Sara Staggs is a civil rights attorney and writer. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children and three chickens.
Oppressive humidity enveloped me as I stood in the graveyard, staring down at the sharp grass. I felt a drop of sweat run from my neck through my black wool dress. A small, white tent open on all sides protected the mourners from the Texas sun, but even in the shade August was no time to be outside. Before me, a short, fat rabbi droned on about my mother’s generosity, kindness, and other characteristics that he just learned two days ago. Family and friends fanned out on either side, spilling from under the tent into the burning sun, but staying to suffer through this last goodbye. Afterwards, they would go back to their air conditioned cars, some wiping tears away, most leaving the grief behind and deciding where to go for lunch. Unlike them, I will keep my loss deep in my chest, unable to walk away from it.
I stared at the ditch that held my mother’s coffin, a plain wooden box that I picked out six weeks ago, when it became clear that no one and nothing was going to stop her from hurtling down the road to death. A pile of dry dirt sat next to the ditch, a worn shovel poking out the top like a flagpole. The rabbi stopped speaking and I turned my gaze away from the grass and to the dirt. My body cemented in place, unable to move until Tyler, standing next to me in a dark suit, took my small, sweaty hand in his large one, and lead me towards the mound. I gripped the smooth shovel, lifted some crumbly earth from the top of the pile and let it slide off the sharp end of the tool. I listened to the soft thump as it landed on the coffin. My job done, I moved on to let the other mourners take their turns burying my mother. The line snaked around the lawn.
I walked slowly back to my place under the tent, and pulled my dress away from my body, now covered in sweat. Wool had been the only black dress I owned when she died. I felt nauseas from the grief, a feeling that started six days ago when my mother slipped into a sleep from which she would never wake. For days after she entered that final sleep, I sat by the twin-sized bed in my mother’s small, cold room, staring at the happy bluebird summer sky mocking me through the windows, listening to the hiss and release of the oxygen tank that was my mother’s lifeline. I held her limp, skeletal hand and stroked her wispy, gray curls, talking to her softly, telling her tales of Max and Miriam’s antics, grandchildren she would never see grow up. I did not know if she could hear me, but I was afraid to be silent. I kept talking, even when the death rattle set in: a sick, deep, vibration that emanated from my mother’s broken lungs that made me want to run from the room, screaming.
But, I had stayed. I had been strong. Only on the last day when my mother’s breathing slowed to the point where I was sure that each rise of the pale, concave chest was the last did I start to whisper, “Wake up, Mom. Please. Wake up. I still need you.” and let the long-oppressed tears come.
A hard thud made me look up, wondering who had thrown such a large amount of dirt on my mother. A broad middle-aged man with thick chestnut-colored hair whose name I could not remember stood looking into the pit. He gave a brief nod to the coffin, and passed the shovel to the next in line. I closed my eyes and hot tears began to slide down my flushed cheeks. At 35 I was too young to have lost both my father and my mother. Especially my mother. Tyler took my hand again and gently squeezed it. I bent my head as the ache of misery in my chest threatened to swallow my body whole and let my long hair hang like a light curtain on either side of my face, a gesture that disinvited visitors who might otherwise feel inclined to offer words of comfort and condolences. The minutes dragged on painfully, sweat and heat compounding my internal anguish. Outside my self-made sanctuary, I could hear the thuds of dirt continue relentlessly with sickening regularity as my mother’s remains disappeared into the ground.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
Founded in late 2011, In Parentheses prides itself upon analysis of the current condition of intelligence in the minds of these young people, and building a hypothesis for one looming question: what comes after Post-Modernism?
The idea for this magazine stems from a simple conversation regarding the aforementioned question, which drew out the need to identify our generation’s place in literary history.
To view the types of work we typically publish, preview or purchase our past issues.