Home > Funerals for Horses(3)

Funerals for Horses(3)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

She swirled out of the room as if in a hurry, leaving me alone with my brother Simon, who twisted a finger around near his head as a comment on her mental acuity. I was shocked and impressed. How can a child admit a parent is unstable? To me it seemed equivalent to suggesting that the ground won’t hold us up, or gravity won’t stick us down to it. But Simon worked off a different set of laws. Simon stepped on cracks. Simon was never afraid to see.

I often thought it was Simon, not me, who should have been born with the caul.

In these early years, when I still assumed god placed us somewhere on his long agenda, I wondered if he had simply forgotten it when Simon was born, then sent it along with me as an afterthought, thinking it would at least arrive into the right family. Most say god never makes mistakes, but I was a reasonable child, able to accept that even as his powers outnumber ours, so must his list of responsibilities and details grow geometrically beyond our scope. I would cut him some slack. But to assume the role of chosen one, in a family with my brother Simon—no, that I could never do.

Simon was the hero. Not just my hero. The hero, period. He couldn’t have held his job any more decisively if he’d been born with the word tattooed on his forehead.

Now my sister DeeDee, she was the actress.

DeeDee’s life fell apart the day Grandma Ginsberg called her a whore and a thief.

Mind you, this was nothing special.

Pushing into the depths of that back bedroom, you could be her loving grandchild, a wild Indian headhunter, or her whoring bastard ex-husband. Or perhaps the day would yield some new hallucination. Simon always smiled and took it philosophically. I had long since stopped going in.

DeeDee stormed into the kitchen, where Simon and I sat at the table brushing sand paintings with salt we’d emptied from the shaker, her face red and hot with indignation, tears sliding through her toughest guard.

Simon grabbed her in a bear hug, and motioned me to come quickly, and we sandwiched her between us until the hitching of her sobs replaced trembling rage. I felt the trembling, the hitch, and wondered why I couldn’t feel pain and rage, as I appeared to be a sentient human, with nerve endings and everything.

DeeDee,” he said, “you know she always does this. Remember when she called me goyim and slammed my hand in the door? That was way back when she was herself.”

“I just can’t stand it,” DeeDee said, barely audible. “One grand-mother who hates me, fine—but not two for two.”

He took her by the hand and we led her into my mother’s room, where Mom lay half-sleeping, though it was after four. Simon explained that Grandma Ginsberg had called DeeDee a whore and a thief. He knew and I knew that she did these things regularly, but for DeeDee’s sake, I assumed, he filed an official report.

Our mother raised her head.

“Simon, did you get ground beef for dinner? Run to the store right now, dear.”

“Mom,” he repeated, “DeeDee is very upset.”

“Make him grind it right in front of you. Don’t get what’s already ground. God only knows what they put into that.”

Blood rose into DeeDee’s face again. “You don’t listen, you crazy old lady,” she screamed too close to my left eardrum.

“And hurry back from the store, dear—I’ll get up and start dinner.”

But she didn’t move.

As Simon sprinted to the market clutching the dollar bill he had pulled from the grocery fund, DeeDee opened each of the kitchen cabinets, stood on a step stool, and hooked her arm behind every stack of dishes and glasses, pulling them out into gravity, and their appointment with the linoleum. When our mother appeared to start dinner, her slippered feet skidded around in the debris. I closed my eyes and pictured a beach scattered with a thousand clam shells, or a wind chime tinkling on the porch.

But a minute later, as she stood staring into the empty cabinets, the shards crunching under her weight, I imagined the sound my shattering teeth might make if I ever clenched them as hard as I really wanted.

After a few minutes’ surveillance, and after Simon had returned, puffing from exertion, she turned back to him and asked if he’d remembered paper plates.

DeeDee would have screamed if in Simon’s place. I would have groused that she’d requested no such thing. Simon simply pulled another dollar from the fund and took off running as my mother dropped the ground beef into an overheated pan with a startling sizzle.

No one thought about paper cups, and we had to take occasional trips from the table to the sink, to drink water from the faucet. We walked carefully to avoid slipping in the shifting sea of glass and china fragments.

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