Prologue: A House Divided

This is the first installation in a serialized novel to be published by the Northern Light.

Two weeks ago my world fell apart. My mother was driving home from the hospital where she had worked, when another car slammed into her and left the small gray sedan leaning up against a tree, burning. I remember the phone call–it came around 2 a.m. Sometimes I wake up at night, the ringing sounding in my ears reminding me of my mother’s last words, “I love you.” Those final words to me were delivered amidst her final gasps into her cell phone and still ring in the dimly lit kitchen where they came through the answering machine.
The moors are passing by in blurs of light, the bleak morning spread out across the countryside, beams of light slicing through the air. I am staring out the windows, listlessly watching the landscape fly by as we approach the old cemetery ten miles outside of the town where we live.
“Do you wish to talk?” father asks.
“No,” I reply, not even looking up from my place by the car window. My sister is sitting next to me, on the other side of the back seat. She sits rigid and unmoving, the perfect image of a perfect daughter. She is the lucky one father always said. The one whom he has always favored. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the old cemetery approaching in the distance, the central building looming.
A few minutes later, we arrive. “Get out,” father commands, his voice cold. “Do not speak unless spoken to. Do not draw attention. Most importantly, do not cry.” Coming from someone else, this last statement might have been comforting, warm even, but the way in which father delivers it leaves no question. This was a command to not care, not the comforting words of a loving father. I nod silently, the back of the suit I am wearing ruffling slightly as I exit the car. My sister also exits, a sick smile painting her pale skin.
The others had already arrived. I saw many black cloaks and dark dresses painting the hill in shades of night. No one notices our arrival. Each group is busy making small talk over glasses of water and tea. Father places his hand on my shoulder and directs me toward the edge of the party, where I will await further instructions. My sister is placed next to me, her black dress moving lithely in the wind. Father moves off, going to socialize with my grandparents no doubt. The service is scheduled to start in two hours; until then father expects us to wait silently, making no sound and no motion.
I wish mother were here. She would allow us to go socialize with our family; she would not direct us to the edge of the funeral and tell us to make no sound for the next two hours. My sister is indifferent. She always preferred father’s views, harsh as they are, to that of our mother’s. Abruptly I feel a droplet of water hit my head, splashing my neck with crystallized light. Another falls as the rain begins to coalesce into a slow drizzle. Others take notice too; some begin to pull out umbrellas and unfold them, the rain bouncing off the tops of the thin canvas and sliding down the aluminum rods.
The groups start to drift closer to the burial ground, a hush descending upon the hill. Father motions to us, a short snap of his wrist signalling us to follow from our place on the hill. We follow, melding into the crowd descending toward the cemetery proper. I take my place standing next to father, a shadow in the length of his dark suit. I look toward the front of the congregation and I see her: mother. Under the black pavilion near the willow tree, her hair splayed out in neat ribbons, pale skin gleaming. My heart wrenches, but I do nothing, say nothing. Father is watching.
The next hour passes smoothly, the pastor stands, delivers some soft words, then others stand as well, each delivering some set of cold, lifeless words. Father speaks last, his monotonous voice droning. The words could barely be considered heartfelt–they sounded more like a research paper than the prose of loss. A few words catch my attention though: “We will proceed without her.” What was that supposed to mean? Does it mean that we will simply forget and live our lives as if nothing is wrong, as if life had not inverted itself? Does it mean that we will block off that part of ourselves, an unused attic full of broken memories and shattered hopes?
“We are leaving. Now.”
I jump, father is standing behind me, his cold, dead eyes staring down at me. Glancing back down to the pavilion, I begin to walk away. Doing so, I feel the weight of my mother’s death weighing heavier on my mind–happy memories folding themselves up and boxing themselves away deep into the attic of loss.
Abruptly I notice someone staring at us, dark suit and glasses obscuring his face. His outfit is perfectly ordinary, from the black tie down to the oxford shoes, yet for some reason he didn’t quite belong; his appearance of normalcy was shattered by…something. I cannot quite place what it is though; he sees that I noticed and turns back. I shiver. The rain slicked cars are just down this side of the hill; I can already see ours, the black paint slicked with fresh rain and windows fogged. I open the doors and get in, folding my umbrella and placing it in one of the side compartments. Father starts the car, the engine sputters, and we exit through the front gates just as the service is coming to an end and groups start to break off and walk to their cars.
Father is staring ahead, engrossed in his own thoughts as he guides the car down the paved rain and through the noontime rain. My sister is also silent, staring out the window into the rain falling upon the moors. No one speaks during the car ride, each person frozen in their own mind, battling the loss we were facing both individually and together. The gates to the town where we lived come into view, wrought iron glistening icy gray open and foreboding.