Mama’s assets are divided among lawyers, real estate agents, Catholic Charities, nurses, domestic servants, and Uncle Sam. Coach is not entirely left out. Mama has bequeathed to her son the Mercury station wagon with 70,000 miles and the Schwinn stationary exercise bike with the worn-out banana seat. Mama had the money to do more for Coach and Cindy but she wrote up the will after a trip to Mexico City, when she donated the bulk of her accounts to Mother Teresa with a swelling of her heart.
Coach and Cindy had been living on a thread for some time, Coach’s socks with holes in them, his team jacket in need of dry-cleaning. Cindy boils pasta without sauce, rice with frozen vegetables, and she quits her shelving job at the library for a daycare job that pays more. She misses the freedom of wandering the stacks. Her old boss had caught her curled up on a third floor couch with a book and didn’t care. She checked out books and brought them home but never felt like reading when Coach was around.
Brad is six, he knows Grandma is dead but they opt not to bring him to the funeral. Coach puts the stationary bicycle in the back of the Mercury station wagon and Cindy drives Mama’s car, now hers. Coach had written in calligraphic letters on the windows of the car with a bar of Ivory: “In memory” and “Pray for us.” They drop Brad off at the baby-sitter’s and Coach and Cindy drive home to pick up the Datsun, the Datsun and the Mercury station wagon the only cars in Mama’s procession.
At the climax of the funeral the reverend reads Psalm 23, Mama’s favorite: I shall not want. Coach smacks the coffin top with the fullness of his hand and it makes a hollow sound. The reverend imagines ghosts startled awake in the empty folding chairs then resumes Psalm 23 exactly where he left off: He taketh me. Cindy fiddles with her wedding ring, twirling the diamond round and round. Coach keeps his hands hidden in the deep pocket of his dull team jacket. He hasn’t given Cindy the negligee he bought on a whim, but has developed the habit of fondling the items in his pocket. He took four pills and they’re working on him, he’s emotional, the tears are streaming.
After the service, Coach and Cindy thank the reverend, they sit in the Mercury station wagon, and they eat the ham sandwiches Cindy brought. Groundskeepers collapse the funeral tent and load the folding chairs onto a flatbed truck. The crew leader drives a backhoe over the grass and begins shoveling the inconspicuous pile of dirt back into Mama’s hole. In an uncharacteristic move, Coach wipes his wet face with the wadded silk pajama bottoms.
“What’s that?” Cindy says, and she takes them.
“There’s more,” Coach says. He pulls the silk chemise from his pocket and the small panties. From the same deep pocket he produces the dark green crushed-velvet gloves. He says, “I bought all this but haven’t had the chance to give it to you. I hope I haven’t ruined them. Or the surprise.”
“No,” Cindy says. “I love it.” She applies a dab of saliva to test a mustard stain. “It’ll wash.”
They leave the Datsun parked at Mama’s grave and Cindy drives the Mercury station wagon. They pick up Brad from the baby-sitter’s. Brad understands the car is now theirs and he’s excited. He lays out on the spacious back seat with his hands behind his head.
“Grandma’s in heaven now?” he says. “Is that what happens?”
Coach stares at the road ahead. His mother has finally been laid next to his father in the ground. He buckles his seat belt and scans the CDs in the changer. He seems to remember Mama had Big Brother & the Holding Co. He finds it then skips ahead to “Piece of My Heart.” He cries and doesn’t say a word.
“Grandma’s with Jesus,” Cindy says.
“Do we get her money?”
“You do, honey,” she says. “Or you will. When you’re older. She left a trust.”
“Money for college.”
“How long do I have to wait?”
“A few more years.”
The wheel of the stationary bike juts out over the back seat and hangs above Brad’s head. It spins freely. Brad stares into the spokes and tries to imagine college. Grandma had made it sound like a kabuki. To Brad’s father college was a vague set of memories he referred to as his “ball playing days,” mostly conquests of cheerleaders, feats of strength, feats of drinking, then his senior year and the romancing of June. Brad knows college has changed since Coach and Grandma’s time. A world-renowned school advertised itself on TV during the football games as “the college of the future.” Brad imagined college as the hardest math class and the hardest reading group all rolled into one. He imagined a thin-boned judge at a tall podium asking labyrinthine questions. Brad doesn’t think he could live up to that and he’s anxious. His mother is a high school dropout and the smartest of the bunch. He’ll never get Grandma’s money. Brad lets out a sigh.
Cindy places her hand in Coach’s pocket. He’d taught himself to draft and to writer calligraphy to get the job at the high school. She has faith in him. She wraps her fingers between his and squeezes. She takes his hand from the pocket and draws it to her chest.
“Mama’s in heaven,” she says. “Everything will be all fine.”
John Minichillo's work has appeared in Night Train, Mississippi Review, Third Coast, the anthology Next Stop Hollywood (St. Martin's), Monkeybicycle, DeComp, Metazen,
Dogzplot, Gigantic Web, In Posse Review, Staccato Fiction,
Glossolalia, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. Work forthcoming at
Northville Review, Moon Milk Review, Writer's Bloc, and Hint Fiction:
an Anthology of Stories in Twenty-Five Words or Less (Norton).