Opal

By Karen Brode

“I don’t understand why they don’t have a bathroom at the cemetery,” Mother said as I struggled to keep the car straight while backing down the narrow road in which there was no place to turn around.

“Why would they have a bathroom at a cemetery?” I asked as I navigated a tricky turn.  We had followed in the processional caravan from the funeral home where we had attended my uncle’s funeral. We were close enough that we could see the flowers around the gravesite. There were people gathered in and around the tent.

“I don’t think I can make it,” Mother said. “If I get out of the car or even move, I’m afraid I’ll have an accident. You know I don’t have any brakes.”

Without another word, I moved the car out of the processional and we drove out of the cemetery.

“I still can’t believe that Jelly’s gone!” she said. “You hear it and you know it, but your mind just can’t comprehend these things all at once.”

“You and Jelly were not real close, were you?” I asked.

“Jelly was a lot younger than me,” she said. “I remember when he was a baby. He still sort of seems like that, even though he was an old man. Isn’t that strange? Opal and I were talking just yesterday remembering things he had done when he was a kid.” Her lips pressed together at the mention of her sister Opal before she continued. “She said that Jelly left this world of pain and misery for a worse fate in the next world.”

I slammed on my brakes at a red light that I almost missed and turned to Mother. “When did God die and put Opal in charge?” There was heat in my voice, but right away I felt bad for talking to my mother that way. “I’m sorry,” I said. “But I really don’t like Opal.”

“Well, you know Jelly didn’t live right,” said Mother.

“Momma, you don’t like Opal either! Can you think of anyone who likes Opal? She’s been such a pain all her life.” Every time she visited, Mother’s blood pressure spiked, and it always took weeks to get it back to normal.

She winced a little, but nodded sideways. “She’s old,” she said. “I guess I feel sorry for her. Sometimes I wonder if maybe she’s had a stroke and that’s what makes her the way she is.”

“I don’t feel one bit sorry for her,” I said, feeling the heat rise to my chest again. “She’s been that way all her life.”

The light changed to green and we continued on. “You know who I feel sorry for?” I asked. ” Jelly! He was ready to die – probably begging to die – just to get away from Opal! I hope she’ll go home now that he is dead!”

“As far as I know, she’s leaving today,” Mother said, taking a deep breath. “Truth is, I’m ready for her to go back to Ft. Smith.”

She looked out the window and dug at her fingernails. “She does wear me out. She  brings so many suitcases, and she can’t carry any of them in. By the time I get all her things–and that wedge pillow–in the house, I’m ready to drop!” Her voice trembled as it rose to a fever. “After all these years, she still thinks I don’t know how to cook. She comes around behind me and turns the burner down, then tells me I’m cooking all the nutrients out of my food! It’s no wonder my blood pressure goes sky high when she’s here!”

She shook her head heavily. “She always has to have special food. You just can’t cook beans and potatoes and cornbread and things normal people would eat. She still claims that she has diabetes. I try to cook things on her diet and then I see her eating pie and cake! And when it comes time to clean up the kitchen, she invariably has one of her sinking spells and has to go lie on the couch. Then she’s  fresh and rested and wants me to take her somewhere!”

She stopped then. I could see her clutching her fingers together tightly.

“I shouldn’t talk about my sister like this,” she said with guilt in her voice. “I do love her, but she just gets on my nerves.”

A few moments went by in silence before she softly cleared her throat. “I haven’t told you what she did yesterday. You know that hutch and buffet that you and Gary gave me, the one with all my treasures on it? Opal was in a hurry to get to the table for lunch and she bumped into it. I was at the stove at the time and I looked up to see the whole top of it fall over. Everything broke into about a thousand pieces.  It made the loudest noise!  Ann from next door heard it and called to see if we were okay.”

I felt my hands gripping the steering wheel in horror.

“I just stood there looking at my things all broken on the floor,” she said. “I saw pieces of all the things I had kept and treasured through the years, things you kids made for me in school, things Daddy had given me. I just couldn’t eat.”

“Momma, I’m sorry that happened,” I said, my anger giving way to sadness.

“I keep thinking about those things that got broken,” she said. “They were important to me, but they were just things. And you can give up things so much easier that you can give up people.”

_________________________________

Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

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