Whenever my grandmother came to visit us, she would say the meanest things. She would call my brother fat, my sister dumb, and me she called ugly. She never said anything mean when my parents were around, though, and even though we were kids at the time, we knew better than to tell our parents the awful things she said. We knew they would never believe us. Luckily, our grandmother only visited a few times a year— on holidays—so we never had to really see her.
On the day of her funeral, people gathered around her coffin on the church altar.
“She was a fine person,” someone said to my dad and shook his hand. They were sorry for his loss, they said. A lot of people said that on that day.
“Thank you,” my dad said and he looked pretty sad.
“I’m glad she’s dead,” I said to my sister that day. “She was terrible.”
We were sitting in the back pew reading our grandmother’s mass card. Her picture was on the front, and even though she was smiling, there was still hardness in her eyes that gave me chills.
“That’s not nice,” my brother said. “That’s not nice to say about anyone who has died, even if you didn’t like them.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “She was mean to us our whole lives. Now she can’t be mean anymore.”
The funeral eventually ended and everyone began filing out. I waited for the coffin to be rolled out so everyone could follow it to the cemetery, and when it wasn’t I asked my mom why not. She said it was because my grandmother was being cremated, so instead the funeral home would take the body away to do what needed to be done.
The church had emptied out and we were all in the lobby, and I turned and looked back at my grandmother’s coffin. I could see the bump of her folded wrists, which sat on her withered chest. Her skin was sickly white, even from where I stood. Looking at her body, I remembered all the times she was mean to us, and I smirked, but I tried my best to hide it.
I turned back to my mom and said, “Can I go say goodbye one last time?”
“Of course, sweetie,” my mom said, and she adjusted the flower which was pinned to the lapel of my suit jacket. “That’s very nice of you.”
I walked back into the church as my family all talked amongst each other in the lobby. I strode up to my grandmother’s coffin and looked inside. Her face was wrinkled and strange looking—as if it had been re-formed with candle wax. Her dry lips were pursed closed.
I leaned over to her and whispered, “I’m glad your dead. You were terrible.”
I fell back and knocked my elbow pretty hard on a pew, and I was too terrified to even scream, because her eyes had popped open, and they were frosty and blue, like a foggy street after a warm rain. Her hand curled around the side of her coffin and grasped its rail, using it to pull her dead body into a sitting position. Her head turned robotically, the bones in her neck creaking like dry firewood, and she saw me through her cloudy eyes. She grinned, and the wires keeping her lips closed ripped through her skin.
“No!” I screamed and I turned to run. I heard her climb out of the coffin, and I think it was right when her feet touched the ground when the lights inside the church went off. The only light in the whole place came from the altar’s two candles, which were situated on either side of her coffin.
I sprinted down the middle aisle, and in the darkness I could see only the shape of her, lit from behind as she came after me, her burial dress swishing against her legs. I could see loose strands of her hair above her head, and hear her bones cracking as her dead brain forced her dead legs to walk. There was ragged breathing in the dark, and to this day I don’t know if that was her breathing or my own.
I made it to the lobby doors, but they had been closed. I wrenched helplessly on them and found they were locked. I screamed in terror and beat on the doors, but no one came to my aide. I looked through the small windows and saw that the lobby was empty—and that everyone had left me.
“No!” I screamed through the window. “Someone help me!”
A hand gripped my shoulder from behind—so hard I thought my bones would shatter. She turned me around and forced me to face her. Her grinning face was inches away from mine, and when she hissed, the smells of the chemicals inside her leaked down my throat and burned my lungs.
“Get off me!” I screamed again and tore away from her grip. I stumbled in the darkness and fell backwards into a pew. I covered my face with my arms and begged to be left alone.
I felt hands grabbing at me again, forcing my arms away from my face, and I fought them as best as I could, but the hands were too powerful. They grabbed my face now, and they were smooth and warm. I opened my eyes and saw my father. He looked very concerned, but there was also a glimmer of a faint, even sympathetic smile. The church’s lights were on, and the lobby once again filled with members of my large family, some of them looking in at me with concern in their eyes. I was crying very hard.
“I know, buddy,” he said to me. “I know you’re sad she’s gone, but don’t worry. She will always be with us.”
I grabbed onto him and held him tightly, and he held me back as we sat together in the pew, and when I looked over his shoulder and back to my grandmother’s coffin, where she was laying again, I swear to this day—as I swear that what happened to me on that day is true—that she was smiling.
And the flower from my suit jacket was clenched in her hand.