This week I have real, brand-spankin’ new fiction. I decided I had been trying to pass flimsy things off as fiction for long enough. YOUR WAIT IS OVERRR.
This week’s edition is titled “Romeo.” It’s not what you think. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
The car lurched as the snow under it crunched. Dad inched the car along my aunt’s gigantic driveway of her gigantic house.
“I cannot believe we came out in this weather… for this,” Dad said, locking his elbows and his grip on the wheel.
“Now, Bill, have a heart. Romeo was Tiadora’s first dog. She brought him home from the shelter the day after mother passed,” Mom said. “She doesn’t have any children of her own. He was her baby.” She clutched her purse in her lap and maintained her no-nonsense look.
Billy and I sat in the back seat. He flapped his legs back and forth. I stared out the window. I thought we might get there faster if we just parked and walked.
We made it to the front door and Mr. C, my aunt’s butler, was there to meet us.
“Hello Chip,” Dad said to Mr. C shaking his hand passively, “how are you.”
“Oh, Mr. S, we’ve had rather better days I’m afraid.” He blotted his eyes with a tissue.
“Unbelievable,” Dad muttered under his breath as he walked through the foyer. Mom jabbed him in the ribs just before Aunt T saw us.
“Oh, my darlings.” Aunt T rushed at us, one dog tucked under each arm. She had on a floor length black taffeta gown. The dogs were wearing matching black onesies. Billy laughed when he saw the dogs’ outfits and Dad quickly covered Billy’s gaping mouth with his hand.
“Oh, T, I am so so sorry for your loss.” Mom rushed to Aunt T’s side. She wasn’t sure where to put her hands because of the dogs, so she cupped the two dog’s faces.
“It just proves how short life really is,” Aunt T said, looking at Mom, then down at the dogs. “I just thank God, I still have Cesar and Alexander.” She nuzzled their faces.
Billy couldn’t take it anymore and the laughing he had held in exploded and Dad’s hand flew off. He doubled over in laughter, collapsing on the floor.
Dad scooped him up and walked off to the foyer bathroom.
“You’ll have to excuse Billy, T, he gets a little car sick on long trips,” he said over his shoulder, then gave a stare of God to Billy.
“If you need any bicarbonate, just ask Mr. C!” she yelled after them.
“Come, my lovelies,” Aunt T said, maneuvering Mom and I with her elbows, “to the garden room.”
We walked through double wooden doors to the garden room. The oriental rugs were paired with every shade of lilac flowers, spread all over the room. And sitting on a gold easel at the entrance of the room was an embroidery done of the letter “R” with lilacs all around it.
Aunt T put the dogs, two cocker-spaniels, on the floor. She put her hands together in front of her chest like she was going to pray and gathered herself for a minute.
“If you would like to pay your respects to R, you can do so at the front of the room. We all loved R very much. He was a very special dog. He loved lilacs,” she said wiping away a tear. “You can show R just how much he was loved with a special goodbye message.”
And then she left us as if she were an usher at the movies.
The room had a quiet low buzz already from the dozens of people crammed into the garden room. They were all dressed in black.
And there it was, among the group of people, at the front of the room, the miniature casket made of dark cherry and lined with silk was propped up in front of the bay windows. Romeo was inside. Romeo, the dead dog.
I had only been to one funeral before, my Uncle Tom’s, and all I can remember from it is the little cards they gave out afterward. It didn’t look like Romeo’s funeral was going to have remembrance cards. Maybe a remembrance embroidery?
I followed Mom up to the casket. I felt dazed. Scared. Sad even. I had no idea what you do at the side of a dog’s casket. Treating it like it was normal felt like I was betraying Uncle Tom’s funeral. Romeo’s arms were crossed over his chest and the bottom of his body was twisted so his legs laid as they would at rest. He had a clip-on tuxedo attached to his collar that covered his belly. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
I looked at Mom for any cue. She had her mouth covered with a tissue, and her eyes were squinty. For a second I thought she was crying, until she made that funny sound out of her nose that she makes when she’s laughing. But with the tissue properly placed, no one could tell.
I hid a snicker and rubbed my nose like I had been crying and folded my hands at my waist. I asked God to let Romeo go to heaven, like that movie, and figured that was good enough of a request for a dog who loved lilacs.
From the garden room we walked into the dining room, filled with cakes and pies and casseroles and a full bar off to the side. Dad was standing there with a whiskey. Billy was sitting on a chair stuffing his face and pulling freshly baked doggy biscuits off the “dog table” and tossing them to Cesar and Alexander.
Mom walked over to some of her garden club friends and I sat down on the chair next to Billy. Dad wandered over and took a sip from his glass.
“Did you pay your respects to Romeo, Dad?” I asked.
“Yes, Billy and I made sure we said goodbye.”
He took another sip.
“You know, Vera, this isn’t really normal. I mean, it’s not what normal people do.” He was almost whispering.
“It’s normal for Aunt T,” I said munching a cookie.
“Lots of things are normal for Aunt T,” he said.
“She’s only doing it because she loved him so much,” I said. I knew I was being ornery and giving Dad a hard time. But I thought as much was true.
“Yes, she did love Romeo, but dogs are dogs and people are people, and you don’t… I mean, people don’t… aw, hell.”
He finished his drink and grabbed a doggy biscuit off the “dog table.” He popped it into his mouth and went to get another drink.