While he lay downstairs and she upstairs

A short short story by Leon Wing

There were so many people who’d arrived, and were now talking to her, some putting a hand on her arm or shoulder, all mouthing the same words, or almost the same ones : . . . so sorry about your husband/grand dad/uncle/grand uncle/father/our relation of once/twice/that many times removed. These were her children, grandchildren, relatives, friends of hers and of her dead husband, most of them somber and subdued, except for a few, mostly women, who made some keening noises, drawing attention to them (and her), which she didn’t try to curb. While she nodded, without speaking or seeming to respond to their commiserations, they imagined she must be oh so grief stricken to be almost rendered speechless. But really, she was wondering about how her hair was looking to them, and about her clothes, all starched and in only black, even the shoes and the cowl, now that every mirror in the house in which she shared with her husband of fifty years had to covered up in white paper, following some funereal tradition. She could have had woken up by herself, right on the dot of six; which she believed she could always do, without fail, now, without another body snoring next to her. After her ablutions and patting on her face a bit of powder, she went downstairs to make breakfast of very sweet black coffee and steamed bread slices, which she slathered with jam, for one. Her other was lying in state, in a wooden box outside the kitchen, in the living room – shouldn’t it be called dead now? she mused - where the front door had been unclosed all through the night, letting in the sounds from musical instruments playing a continual dirge, and the litany from the monks, who never seemed to have slept at all, reciting off little books of Sanskrit, waft through into the house, up the stairs, into their – now her – room, while she had been sleeping for more hours than she had in all the years when she was never by herself.

© Leon Wing

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