Lake Effect, Spring 2009, Volume 13: Visitation

Teresa Milbrodt




Heart disease runs in the family, explains why he is dead at thirty-eight, although his job as a food critic for three newspapers might have had something to do with it.  You’ll note the coffin is one of those new extra-large varieties, and in the vestibule mourners gossip about how the family needed to buy another burial plot next to the original just to have enough space to fit all of him.  The uncles compare their suits, all extra-extra-large and made to order in a town just south of Berlin, one still known for its master tailors and fine sausages and cheese.  
The great-aunts sit on horsehair chairs in the front room and whisper how Gretel has put on weight since he died.  He was a bachelor but was over to her house every other evening to have dinner with her and her husband and their three children.  The aunts whisper that Gretel is eating to quell the pain of mourning, but it’s wishful thinking.  Her brother has only been gone a week and she has been that plump for quite a while, was carrying extra pounds even before the three kids, but the aunts with their ample waists agree that Gretel has been snacking to drown out her sorrow.  Of course she’s going to make a chocolate cake when she gets home to comfort herself and her children who lost their dear uncle.  It’s only natural. 
The funeral director stands in a corner, her hands behind her back, feeling slender as a swizzle stick and watching Gretel in her black satin dress, clutching one of her youngsters on her lap, holding him tight so he won’t fall off.  Those little butterballs are as plump as she is, already doomed by nature and nurture and the Christmas cake and gingerbread Gretel feeds them, but everyone says that, in his casket, her brother wears the sweetest smile they every saw. 


The walls of the funeral parlor are golden, honey-colored, and half of the mourners can’t help but snicker at the irony, because she was an ironic sort of person.  In her teenage years she hung out at the arcade and it was rumored she had a tattoo, albeit small and tasteful, on her backside, a little lock and a little key, which made sense as she usually disregarded both. ...