backhand stories the creative writing blog

As I pulled into the parking lot, I cast a frustrated glance at the backseat. If my father had given me due warning, I would never have agreed to bring his dogs to the funeral, but surprise had caught me off guard. Now they were patiently gnawing on my armrests as I scanned the row ahead of me for a parking spot. Letting no good deed go unpunished, the parking lot gods had already filled all the spots in the section closet to the funeral home.

I stopped the car and sighed, then slowly lifted my hands off the steering wheel, reveling in the way my skin stuck to the hot leather. It was one of my few pleasures about summertime heat, the slow, almost painful separation that only happens after two objects have been forced together for a long while. I would always get the smallest bit scared in the final moments before the leather lost its grip on the last patch of skin. It was as if I was never sure if they would part; but they always did, and the soft snap of two surfaces being torn so smoothly from one another was the most satisfying aspect of the whole affair.

I let up on the brake and crept forward a few inches, looking around the back of a station wagon for a hidden parking spot. A disappointing small car filled the space next to it, partially hidden by the elongated back of its neighbor. I shot another glare at the dogs sitting behind me, blaming them for the lack of spaces. Reluctantly, I pulled up the length of empty cars and turned right, cruising past the rows that looked full. I considered calling Mom to tell her I would be late, but thought better of it when I remembered she was dead. Then, as if to fill the newly vacated position as head of the household, my sister called.

“Where the hell are you? We’ve already started greeting people.”

‘Cruising,’ I thought to myself; then answered, “I’m trying to find a parking space, the lot in front of the funeral home is full.”

Silence greeted me on the other end of the line. It was typical of both my sister and mother to hang up once the information they needed was acquired. Etiquette did not rule them as it did me. I thought back to all the times where my mother would carefully avoid eye-contact with waiters, mechanics, retail employees, etc. ‘Service people,’ she called them. And I, with an M.S in history, giving tours at the American Museum of Natural History, was a ‘service people’ too. Not looking them in the eye was her way of asserting dominance, like a rhinoceros not making eye-contact with a tickbird to impress upon it it’s own insignificance, or a worm not looking at all the other worms because it’s a pretentious asshole.

Either way, I was still late for the funeral and my sister was getting anxious. As if sensing the reprimand that awaited me, the dogs behind me began to shriek. I turned my eyes to the backseat to see what had caused this uproar and spotted a female dog walking by with its owner. My two horn-dogs were furiously trying to pounce on her, car doors be damned. The reason for my father’s ridiculous request that the dogs attend the funeral fell beyond my scope of logic. He was well known for having his way, both with women and with small, but pointless acts such as this. I briefly wondered if he had invited any of his mistresses to the funeral. Being loose women, they would probably wear something tight and cause a quiet scandal amongst the older generation of the family.

I stopped the car and let a gentleman dressed in black cross the pavement from his car to the sidewalk. As I watched, he was joined by the female dog from earlier and its owner, a young woman dressed similarly to the man. They appeared to be headed in the direction of the funeral home. Perhaps it wasn’t so uncommon to bring pets to a funeral after all and I was just frustrated with my father for asking me to do him a favor. I shouldn’t be so cynical. After all, his wife just died. Maybe he was lonely and wanted comfort while he buried his life’s companion. The possibility of mistresses in attendance now seemed more likely.

The end of the parking lot came closer and I still couldn’t find a spot. I looked up and down the intersection adjoining the lot, then rolled across to the Wendy’s in search of a space. I realized with a sting of nostalgia that I was at the first place my mother let me order just ice cream for lunch. She readily made us happy as long as it did not require effort on her part. Ice cream for meals, sleepovers at friend’s houses, movies past bedtime; all these things we had in excess. But if it required planning or time, we had to go without. I couldn’t remember a single birthday party, day trip, Easter egg hunt, or child-oriented celebration. She wasn’t lazy, she worked hard and had a prominent social life, but she set aside little time for my sister and me. It would have been nice to have a space in her life.

Every spot but one was empty, which was a miracle in itself. I slipped into the parking space, taking the smallest bit of paint from the neighboring car with me. I listened for what seemed like minutes to the high-pitched scrape, but the two surfaces finally let go of each other. I laid my head on my steering wheel. There are millions of cars on the road, but they can never touch without some degree of destruction. Why is it that when objects that are forced together, suffering occurs? And when the objects are torn apart again, it just brings more suffering. I closed my eyes and felt my damp forehead dry, sticking to the steering wheel as it did so. Shouldn’t the cars be healed once they are no longer forced together? Shouldn’t my hand feel better after it is detached from the wheel? The loss of suffering should bring relief, not more affliction. I pulled my head off the wheel, felt the sting of pain of my forehead, and missed my mom.