honest to God. Was she whoopsy in the morning?"
"Not that I saw." And that was just it. I hadn't seen anything. Of course I'd been writing, and when I write I pretty much trance out. But she knew where I went in those trances. She could have found me and shaken me fully awake. Why hadn't she? Why would she hide good news? Not wanting to tell me until she was sure was plausible...but it somehow wasn't Jo.
Copyright © 1998 by Stephen King
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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