The clouds defiantly kept the sun at bay on the day that Sarah Josephson was buried. Malcolm Josephson thought the deep grayness all too appropriate as it mirrored the only feeling that he had held since the day she died. Malcolm stared at the box containing the body of his mother with his face, as usual, betraying nothing.
The woman seated to his right, an enormous woman with skin nearly as black as his mother's big skillet who had introduced herself as "Aunt Amelia" just before she'd crushed him to the impossibly soft cushion of her huge bosom, was sniffling (quite demurely for such a large woman, Malcolm noted with passing amusement) yet again and reaching over to pat his hand. Malcolm kept wondering why this strange woman was seated in the first row separating him from his brother Robert and his older sisters Amanda and Mary.
To Malcolm's left, his little sister,
Malcolm couldn't hear any of the man's words, of course, since all sounds outside of a very tight radius of his body were as the roar of the ocean to him, constant and indecipherable.
Malcolm's eyes lingered on his father, regarding him coolly, with vague but nagging hostility. Why is she dead and you're still alive? Robert turned and gave his son a small, hollow smile.
Malcolm frowned and turned his gaze back onto his mother's coffin. He wondered if it would be okay to scratch his neck where the goddamn tie was making him itch like crazy. He decided that it wouldn't be and endured the tie in roaring silence.
And just so he endured the occasionally painful grip
The man in the shiny black suit finished murmuring whatever it was he had been murmuring and came over to the front row of chairs where Malcolm and his family were sitting.
Looking very concerned and interested, the man bent close and murmured to each of them...to Robert Jr., dapper in his Army uniform, looking very much like the son of the father he had been pointedly ignoring since his arrival...to Amanda, only her quivering lower lip and liquid eyes betraying her otherwise impassive face's turmoil; and Mary, weeping openly and without shame.
The man in the shiny black suit came closer, exchanging words with a man who had been introduced to Malcolm as "Uncle Samuel" and who was Aunt Amelia's thin, mustard-skinned husband whose haunted, bloodshot eyes had inspired both empathy and revulsion in Malcolm earlier that morning when first they met.
The man, whose coat was slightly but distinctly frayed when seen up close, stooped to exchange words with Aunt Amelia and lingered longer than he had planned to as she seized his arm as soon as he was in range and had refused to release him until she finished saying whatever it was she wanted to say. The man eventually freed himself from Aunt Amelia's fleshy grasp and seized Malcolm's right hand with both of his own. The man's hands were cool and moist.
Malcolm frowned slightly and nodded absently at the man's murmuring; the roaring in his ears had swollen to a symphony and even at closer range the man's words were unintelligible gibberish. The man in the shiny black suit released Malcolm's hand and moved on to
Malcolm's father rose to his feet and took
And then Amanda was there...looking too much like their mother and gently taking his hand. Amanda tugged on Malcolm's hand and led him to his feet. They walked in their father's wake toward the coffin. Ahead of them,
All about him voices were murmuring...or were they singing?...but Malcolm couldn't understand any of it.
He wanted to run...run as long and as hard as he could. He wanted his mother to smile and rub his head and tell him it was going to be okay...he wanted her to frown and tell him to be a good boy...he wanted her to do or say something...anything...just sit up and say something...
With his hand holding on tight to that of his big sister, Malcolm look at the body in the coffin. Her eyes were shut and she looked as if she were merely asleep...her skin glistened like new caramel candy...her mouth was set in an expressionless expression so unlike his mother (a woman of great laughter and great anger and other quite tangible and vivid emotions.)
The lump in his throat shrank and the tears died before they were fully born and Malcolm felt very cold and very alone. This was not his mother. Whatever it was, it wasn't Sarah Josephson anymore.
Amanda's grip on his hand tightened as her resolve to be strong weakened and a plaintive shudder coursed through her body. The roar in Malcolm's ears was subsiding and he could hear the soft prayer/plea... "Mama"... that escaped from Amanda's trembling lips. Behind him he could hear Aunt Amelia's dainty sniffling again.
Malcolm wondered if he was supposed to be crying, too...and if so, why wasn't he? He squeezed Amanda's hand reassuringly instead; she looked down and smiled and then bent over and kissed his cheek. Amanda put her arm across Malcolm's shoulders and they followed their father and Alice out of the church and onto the parking lot. The skies were darker and they were greeted by the cool, demanding breeze of a gathering storm.
Robert Jr. relieved Robert Sr. of the still-sobbing
He looked over the buzzing groups of people...Amanda nodding solemnly as Aunt Amelia went on about something or the other; Robert Jr., still holding Alice in his arms, talking to someone else; Mary talking to the man in the shiny black suit. Uncle Samuel was off to himself smoking a cigarette and constantly glancing at his watch. Robert Sr. was talking softly with a large black woman who seemed to know him quite well.
And then Lloyd was there. Lloyd West was Gabriel's best friend. A light-skinned boy with a boisterous nature, his friendship with the reticent Malcolm was something that was not widely understood at school. But Malcolm didn't care. And, just as importantly, nor did Lloyd.
Lloyd looked uncomfortable in his dark blue suit but he mustered up a smile for his friend just the same.
Malcolm tried to smile back but could only muster a fleeting grin. That seemed to satisfy the atypically-silent Lloyd who nodded and leaned back against the car next to Malcolm.
Malcolm wondered, again, if he was supposed to be crying...and if so, why wasn't he? And then he heard his mother's voice. Through the swirling din without and the dampening roar within, she spoke...softly, soothingly...but he couldn't make out the words.
Malcolm suddenly felt warm and alone and safe and afraid. He felt a tugging on his sleeve. Lloyd was holding out a handkerchief for some reason...Malcolm took it as he noticed that tears were, quite suddenly, pouring down his cheeks. The clouds disappeared. Lloyd disappeared. Everybody in the parking lot disappeared. Except for Amanda.
He tried to call out to her but the lump in his throat had swelled up again and he couldn't speak. He clawed at his tie, yanking it away before it squeezed the very life's breath out of him.
Amanda looked over at him with her mother's eyes...with his mother's eyes. Malcolm cried out Amanda's name and broke and ran for her. Amanda caught him on the fly and hugged him to her as if she would never, ever let him go.
"Oh, baby boy...baby boy..." Amanda said, these being the first distinct words Malcolm had heard in hours.
The rest of the world faded slowly back into Malcolm's view. Lloyd was standing a couple of steps away holding Malcolm's discarded tie gingerly.
Aunt Amelia was murmuring and sniffling again. Robert Jr., still holding Alice who had cried herself to sleep, and Mary were standing protectively next to them. And Malcolm's father stood over them...his eyes ablaze with love...and jealousy...with anger and sympathy and disgust. And, more than anything else, his eyes were ablaze with embarrassment.
But Malcolm didn't care that he was making a scene. Amanda didn't care either. Malcolm clung to his sister, whimpering and crying, until the grey skies stopped threatening and actually opened up. The people in the church parking lot scurried to their cars as the rain began to pour down.
Robert, Jr. carried
Malcolm slumped into the back seat. Lloyd, his hair soaked and matted, tapped at the window. Malcolm rolled down the window and accepted his tie back with a grateful, embarrassed nod.
Lloyd's mother, a creamy skinned thin woman with finely-detailed features, stood behind him holding a big blue umbrella over the two of them. She bent down and spoke softly to Robert, Sr. and then to Malcolm and then she led Lloyd away towards their car. Malcolm rolled up the window.
Amanda climbed over into the back seat with Malcolm and pulled him into a protective embrace. Malcolm snuggled as close as he could to his big sister and shut his eyes tight. He slipped into a brief but deep sleep. He awoke with a start as the car hit a rut in the road, disoriented by the hum of the engine and the rhythm of the rain on the roof.
"It's okay, baby boy," Amanda said, smiling down on him with their mother's eyes. "You're okay."
"'Course he's okay, girl," Robert, Sr. said impatiently. "Ain't you, Mal?"
Malcolm swallowed hard and coughed. "Yeah, daddy," he replied in a tightly-coiled voice, "I'm fine."
Robert, Sr. cleared his throat and reached for the car's radio. "That's my boy." Amanda frowned and tightened her embrace on Malcolm.
Malcolm closed his eyes again and from somewhere distant...through the hum of the engine and the pounding of the rain...he could hear music...Jackie Wilson swooping and swirling over and about an infectious melody...your love keeps liftin' me higher than I've ever been lifted before...
He drifted back to sleep hearing the engine and the music and the rain and wondering if the sun was ever going to come back again (part of him hoped and prayed that it would not.)
Amanda woke him when they got home and he followed her out of the car. Robert Sr. mumbled something and Amanda closed the door behind her. Malcolm and Amanda stood there in the rain as their father's Cadillac roared off.
They stood there until Robert Jr., his face hard and unforgiving, came and led them out of the rain and into the house their mother had lived in and died in.
Robert Jr. had to return to the Army; Mary had to return to her husband. Amanda stayed with Malcolm and
It would be years before Malcolm would forgive either of his parents.
On Tuesday, An Awakening