Nonfiction by Q.M. Hall
A Rose in Amber’s Casket
by Q.M. Hall
Tuesday, January 28th, 2003, starts out like any other typical day for a second grader who attends London Elementary School in Arkansas.
I wake up at 6:45 A.M., get dressed and tie my shoes in four minutes, pop some toast in the toaster and lightly butter it. Make sure Raeanne is ready for kindergarten, and together we stand at the edge of our driveway.
A driveway that’s concrete chips from bicycle crashes, bruises by the traction of an angry father leaving after another argument, and cracks from the weight of not being able to hold the emotions of a family that would quickly fall apart.
As the bus arrives, we step off the concrete – the last feather that finally breaks the foundation, and we didn’t even know it.
The school day blurs through lessons and recess and lunch, flipping one behavioral ticket from green to yellow to orange.
Mrs. Steffey tires of hearing my complaints and back talk, threatens to call my mother, but my attitude outweighs the fear of what punishment awaits me at home. She never calls.
I sit at my table with my friends, anxiously waiting for the day’s final bell to ring. Logan sits next to me, and he tells me he is going to come over and we’re going to play on my swings, jump off, and finally land our flips.
“We can’t tell our mom’s though.” I whisper to Logan.
Our mothers tell us to be careful when we play because one of us ends up returning home scabbed and bloody.
The final bell rings before Logan responds. We practically run over one another to get out the door, but Mrs. Steffey halts us, places me at the caboose.
On the bus, I sit by Alex Hickey, my first best friend. In different classes for the first time this year since kindergarten, most of our conversation is full of what we did that day, even though we play together at recess every day.
He always gets off the bus before me, leaves me to talk to the gross, smelly kid who sits in front of us.
The bus turns down my childhood road – Hornet Estates. Cop cars and an ambulance suffocate our concrete driveway.
Looking at the gross kid’s watch, the time 3:28:57 P.M. burns itself into every crevice of memory.
Walking around the front of the bus, First Responders push a lifeless figure into the back of the truck. That lifeless figure wears a Looney-Tunes shirt – the one where all the characters are smashed together, black shorts, and their legs shake like the Jell-O Raeanne and I made the night before.
We just got home from our weekly family activities. Mom and Dad put Tabatha and Elizabeth, our young sisters to bed. I went to the bathroom, came out to find Mom’s head between her legs.
“A headache,” she told me, “I’ll be alright. Make sure you clean up after you and Raeanne are done, then shower, and then bed.”
My second-grade mind didn’t know how to translate what is happening. Frozen I stand. My mind flashes through multiple possibilities, tries to identify the lifeless body that was shut and locked inside the ambulance. Everything weighs down our cracked concrete.
Aunt Sherry? But Aunt Sherry calls my name from the front door. “Hurry inside.” She yells at me, even though she is only fifteen feet away.
I listen to her commands, move mindlessly scanning and soaking in. The window of our family van rolled down. Dad’s bleeding eyes vacantly register who I am.
“Qassye, come inside.” Aunt Sherry calls me again, but my focus on Dad and our family van, as it wheels over the gravel, doesn’t break.
It’s 8 P.M. that afternoon when Mom’s mom explains what happens to a crowd of the one’s who love my Mom. Of course, tears soak all of our shirts. Some hairs untamed. Some clothes not matching.
What sticks out the most in my second-grade mind is this new weight I feel over my body, not understanding what grief really is.
The rest of the evening I cry in the arm of the youth pastor of our church, to only go home with family friends, being pulled away from home.
“Nanny and Daddy have to take care of Mommy now,” they speak. “Let’s get some clothes together.” They push Raeanne and I into our bedroom at Nana’s. “Pack some clothes, pick some toys.”
Mom’s visitation confuses me. My body passes between family friends, my aunt and uncle, but never to my dad. He sits in an isolated part of the funeral home. He forces a smile through the same bleeding eyes I saw a few days before when we make eye contact.
“Is dad going to be alright?” I ask my uncle.
“Yes,” he responds with a pat to my back. “Do you want to walk up and see your mother?” I don’t have time to answer before he holds my hand and pulls me in the direction of the big box that holds the lifeless body that people call Amber.
“Your mom is now an angel, and she is now breathing here with us. She wants us to remind you to be happy, and her breath is cold only to let you know that is an angel now. Here with you to protect you from Heaven.” My uncle continues to pat my back.
I don’t understand what he means.
He takes my hand, and we go sit back down.
I sleep through the entire funeral service as Mrs. Steffey pets my arm. I don’t cry. I don’t move as our pastor sings farewell. I lay there, motionlessly breathing. Mrs. Steffey nudges me awake when it’s time to say one final goodbye to corpse once named Amber. The corpse I’ve called Mama for seven years.
I place a rose in her box, her casket, right between where her hands cross over her heart. I check her nose for cold air one last time – nothing.
Q. M. Hall loves Taco Bell, Star Wars, Ravens, and collecting Squid Hats. She is the former Executive Editor of LUMINA Journal and is now the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Grimm Tales Journal, as well as the Grimm Fairy Tale Rejects Book Blog. Recently, she was conferred by Sarah Lawrence College with a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Scarlet Leave Review and Breadcrumbs Magazine. Find her on Twitter @QMHall_, and on Instagram @qmhall.