Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward – The Funeral

Coffin

Death always takes us by surprise. Even when you know someone is terribly sick, when the end comes, it’s still a shock.

Thus it was that in the darkest part of a winter night, with the temperature hovering just above zero and heavy snow expected, the phone rang. Of course I knew. I could feel it. Death was in the air. Expected though the call was, it nonetheless hit me like a bludgeon. Forever. My father was dead. At 90, he had passed over. I hoped he’d gone to a better place, but felt the odds were against it. There would be no reconciliation, no happy ending.

Edith, my father’s lady friend of the last 5 years, was on the phone.

“You father passed away during the night,” she said. Her voice broke as she told me. “He went in his sleep,” she added.

“A mitzvah,” I said, reflexively. To die quietly in your sleep is generally considered a gift from God. My father had been suffering for almost a decade from ever-worsening congestive heart failure.

“He was a good man,” Edith said, tearfully.

“Uh huh,” I muttered. The good man she knew was not the man who raised me.

“When and where is the funeral?” I asked. Jews don’t embalm and don’t view remains. Not to put too fine point on it, we plant our deceased with all deliberate haste. You can miss, but you won’t miss everything because there’s a whole week of sitting Shiva – the Jewish version of the wake – to give family and friends plenty of time to participate in ceremonial grieving. Interment is quick. What follows is long enough to make up for it.

I hung up the phone and started planning. I’d have to find a flight to Florida first thing in the morning. Hopefully I could find a cheap one because I was, as ever, broke. Rationally, there wasn’t any reason for me to go. For the last few years, my father and I had entirely ceased talking. It was over between us.

Yet I had to go. Violence and abuse was his legacy to me and my brother. Luke was gone. Only I remained. I had to be there. To remember. After performing this final ritual to the man who gave me his DNA, I could close the door forever. His funeral would be a cleansing for me.

I decided to go alone. Me and dad, we had history and this was our final chapter.

“Are you sure that you are up to doing this alone?” my husband asked. “That’s a lot of hauling through airports.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m just going for a day. One small bag, taxi to the funeral, taxi back, and I’m home. I’ll be tired, but I’ll survive.”

“I could come. I think I should be with you.”

“No,” I said. “I want to do this by myself.”

“But why?” He was puzzled.

“I don’t really know why, but I have to do this on my own. Closure,” I said, and I laughed. Closure has become a cliché.

“Closure,” he echoed. “Okay, closure it is,” He smiled. A private joke.

“The only thing that could really mess up my plans is if I can’t get out of Logan before the storm hits. So I need to get moving. I’ll call you when I get there,” I promised. “And I’ll take you up on getting me to the airport and picking me up. If the weather socks me in, I’ll find a motel and stay over until I can get home, but they usually get Logan up and running pretty fast and I don’t think we’re getting that big a storm. Or at least that’s not what the weather guys are saying. At the moment.”

The following morning dawned grey and air smelled of snow. I packed my little bag, adding clean underwear, a night-gown, my medications, and a change of clothing in case I had to stay overnight. The husband went off to gas up the car and get some cash for me. While I waited I went out to the deck to watch the birds peck at the bread and seed we leave for them.

I’d heard on the news the groundhog hadn’t seen his shadow this year, so it should  have been an early spring. I guess the birds heard the same news because they were building nests and trying to raise babies in the frozen woods. Every birdie parent in that woods was doing its best to take care of the nestlings. I envied the birds.

My father’s funeral was strange.  I was the only blood relative there. I didn’t recognize anyone but Edith.

“Alfred was a true gentleman,” intoned the rabbi. “Always ready with a joke, always gallant, preparing feasts for his friends even as his own debilitating illness progressed. He was,” the rabbi assured us, “Loved by all.”

“He charmed all those around him,” the rabbi continued, “And he will be greatly missed.”

Edith came to the podium and spoke of his kindness to his neighbors, his generosity, his warmth.

Who was this guy? It wasn’t anyone I recognized. The charming teller of jokes, the generous, warm-hearted neighbor … this was not the Alf I knew. Did anyone other than me notice the lack of family attending? My mother’s family cordially loathed him. My brother had already passed on and his family – my cousins and their children – would as soon have had root canal than be anywhere near my father, living or dead.

No one asked me to speak, which was fine with me. What could I have said? Was this the forum to mention that the man was a predator? Let sleeping demons lie.

After the service ended, I ran. I’d gone as far as I could. I’d come. I’d witnessed. The closure I’d sought eluded me and I departed with more questions than when I’d arrived. How could this charming guy these strangers appeared to care about be the same brutal predator who turned my brother and my childhoods into Hell? Who was that guy?

There would be no final credits to this movie. I ran back, back to the rest of my life.

Somebody out there hates you.

Nobody is hate-proof.

Regardless of your color, politics or sexual orientation. No matter what religion you do or don’t practice. Whatever your ethnicity or native language, level of education. City dweller, suburbanite or farmer. Somebody hates your guts because you exist. They don’t need to know anything about you personally. For whoever hates you, that you live is more than enough reason to want you dead.

Garry and I were watching an old episode of Law and Order tonight. The victim was a child murderer and pedophile, recently released from prison. In violation of his parole, he was living with a woman and two young children.

Blind-justice

The murderer was this sleaze’s former social worker and therapist. She murdered him because she believed him to be a serious threat to society and specifically to the two children with whose mother he was living.

The jury refused to convict her even though she did it and never denied it. They liked her and felt she had done society a favor. I can certainly understand why they would feel that way. The victim was the dregs, the kind of criminal who gives criminals a bad name. Meanwhile the perpetrator was a highly intelligent, educated woman, on the side of the angels. Or maybe not.

The problem is obvious and of course that’s what the show was about. That’s what this post is about too. Where do we, as a society, draw the line? If it’s okay to be a vigilante in this case, what if the victim is homosexual and the killer believes homosexuality is an affront to God … and the jury is composed of fundamentalists who agree him? You can see where this is going, or for that matter, where it has been. Ugly, uglier, ugliest.

Does law become optional if there’s a general social agreement that a particular victim deserved what he or she got? What about if the police are sure they know who done it, but can’t prove it? Should they plant evidence to get a conviction?

There has to be a line in the sand. Because no matter who you are, somebody hates you enough to kill you for being you. Somewhere, there’s probably a whole village full of people who hate you enough to kill you. If we erase or smudge that line, no one will ever be safe. Not me, not you. No matter who you are. No matter where you live. No matter how righteous or harmless you are.

Somebody hates you and wants you dead.

STYXX by Sherrilyn Kenyon – Total Immersion Escapism

Styxx Amazon

Series: Dark-Hunter (Book 23)
Hardcover: 848 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition – September 3, 2013
Language: English

Epic in scope and length, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s latest offering has everything. I mean that in the most literal way. Absolutely everything. Eleven thousand years of … well … What would you like? If it’s fantasy, sexual, violent, weird … it’s here. My reality has been a real drag lately, so despite the fact that I had stopped reading Ms. Kenyon’s books a while back, I got this. Actually, to be fair, I forgot that I had pre-ordered it months ago, so when it showed up on my Kindle, I said “Oh, lookie here. Ooh, and it’s a long one. Yummy.”

Thing is, I’d stopped buying her books. They had become so much the same, I figured rather than spend money on a new one, I could reread an earlier one. Save a few dollars. Get the same kicks.

Styxx isn’t one of her cookie cutter, interchangeable books. Like Acheron, this is a big book in every way. I actually listened to it on Audible rather than reading it because my eyes don’t do well on very long books, and now that Audible.com is owned by Amazon, you get a big discount on many audiobooks you already own on Kindle. Then you can follow the bouncing ball in your Kindle while a narrator reads to you. As an audiobook, it’s 31 hours of listening. The narrator is overall good, but I am not sure why some Atlantean Goddesses and Greek gods and demigods have Cockney accents. Just wondering, is all.

Styxx audibleStyxx lets you spend  serious time in those golden olden days of yore. It’s enough to make you glad you don’t really live then and there.

So, what will you find in Styxx?

Sex, for one. A hefty dollop, though oddly, not quite as proportionately much as many of her lesser books. It’s there, but it’s not the most prominent feature of the book. Still, you won’t feel deprived. There’s plenty … but it’s not the only thing.

The most prominent feature of the book is torture and violent rape. Male-on-male rape. Agonizing torture, sex slavery, more torture, whippings, serious chains and bondage, straight up child abuse and cruelty, child rape (I sincerely hope that isn’t your thing). It’s all there, a cornucopia of perversion. Keeps you turning pages. In CinemaScope and surround sound. Name your hottest S & M fantasy. This book has got it. Lots of it, whatever it may be.

Oh, I almost forgot about the drugs. Them too.

Chains. Whips. Brands. Bondage. Rape. Torture. Regular sex too, just for contrast. And love. Karma in action. Reincarnation. Immortality. If you have read any other books in the series — Acheron in particular — you already know the plot. Horrible things happen to the hero. Cruelty, injustice, misery, torture. Not to worry. Love conquers all. Heals all. A fair amount of melodrama transpires along the way. Keep a hankie nearby to dry your tears.

This book also features the ever-popular war. There are some excellent, well-written battle scenes. Some of the best writing in the book is devoted to military maneuvers. She also provides (as usual) a substantial amount of pseudo-history, as well as Sherrilyn Kenyon’s special brand of “she made it up herself, really she did” mythology. She does it so well you think it must be based on something other than her imagination, but it has no basis in fact. Her ability to create things that feel very real is one of her strongest abilities as an author.

She give this book something she has never really given in any of the many books in the series I’ve read. True, there were hints, but this time, she lets it hang out.

Sherrilyn Kenyon is witty and clever. Her humor tends to the dark end of funny, but it’s there. Much of the wit falls into the category “Easter eggs,” hidden jokes for those in the know. She makes literary and movie references that, if you notice them, make you stop and say … “Hey, wait minute … that’s from …”

It was when Styxx, our hero, looks at the heavens and says “The old man was right” that I could no longer ignore it. This a very famous — and favorite — line from “The Magnificent Seven.” My husband uses it as his email signature.

I couldn’t let it pass, so I stopped reading and went to tell my husband, a man who can recite the entire script of “The Magnificent Seven” from memory. He and I discussed if it could be accidental and he said, “Not a chance” because that’s as famous a movie line as any, up there with “We don’t need no stupid bodges …” (NOT in the book). However, after that, I started consciously listening for hidden wit. I found plenty.

Underlying everything, Sherrilyn Kenyon has a wicked sense of humor. I love that in an author. I will forgive anything for cleverness, snappy dialogue and something to make me laugh. She made me laugh. More than once. It told me that she was not taking herself overly seriously, that she knew who her readers are. I was profoundly grateful.

You can miss the wit entirely if you aren’t acquainted with the source of her little surprises. If you don’t recognize where they come from, you won’t get them. The book goes on fine without them but they are a nice bonus for those of us who do catch them as the fly by.

Favorite original quote from Styxx: “A quiet man is a thinking man. A quiet woman is an angry one.”

I’m going to have to find somewhere to use that. Great line.

Plot? Oh,  yes, the plot. If you read Acheron, it’s the same plot, but from the other side of the mirror. This is, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.” Styxx is Acheron’s twin brother, the one who was supposed to have it easy, a spoiled princeling while Acheron struggled to survive. Not so, not so at all. Styxx’s tortures exceed even Acheron’s and last longer. Acheron is not the hero of the story. For followers of the Dark Hunter series, it may come as a painful shock to discover Acheron isn’t always a good guy. His nasty, mean-spirited, closed-minded side gets a good airing in Styxx.

I started by saying I was really ready to escape from my reality when this book showed up. I might not have bought it if I hadn’t pre-ordered it … but it was fortuitous that it did. I needed a dose of “out of this world.” You need to absolutely suspect your credulity to get into the book. Logic? Oh please. We don’t need no stupid logic. Just let the book sweep you away, accept it for what it is and enjoy it. If you don’t like explicit sex or violence, skip it. It’s not for everyone. If you are homophobic, skip it. If you are a Conservative Christian, skip it. I suspect the audience for this is mainly women, but I’m sure there are men who would like it too.

A lot of the story doesn’t really make much sense if you examine it closely. So my advice? Don’t examine it closely. Also, it is very clear where the story is going next and that should be most interesting. For the record, this is not the book where the danger of Acheron and his mom getting together to end the world as we know it is concluded. Not yet. More to come. Stay tuned!