The Distance Home

Paula Saunders | 2 mins


The End: A Refrain

It’s you or me next,” René said to get a laugh.

Her brother had already passed away, as had her father. Now René and her sister were once again driving the length of the state. Black cattle dotted the yellow hillsides. Out their open windows, long-abandoned homesteads flew by—roofs pitched eerily to one side, windmills cracked in half, groaning. With this one more passing, it was down to just the two of them.

Mostly René had been steely, while Jayne had been unable to stop crying. René was older, but it didn’t matter how old they were. Their mother had finally stopped messing the bed and tearing her clothes off in the middle of the night, ending up naked and haywire on the mattress or sprawled, drooling, on the carpet next to it, her translucent body shimmering with sweat. She’d lain unconscious for the final week, cold and luminous as porcelain, as the girls came in to handle her by hip bones and shoulder blades, to turn her this way and that.

They would bury her ashes next to their father’s and brother’s.

They’d been busy—cleaned and sold her house, divided everything without jealousy or rancor. In so many ways it was all done, and in so many ways it was just beginning.

“You girls will miss her,” someone had said at the service. “No one in the world can love you like your mother does.”

René had nodded and smiled coolly, dismissing the sentiment as tired and trite, while Jayne reached for a tissue.

“Thank you for coming,” René had said. She’d found herself repeating the same line all morning, as if by rote, wondering if it was the right thing to say or if perhaps there was something fundamentally cold and incorrect about her that was causing her to sound standoffish and transparently unfeeling.