This is a short excerpt from a piece of memoir that I’m currently working on.
The four of us pile into the car and it could be any other day, we could be going anywhere, perhaps to the local shops to pick up groceries, or a little further, to the Westfield. We leave fifteen minutes earlier than we mean to. It doesn’t rain as predicted, but that will come, later.
My sister keeps her window down the whole trip and I shiver beside her. Mum is playing AC/DC’s The Live Album at full volume. As we speed down the highway, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ plays, and I keep getting hung up on the line ‘knocking me out with those American thighs’, thinking it’s such a great line. My sister complains the whole way through the song, begging Mum to play some ‘real music’.
Our family don’t talk. We prefer the music loud and the windows down. We talk most when we’re worried about something. When Mum asks my sister for the third time if she turned the hair straightener off. She does this despite me watching her re-enter the house to double-check that it was turned off.
‘But what about the electric blanket, Olivia?’ Mum says.
My sister sighs, ‘Yes, Mum.’
We look over at each other and smile. This happens every time we get in the car with Mum.
We’re all quiet for a while, and as we navigate through the Sydney traffic and the bad drivers I think about how small the lanes feel. Every time we pass by a car in the next lane I bring my shoulders in, as if the lanes are too tight, or the car too big for us to pass unmarked.
My sister takes car selfies with me in the background looking miserable. Mum tells me I look nice and I think that my great-grandmother would have wanted that, for me to dress nicely. She loved to dress up, even if she had nowhere to go. It’s a mark of respect.
When we get to Bankstown we drive straight past the turn-off we would normally take to go visit my great-grandmother. I look back as we pass and think of my last visit. How I somehow knew, it would be the last.
We are one of many cars that drive into the cemetery grounds, and as we pass the gravestones, my sister remarks ‘Wow, so many dead people.’
Mum finds a park and turns off the car. We are half an hour early. Who gets to a funeral early? It feels wrong. It’s cold outside so we sit in the car and wait for the rest of the extended family to arrive. Mum opens her window and lights a cigarette. The ash occasionally blows back through the window and settles on my jeans. I have cat hair on my jacket and it feels disrespectful somehow.
‘Imagine if the coffin opened?’ My sister laughs.
I turn to her and attempt a serious look that immediately fades into a smile. It’s so like our family to be early for a funeral sitting in the carpark making inappropriate jokes about dead people.