(Note – This is Chapter 5 of the story. See chapter 1.)
The room was crowded. Too crowded. There were all types of people shuffling through, milling about and sitting in the rows of chairs. Most were wearing “nice” clothes, though it all looked cheap to Jesk. He was sure his silk boxers cost more than the most expensive suit or dress in the room. And it was warm, too warm for “winter”; people were sweating. He heard a sneeze and some coughing. There was sniffling, the cold and flu season made worse by the sudden changes from freezing to sweating. All he could think of was the germs. Not that it would matter to Brey.
Jesk couldn’t help but to stare at his sister. Thara had made sure that, as family, they sat up front. He didn’t want to look at any of the rabble in their cheap suits and snotty noses and there was not much else in the room to look at other than Brey.
He thought back to their mother’s funeral, only two weeks after their father’s. Brey had again made sure she talked to everyone, hugged everyone, cried on everyone’s shoulder. It was just like her. Uncle Jorden had forced Jesk to participate a little more than he had at his father’s funeral, saying it was proper for him to respect his mother, but he still sat in the back and didn’t talk to anyone unless he had to. Unlike at their father’s closed casket funeral, their mother’s face was showing, in some ways making the entire thing a little more real, and yet there was still that strange unreality to it. That waxen face had nothing to do with his mother and that shattered and broken body that was hidden really wasn’t there. It was just a mannequin head that had a passing resemblance to his mother put on display for people to cry their fake tears over and say society’s dictated condolences.
And now the waxen face was that of his sister, Brey. Her body, though broken and shattered by disease, was not hidden away like her mother’s had been, but wearing a dress, a dress that Ryk or one of his relatives must have thought was nice. Jesk had socks that cost more.
Jesk had last seen her at his and Thara’s wedding, a little more than ten years before. Disease and time had aged her more than he expected. Her hair was completely grey and in places had begun to turn the transparent white of old age, her face was slightly caved in and her body overly thin, with the “pretty” dress draped over it making her gaunt, emaciated figure more obvious, not less.
Brey had visited Thara when Adi was born, but Jesk didn’t see her then. From what Thara had said at dinner, they must have bonded during that visit. He had to wonder how they ever talked. Jesk was careful to ensure that Thara had limited communication with the outside beyond what she needed to run the household. There were too many nuts running around out there and he worked hard to ensure none of them could break into his domain. The barbarians were at the door, just waiting for someone to crack it open a hair. It would not be Thara’s voice that would let the wolves into the house. He did everything in his power to ensure that.
He wasn’t cruel or anything like that, but Jesk knew that he kept Thara on a very short leash. After they married, she never left the compound without him and he made sure that she was always within touching distance so he could monitor what she said and to whom. Of course her excursions became few and far between after Adi was born, but that was Thara’s own fault since she refused to leave Adi with a robot for more than a handful of hours, and hated even that. He had no idea why she thought Adi was better off in the hands of humans. He didn’t trust any human, why did she?
He had to wonder about Thara’s recent attitude. Not only did she make sure they were in front for the ceremony, she had immediately accepted Ryk’s invitation to the wake following the service. She had even hugged Ryk and Bil. Bil had been a brooding teenager at their wedding, but was now a married man himself with two kids, the oldest being about Adi’s age.
Even less real than Brey’s death was the idea that, beyond Adi, Bil and the two kids were his only blood relatives in the entire world. He had never thought of himself as isolated. He talked to presidents, prime ministers, kings and dictators on an almost daily basis. He met regularly with the most powerful business people in the world, most of whom had more real influence than all of those presidents and kings put together. And yet, seeing Brey’s family standing around her casket getting ready for the service, he felt more alone than he had ever felt, even more than when Jorden had his heart attack and died at 51, leaving his entire fortune to the 23-year-old Jesk.
Although Jesk had always avoided and hated death, it was something impersonal, something for other people and had little to do with him, the idea of death never really bothered him much. He had had almost no relationship whatsoever with Brey since their mother’s funeral and they left in their separate directions to their separate lives and futures. And yet, sitting, looking at Brey’s wax face and seeing her family, who were total strangers to him, for some reason he was far more affected by the presence of death than he had ever been in his life.
An evil voice whispered in the back of his skull that for the first time in his life he had to think about his own mortality.
That voice was immediately drowned out as he pretended to pay attention to the ceremony, pretended to pray to their god, pretended to really care. All he wanted to do was go home and relax. As soon as they were finished blabbing, they’d be able to go. He was looking forward to it. Just a few minutes longer.
And then he remembered that Thara had accepted that invitation and his heart sank.
This is the fifth chapter of the story “When the Elephant Bumps the Mouse House” based on the image by Marianne Sopala that was off of Pixabay. The larger story is in response to D. Wallace Peach’s February Speculative Fiction Prompt.