My sister was furious after the unveiling of my father’s headstone. It had been one year to the day since we buried him high on the grassy hill overlooking the Pacific. The place was more a park than a cemetery. Families came there after the zoo and picnicked on the stone benches. Bicyclists and runners pumped up the hill and stopped at the top to enjoy the view. I’d been coming two or three times a week with a blanket and a book.
I took a deep breath of salt air and looked around. “He always wanted to own oceanfront property,” I said. But fishing for another laugh on top of my dad’s big surprise only made matters worse.
Brenda shot me one of her sideways glances. “Did Mom know anything about this?”
I shrugged my shoulders, but the truth was Mom and I sat right beside Dad when he wrote out the orders: a simple green granite square with his name and an epitaph that read, “I told them I was sick.”
“He wasn’t sick a day in his life,” my sister said. She dug into her purse and pulled out a packet of antibacterial wipes and offered me one. We’d each brought a stone to place on the headstone, a Jewish tradition we followed, though we weren’t exactly sure what it meant.
Brenda said, “The worst he could claim was when he slammed his little finger in the car door.”
“And even then he was left with half a pinkie,” I added. “That’s why it’s funny.”
“People are going to think we neglected him. And after all those trips I made with him to the doctor’s office.”
My father had been a hypochondriac during the last years of his life, terrified by his prostate and high blood pressure. But, like most people who expect the worst, his end came when he least expected it: On his way out to get the morning paper, he tripped on a sprinkler and hit his head on the pavement. I said, “If he’d known how he’d go out, it might’ve read, ‘No news isn’t necessarily good news.’ Some things you just can’t prepare for.” That last point was my downfall: like Dad, Brenda was prepared for most anything. Lately, antibacterial wipes were her first line of defense.
Brenda said, “I guess Dad should’ve left that last detail to you, the wordsmith of the family.”
“Lighten up, Brenda. Who’s going to notice?”
My sister waved an arm across the lush, hilly expanse. “What are you talking about? Everyone we know ends up here. It’s the only game in town. You know, the other day my therapist asked me which of my parents was more selfish. At the time, I said Mom. But this changes things.”
That was ironic. Selfish was what Mom called us when she felt slighted in even the smallest ways. But by the time she died — exactly eleven days after Dad — we were lucky if she called us by our first names.
“We’ve got to come back here next week for Mom’s unveiling,” Brenda said. “I’m going to call the manager, or whatever they call him, see what can be done.”
“You can’t do anything. This was Dad’s wish; we haven’t any control over it.”
“You seem a little too fine with this. Didn’t you go with them when they picked out the plots?”
Brenda knew very well that Mom and Dad had asked me to go with them. She quit talking to all three of us for a month. “Well, yeah, but I never had any say in the decisions. That’s the point of funeral plans — they get to make them beforehand.”
‘Well, we’ll just see about that,” Brenda huffed and headed for her car.
When we came back for Mom’s turn, I kept a good distance between Brenda and me. Mom’s epitaph followed along the same lines as Dad’s, but with a voice all her own. It read: “Don’t bother me now, girls. I’m just resting my eyes.” Brenda drove off before placing her stone. Afterwards, I rubbed my hands on my jeans and sat down on the grass.
Lori White received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Pearl and Painted Bride Quarterly. She teaches English at Los Angeles Pierce College and lives with her partner and their three dogs in a trailer by a lake on the edge of the Los Padres National Forest.