As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

Author:Susan Meissner
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Published: 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00



When Henry died, losing him was all any of us had to think about. The all-consuming, singular focus seemed needful and appropriate. The rest of the world had to wait for us to catch up with it because we had been in mourning. In mourning. It was a thing we went inside, and we didn’t have to come out until we wanted to.

But with Mama and Uncle Fred and Charlie, the world doesn’t stop. It just keeps spinning, with all its troubles, yanking us into its wild revolutions. There is no stepping into mourning, all secluded with nothing but much-warranted sorrow for company. Instead it’s as if the train we’re all on switched tracks at full speed and now we are racing forward in a completely new direction with no time to think about the destination we’d been headed toward before and now will never see.

Papa now must be what Uncle Fred was, the undertaker.

I must be what Mama was, the keeper of the house.

Maggie must be what I had been, the older sister to the little ones.

The influenza is still rampant, the war still rages, and there is a business to run and a house to manage and there are young children to take care of. The train is still charging ahead, and whoever is conducting it expects us to fall into our new duties without so much as a backward glance.

And so we do.

I think Papa is glad there will be no quiet reprieve to grieve Mama’s death. He begins to attend to Uncle Fred’s grisly tasks the moment he returns from seeing those three pine boxes safely into the ground. While he was at the graveyards, the bell on the back stoop was rung four times. I did not have the heart to turn the people away. Each time, I answered it, and I instructed those who had brought their dead to bring them into the embalming room. At least the number of dead this day is fewer than it has been, even counting our own losses.

When Papa returns from the cemeteries, he records the new deliveries. Maggie and I push the chairs back against the wall of the viewing parlor and take the flowers our neighbors brought into the main part of the house. Papa needs the viewing room again to become a staging area in which none of us girls is allowed.

When he finally comes into the sitting room hours later, he is exhausted, and still wearing his church clothes from the funeral. He had come in through the back door when he came home from the burials, and in the back he’d stayed.

“Has it really been like this the whole time?” he says to me as he washes up at the kitchen sink. I am warming up some baked chicken brought to us by the Kellers, who live up the boulevard.

“Yes.” I don’t say it has been worse.

“What did Fred do when he ran out of caskets?”

“He . . . he waited for more.


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