WHO Genesis & Qebhet WHEN Sunday mid-morning WHERE Western Funeral Home WHAT [insert general character establishing] and then chatting with her coworker WARNINGS Talk of drug addiction, embalming
On Saturday night Genesis had gone out with some girlfriends to celebrate a birthday, the group of them ending up in a nightclub until past three, all of them variously confessing their love for each other in the public bathroom at one time or another.
Genesis was slightly less sloppy and overly adoring, but only because she was slightly less drunk than the rest of them. She’d gotten better at learning her limits. Karla – wearing a plastic birthday tiara and crying about how no one was ever going to marry her between bouts of vomiting – had apparently never learned her limits, and it was usually Genesis who drove her home.
She didn’t mind being Karla’s ride, because Karla was great fun and a good friend. Karla was the one who’d gotten in the face of a cop harassing Genesis after she'd only just moved to New York, Karla filming him and complaining very loudly and getting him to fuck off before taking Genesis for coffee to make sure she was alright. That sort of meeting engendered Genesis with a warm affection for Karla that no amount of messy drunkenness could override.
But it did mean that by the time she got back home to her own apartment it was almost four in the morning and her alarm was set for eight. She groaned, standing in front of the open fridge in her dark apartment and drinking ginger ice tea until the bottle was empty. At least she’d have no hangover to deal with, but four hours of sleep was not going to serve her very well.
She’d consoled herself that there would probably be time for a nap later in the afternoon, but when the alarm woke her far sooner than she wanted, Genesis still swore at it and dragged herself very unwillingly upright.
Sitting on the side of her bed she rubbed her eyes, blinking against the morning light streaming through the window. At least spring was finally starting to realise it was supposed to be here, and Genesis wasn’t freezing to death as soon as she threw the blankets off.
In the kitchen she made herself coffee and a bagel, getting them both down quickly as she kept an eye on the clock above the sink. She was cutting it close, but it would be okay.
“I asked you not to come here again,” Kingston said when he spotted her just before the service.
The organ was playing something unappealing as people entered the church, and she’d only split off from the aisle because Kingston had very seriously beckoned her towards him.
“You’re banning me from church?” she asked, as though everything here were completely above board. She'd dressed well, in a long dark green skirt and a demure brown blouse. She fitted in here just as well as anyone else.
“Don’t act smart,” Kingston said, and it was so calm, and she hated him for that calmness. For him this was just another day, but for Genesis it was one of the rare times when she got to actually see their son. And, no, it wasn’t her official day, but it wasn’t against the rules.
“It’s not a restraining order,” Genesis said, pushing back against him but still trying to match his calm. She’d never been as good at him as calm though. Genesis had always run high, and Kingston had been a good anchor right up until the moment he'd became the weight around her ankles drowning her. “I’m allowed to see him.”
Kingston looked like he wanted to argue but then he let it go, and Genesis was sure that was only because they were in a church and service was about to start. He walked away from her and up to the pew where Caspian was sitting. She watched Kingston lean down to whisper something, and Caspian turned back to look at her, frowning. Genesis smiled at him and gave a little wave. Caspian’s wave back was barely a lifting of his hand, and his expression didn’t change. She wished she could hear the whispered conversation happening between them, but the organ was playing and people were chattering, and once the priest stood up they fell silent just like the rest of the congregation.
Genesis sat down and resisted the urge to pull out her phone. She reminded herself that an hour of church was the price to be paid to get a few moments with Caspian, and in the grand scheme of life that was a very small price. But still her skin felt too warm in this room, and she tried to drown out the sermon with thoughts of her own.
After the priest had bid them go in peace and love, Genesis went looking for Caspian outside. She found him sitting on the brick garden edging and smiled. “Hi,” she said. “Did you enjoy the service?”
“Yeah,” he said with a sigh and there was a long moment of silence that stretched between them. “Uncertain future.”
For a moment Genesis thought he was talking about them, about their relationship as mother and son. She almost started to argue, that, yes, their future was uncertain but it didn’t have to be. He didn’t need to be so distant from her, even if they only saw each other twice a month. He was allowed to call her. He was allowed to reach out. Not everything had to be so uncertain.
But then she remembered what the priest had been talking about: the power of an uncertain future.
And so before Genesis could pretend that she’d taken very much of it in – she remembered the priest had talked about the parable of the ten virgins, she could bring that up – Caspian stood up from where he’d been sitting.
“I don’t know why you bother coming here,” he said, kicking at a piece of gravel between them. “I know you’re an atheist.”
“Your dad tell you that?” Genesis asked, looking over to where Kingston was talking to one of the other parishioners, and she couldn’t tell whether he was genuinely not bothering with her or very pointedly ignoring her. “That I don’t believe in God?”
Caspian looked up at her and she recognised her own eyes staring back. She wished that they didn’t look at her with such firm judgement. “You don’t go to church.”
“You can believe in god without going to church,” Genesis countered, and she kept her tone level and easy. She didn’t want this to turn into an argument. Any time they argued, Genesis felt like she lost even more time with him that she’d never get back.
“So you love God, but you hate his house.” It wasn’t really a question, just in the way that many things Caspian said weren’t questions. Caspian looked out at the world and assessed it instantly. He’d done that even when he was little, but now, coming into his teens, it had become more cynical. Every month he got a little older and a little more cynical, and every month it got a little harder for Genesis to work out how to reach him.
“Maybe,” Genesis considered with a shrug, “not all houses are worth loving.” She regretted the shrug, and slightly regretted the words: both felt too flippant when talking about something that was important, and Caspian’s faith was important to him, just as her seeming lack of faith was also important in his eyes. Her dislike of going to church was seen as yet another failing, and she knew that when they went home Kingston would only encourage that.
“Dad said you wouldn’t even marry him because you didn’t want to do it in a church.”
Well. If this seemed to be the road they were travelling down, Genesis should have been the adult to stop it. And yet she said: “and your dad wouldn’t marry me anywhere outside of a church, so that’s on him too.” She could see the way Caspian was closing up against her, the way he always did when she spoke any ill of Kingston. “Sorry,” she said. “It just wasn’t right for either of us. Didn’t mean we didn’t love each other, and it didn’t mean-”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” Caspian said, shaking his head. “Me and dad are going to Arby’s.” He didn’t even say goodbye, and Genesis wanted to tell him that that was rude, but it wasn’t really her place. She was only his sometimes mom, and Caspian didn’t even really want that much.
“Hey,” she called after him gently, her tone as soft as fleece, “I’ll see you on Saturday!”
Caspian looked back as he was walking and nodded, before dropping his head and making a straight line towards his father. Kingston put his arm around Caspian and neither of them looked at her again. She continued to watch them for another few seconds until the bite of it grew too much, and then she turned and headed back towards her car.
The Western Funeral home was quiet today, Genesis being the only one who seemed to be in when she got there. That was alright though, because Genesis never minded being alone while she was at work. Outside of these walls she craved people, but there was something warm and soft about being alone with the dead. She could place her hands gently upon their skin as she worked to embalm them, and it was like hearing their final secrets. This was the last place they needed to be on this earth, and Genesis would keep them company and help move them along.
As a child, Genesis had grown up surrounded by dead bodies. She had been six when she’d first watch her uncle embalm one, telling her about what he was taking out of the flesh, telling her about what he was putting back inside. That first time it had scared her enough to give her nightmares, and her mother had insisted that her father and uncle never show her again. But seven months later she’d gone back on her own to watch the process again. After that it never scared her again. There was nothing to fear from dead bodies.
Her uncle was clinical and quiet when he embalmed bodies, while her father liked to talk to them and to sing. Genesis had always been more like her father in that regard. (She took after her uncle in other ways: he’d died of a heroin overdose when she was fifteen.)
The body on the table today was Virginia Purcell, a forty-eight-year-old postal worker who had suffered a massive aneurysm in her sleep and never woke up. It was likely she hadn’t felt a thing, and had just drifted away. Genesis thought that sounded like a peaceful way to go.
It was an occupational hazard of working in a funeral home that every time a body came through, Genesis couldn’t help but judge whether it was the sort of death she would like or not when her time came. She suspected most people in the death industry had similar thoughts, though it wasn’t something she much brought up with others.
But dying in her sleep seemed like the pinnacle, to never even feel it when death took hold.
She started singing as she began collecting things from drawers. “As I went down in the river to pray, studying about that good old way-”
Despite her current disquiet when it came to churches, Genesis had always had a soft spot for spirituals and gospel songs, having spent her entire childhood and teenage years in church choirs. (That beautiful voice of yours is a gift from god, her mother told her one morning when Genesis had been complaining about having to get up so early for it. And it’d be a crying shame not to be singing for him.)
She unravelled a length of thin wire – knowing how much she would need by sight now – and thread it through a needle, beginning work on sewing the lips shut as she sang.