by Nod Ghosh

The skirt feels like animal hide. It’s the most appropriate thing I have for Aunt Nona’s funeral. My mother bought me this skirt years ago, black gabardine, upholstered in rigid lines around my lower body. I only wear the skirt for formal occasions and court appearances.

My mother is not attending the funeral, though Nona is her only sister. I have come on her behalf. Or that’s what I tell anyone who asks. The bristles from my black uniform poke the skin on my legs in silent aggression with a vengeance seldom found in inanimate objects. That is what I have come to expect from this article of shame and sorrow.

My lips fold with mock sincerity around the words of a hymn I’ve not sung since childhood, and all I can think of is how much I want to shed the skirt and run naked between the aisles shouting hallelujah. The fibres create an illusion of growing out from my body, not in towards me from the skirt. My skin itches as if I have a disease.

When we leave for the reception, Uncle Jonah stares at my chicken-skin ankles. He’s only been let out of prison for the day. I know I have committed an offence. It is not seemly to attend one’s aunt’s funeral with bare-skinned legs, but I can’t help it. Since the age of seventeen, I have refused to wear pantyhose. I cannot stand the word, let alone the suffocating grip they confer on my nether-regions. I flick Jonah a sneer, and he looks away, his dimpled chin familiar as childhood.

Cousin Desiree holds her finger to the dimple in her chin, and flits between elderly relatives as if she is offering them the sacrament. A benediction here, a blessing there, receiving kisses from the withered friends of her mother’s and the lipsticked gentry of our wider family. And all the time, my skirt threatens to overwhelm me.

When Constance rang to say her mother had passed away, as if she were playing a game of football in a distant town, Mum had feigned a migraine. She refused to speak to her niece. I’d scribbled the funeral date and directions to the crematorium on the back of a takeaway menu. My mother had said, if you think I’m going to give them the satisfaction, (snorting like a horse), you’ve got another thing going.

But, I’d countered. You have to. She’s your sister.

Was, Mum retaliated, a wry smile curving the yellow of her face.

Desiree and Constance could do with the support, I’d said.

Desiree and Constance can go to hell on a number two bus, she’d replied. Mum has always struggled with idioms. And if you are going yourself, she’d added, wear something decent.

The priest places a sausage roll on his paper plate, and I am filled with sorrow, not for my aunt but for the loss of all things living. I pick the vegetarian option from the platter Constance’s husband holds beneath my nose. His eyes linger on my breasts, and then skim to my ankles. I wish I’d shaved my legs this morning.

The last time I’d worn the skirt was in February. I’d appeared in court, eyes lowered, heart racing. Hot as hell, I had sweated under the glare of the magistrate’s fury and tied myself in incriminating circles. I’d accepted my sentence and faked contrition. Shoplifting was in my blood, but sometimes blood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Uncle Jonah catches me when I’m leaving. Tell your mother I asked after her, he says with mischief in his eyes. He pats my bottom with his left hand, his right tucked discreetly into its sleeve. He is glued to the prison officer next to him, the handcuffs barely visible. I wish the skirt would bite him and send him to another hell, somewhere he might roast as I did in the courtroom in February. Go fuck yourself, I hiss in his ear, loud enough for him and the black-suited officer to hear. No one else does.

The skirt swishes against my legs like a curtain. Sliding into my car, I race back home. My arse is still in a sweat where Jonah smacked me.

Through my tears, I imagine Mum, a teenager in awe of her older sister and the handsome husband. Uncle Jonah was good-looking back then, if the family photos are to be believed. The roguish smile, the presents that fell off the back of a lorry, the toys at Christmas, just for me, always as good as anything Desiree and Constance were given. That Kirk Douglas dimple on his gorgeous chin.

That dimple, just like mine.

Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Publications include a novella-in-flash ‘The Crazed Wind’ (Truth Serum Press July 2018), inclusion in anthologies Sleep is A Beautiful Colour (UK 2017 NFFD), Landmarks (UK 2015 NFFD), Love on the Road 2015 (Liberties Press) and various online or print journals.

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