The worst part of death is not the gnawing emptiness left in your heart as you fondly remember a person’s smile or the way they walked into a room and owned it with a hearty hello. It isn’t knowing that you’ll never receive another spine-cracking hug from them after weeks apart. Nor is it coming to the realization that one of the few people you could count on to drop everything and help you get out of a rough spot will never again answer their phone and say, “Be there in five.”
No, the hardest part about losing a loved one is watching the vultures swoop in to pick and tear at the body before it has been laid to rest.
Shana Baker took a bite of a chocolate chip cookie that may as well have been made of shoe leather. She didn’t have an appetite. The cookie’s sole purpose was to save her from being dragged into one of the hundred conversations buzzing around her.
“It isn’t right,” a woman complained. Her nasally tone grated like nails on a chalkboard. “I asked for her car, but they gave it to Kimmy.”
“Kimmy is a drunk and doesn’t deserve anything more than liver failure,” her companion added with a solemn nod.
They made Shana sick. But they weren’t the only vultures circling the memorial service with nasty comments on their lips. Half of the crowd was only there to see who’d get what from the dead. A quarter of attendees were likely testing their acting chops, seeing if they could garner the most pity. The last group, the quietest ones, those there the ones she felt for–the family and close friends left behind.
“Have you seen her mother?” Chalk-board crone crooked a thumb over her shoulder.
Her friend snorted. “A tank top at a memorial? Trash doesn’t blow far from the park.”
Shana’s self control snapped. She turned in her seat and pinned the pair with a glare. “First off, Abby left Kimmy the car in her will. Secondly, it is a hundred and five outside in the shade. Half of the people here are wearing tank tops and shorts. Thirdly, your voices are shrill enough to shatter glass. No wonder neither of you can keep a husband. How’s your ex’s new wife, Ingrid? She’s got to be at least fifteen years younger than you. Wasn’t she pregnant when Jeff left you? That must have stung, seeing as your vagina is a barren wasteland of hate and bitterness.”
The women gaped at her outburst. Shana’s cheeks burned. She shouldn’t have gone off like that, but would be damned if they made her apologize.
“You have no right,” Ingrid spat.
“No, you have no right. You’re only here to cause misery. Did you know Abby at all? Oh wait, you went to church with her when she was six. That gives you grounds to hover over her dead body and insult the people she loved.”
A hand clamped down on Shana’s shoulder and spun her away from the angry glares threatening to bore holes in her head.
Devon gave her a gentle shake. “Are you stoned? We all heard you tear into those old biddies.”
Shana dropped her head and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. You didn’t hear what they were saying, Dev.”
“Come on. Leave them to it. They can’t hurt Abby any more. ‘Screw ’em if they can’t say anything nice.’ That’s what she’d say about this mess.”
“I need some fresh air.”
“No, you need a drink. There’s an ice chest in my trunk full of beer with your name on it.”
Devon wrapped an arm around Shana’s shoulders and led her out into the oppressive heat. Her shirt stuck to the sweat running down her back, but she didn’t care.
Out in the parking lot it was quiet. No one bickered or questioned the dying wishes of a sick woman. No one judged how others were dressed or the fact that they felt they weren’t crying enough. There was just the birds, a light breeze, and peace.
“Can we spend the rest of the service out here?” Shana propped a hip against Devon’s car.
He opened the trunk and fished around in the ice chest for two beers. Devon popped the cap off one and passed it to her. “Sure, why not? Abby would’ve hated it in there just as much as you do.”
“Yeah, I know.” Shayla lifted her beer. “Here’s to you, Abs, be glad you’re free of all this.”