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emma bohmann

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by Emma Riehle Bohmann

      My daddy smelled like cigarettes and chocolate ice cream cones. Only yesterday Mother told me I was thinking of her brother, my uncle Billy. She said my daddy never smoked a cigarette in his life, but Billy smokes like a chimney, and one time he took me to the zoo and bought me an ice cream cone, and it was probably chocolate, because that was always my favorite kind. Then I think she felt kinda bad for taking away my only real memory of my daddy, because she took me out to dinner at McDonalds and didn’t even say anything when I blew bubbles in my Sprite. Then she asked me if I was sad about daddy. “It’s okay if you are, pie,” she said. My name is Isabella but sometimes Mother calls me pie, short for pumpkin pie. “I’m not sad,” I told Mother, but then I felt kinda sad, because when I said that she got a sad look on her face, and squinched up her eyes and mouth like she does when she has a bad taste in her mouth. When Mother gets sad, I dislike it. I used to hate it, but then Mother told me I shouldn’t say the word hate, so now I just dislike it. I dislike it immensely, which is something Mother says when she really, really dislikes something, the way she dislikes artichokes, even though I think they are yummy because one time Grandma made me eat them and they had a really good garlic flavor on them. But I didn’t want Mother to be sad, so I said, “I am a little sad about it,” and then I blew some more bubbles in my Sprite, but this time she said, “Stop that, Isabella,” so I did.

                                                                                             *       *       *

      Next week is my birthday and I am going to be seven, and I wanted to have a party at school, but now I don’t think I will be able to have the party, because today a bad thing happened in my class. This is what happened. After Morning Meeting, when we usually work on Reading, Dr. Bob came in. Dr. Bob is the principal, and his name is not really Bob, it is Robertson, but he always says for us to call him Dr. Bob. He is nice, but sometimes he asks me questions, like how are you and how is your mother and I don’t want to answer him because I don’t really think it is any of his beeswax. But then Mrs. A., who is my teacher, told me not to be rude, so now I say fine, fine, fine, which is what Mother always says when Grandma asks her how we are doing. But today when Dr. Bob came in he didn’t ask how I was or how anyone was. He sat in Mrs. A.’s chair and all of us kids in the class, except the ones who were absent, sat on the floor like we do for Morning Meeting. I sat next to Melanie because she is my best friend even though I think I am smarter than her, and Danny was sitting in front of me. I didn’t really want to sit close to Danny because last week he told me he loved me but I think he is sort of gross because once Sarah said she saw him eating his boogers. But I sat down next to Melanie and then Danny sat down and turned around and stared at me with a big smile and it made me think of how gross he is because I could see his nose. But I didn’t want to move and be rude, because Mrs. A. might notice. Mrs. A. stood at the back, I know because I turned around to check.
       “I have some very sad news,” said Dr. Bob. I thought: uh-oh, because sad news is not good news, that’s what Mother says. Also I thought uh-oh, because the rug was very, very itchy on my legs, because I wore my pink skirt today, and I really wanted to scratch my legs but I also didn’t want to be rude or to make it look like I was scratching myself at my privates, because then Billy Ranger would make fun of me. He was sitting right behind me, I saw him when I checked where Mrs. A. was. Billy Ranger’s first name is Billy and his last name is Ranger, but everyone calls him by both names because at the beginning of the year he got mad if we only called him Billy. One time he even pushed José into the lockers just because José forgot the Ranger part. So I really didn’t want to give Billy Ranger a reason to make fun of me because he is mean, mean, mean.
      “As you probably have noticed, José has been absent all week,” said Dr. Bob. Boy, did I notice! Me and José are reading partners, and I had to be partners with Billy Ranger instead. I thought, I hope José didn’t move, because then I would have to be Billy Ranger’s reading partner for good. It’s because Billy Ranger moved here late and so he doesn’t have a permanent reading partner, he is partners with whoever’s partner is absent, or else he joins a group to make a trio.
      “José has been very, very sick,” Dr. Bob said. He gave a big sigh and then he said, “Yesterday afternoon, he passed away. His mother asked me to tell all of you and to invite you all to the visitation on Saturday.”
      Allison raised her hand. “What does that mean?” she asked. She never waits to be called on. She was sitting next to me on the other side and she was chewing on her hair, which Mrs. A. always tells her not to do.
      “Don’t do that,” I whispered to her. I know what passed away means. Passed away means dead. I know because it’s what Mother says about my daddy when somebody asks. “He passed away three years ago,” she says. Then the person makes a sad face and pats my head and says, “You poor dear,” or something like that. So I know what passed away means, but I didn’t want to tell Allison, because I thought maybe we heard wrong, because I didn’t think kids were allowed to pass away.
      Allison raised her hand and when Dr. Bob called on her she said, “Dr. Bob, where did José go?”
      Dr. Bob didn’t answer right away because he was in what Mother calls a tough place, and the reason I know this is because Mother told me all about this. It’s about how you aren’t allowed to talk about religion in school. At the beginning of Morning Meeting every day we say the Pledge of Allegiance and there are words that are “one nation under God” and Mother says that is not allowed. She said that if I don’t want to say “under God” then I shouldn’t say it. Also she told me that Dr. Bob and Mrs. A. aren’t allowed to talk about God or heaven or anything like that, so I wondered what Dr. Bob was going to say to Allison.
      Dr. Bob kind of paused and cleared his throat a little bit, and I thought that now he was feeling very uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do. “Um, ah,” he said, so I said, “José died,” not in a mean voice but in a sad voice. That way Dr. Bob wouldn’t have to talk about heaven, because then he might get fired and I think he is a pretty good principal even if sometimes he does ask me questions that I don’t really feel like answering.
      “Yes, that’s right, Isabella,” said Dr. Bob, and he made a sad face too, with a frown and his eyebrows went kinda close to his eyes.
      “José died?” said Melanie and Dr. Bob nodded, and I nodded too, because now she and Allison and Danny were all looking at me, and so I put my hand over my heart and looked kinda at the floor, because that’s what I’ve seen Mother do when somebody asks too many questions about my daddy. Melanie said, “Ohh,” and she kinda frowned a little bit too. I don’t think she was too sad though, cause her frown didn’t look very sincere to me, which is what Mother says when she thinks I am saying sorry and don’t really mean it.
      Then Mrs. A. said, “Billy Ranger, stop that right now,” and so we all turned around to see Billy Ranger. He had one of the big bottles of glue that Mrs. A. uses to refill the little bottles that we are allowed to use and he had the cap off and was pouring all of the glue onto the carpet. He looked at all of us and looked at Mrs. A. and kinda laughed, like hahahaha, but I don’t think he was trying to be funny because he had very narrow eyes and he was not really smiling.
      “I’ll handle this, Mrs. A.,” said Dr. Bob, and then his voice got real low and boomy and he said, “Billy Ranger, you will be accompanying me to the office immediately.” And then it was quiet because the office is where you go if you are in big trouble. Usually when someone gets in trouble they just have to do Time Out or stay in during Recess, but if you are really bad you have to go to the office to see Dr. Bob. Billy Ranger goes to the office almost every week. He went to the office when he pushed José into the lockers. And then I realized that José was dead, just like my daddy. He had passed on. And I got a little cold and shivered and Mrs. A. must’ve noticed because she asked if I needed to get my jacket out of my locker, but I shook my head no.
      “So,” Dr. Bob said. “Mrs. A., I’ll leave you these notes to send home with the kids.” She said okay, and then Dr. Bob left with Billy Ranger, who turned around at the classroom door and stuck his tongue out and made a glaring face at all of us.
      Mrs. A. clapped her hands and said, “Okay, kids. This is a very sad, sad day. I want you all to know that if you need anything at all, or feel sad at all, you can come and talk to me. I’ll be sending these notes home with you in your folders so that your parents can know about our loss.” Our loss is another way of saying someone has died, because sometimes people say to Mother, Sorry for your loss, and she always waves her hand really quickly like she is brushing something off of a window and I think that she does that to brush away their words so she doesn’t have to think about it. Then Mrs. A. said, “Now, is there anyone who is feeling sad right now and would like to share a memory of José?” I thought about raising my hand and saying that he was a good reading partner and also he was even shorter than me, but no one else raised their hand, so I didn’t either. “Okay, then,” said Mrs. A. “Then let’s get into our reading pairs.” So everyone started going to their reading partners and then going into their reading places. Melanie’s reading partner is Jessie, so they went to their reading place, which is by the Art Station. But I stayed sitting on the rug because I didn’t know what to do.
      “Isabella,” Mrs. A. said when she saw me, after everyone else was with their partner. “Oh, dear. Oh, dear. You were José’s partner.” I nodded and kinda frowned so that she would know I was feeling a little sad. “Okay,” Mrs. A. said. “For now, why don’t you go with Melanie and Jessie. When Billy Ranger gets back from the office, you two can be partners.” She patted me on the shoulder and gave me a little smile. “I suppose now we won’t need to have any more trios,” she said and her shoulders kinda went really low like someone let the air out of them. I stood up and said okay, and itched my legs finally and went over to Melanie and Jessie but inside I was very, very angry, because it really wasn’t very fair of José to pass on and leave me with Billy Ranger for a reading partner.

                                                                                             *       *       *

      When I got home I gave Mother my take-home folder so she could see my spelling test that I got all stars on, and also so she could read the note about José. She gave me a hug about the spelling test and then said, “Oh, pie. I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk?”
      “Why did he die?” I asked. I climbed up onto the stool so I could sit at the island in the kitchen, and Mother handed me my plate of apples and honey, my favorite after-school snack.
      “Pie, these things happen,” she said. “Sometimes people get sick and they can’t get better.” Then her eyes got a little teary and I knew she was thinking of my daddy.
      “That’s not what I meant,” I said. “I meant, what was wrong with him that he had to die?”
      Mother blinked a bunch, so that she wouldn’t cry, I think, and then she said, “The letter says that he had pneumonia and then died of complications from it.” Then I got kinda scared because once last winter I had pneumonia, so I said, “Does that mean I’m going to die too, cause of my pneumonia?” But Mother said, “No, pie, you got all better from yours. Most people don’t die from pneumonia.”
      “What did Daddy die from?” I asked her and then she really did get teary and she said, “Come on, pie, let’s work on your new spelling words,” and so I knew she didn’t want to talk about my daddy. So I didn’t ask her any more questions about him, but I still had questions about José. “Is he having a funeral?” I asked Mother.
      “What?” she said. She was holding my blue spelling list, nice and laminated like Mrs. A. always does, and she was tapping it against the countertop really quick, tap, tap, tap.
      “Is José having a funeral?” I asked her again.
      She kept tap, tap, tapping the spelling list and said, “I’m sure he is, but let’s work on spelling.”
      “I want to go,” I said.
      “What?” she said. Tap, tap, tap, she kept tapping.
      “I want to go to his funeral,” I said.
      “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” she said.
       “Why not?” I said.
       And then Mother let out a really, really big sigh like she does when she is really tired and has just done a big yawn, and she said, “Funerals are very sad. And we didn’t know José very well. It is better if you don’t go, so that his family can be with him to say goodbye.”
      “José was my best friend,” I said. I was starting to feel a little funny, because Mother was not being very cooperative, which is what she tells me when I won’t do what she wants. “We were reading partners,” I said. “And now I have to be Billy Ranger’s reading partner and I dislike him immensely.”
      The side of Mother’s mouth twitched a little bit and I thought maybe she was going to laugh, but instead she said, very stern, “Isabella. I said no, and I mean no. End of conversation.” Then she gave me my notebook and pink butterfly pencil from my backpack and said it was time to practice spelling words.

                                                                                             *       *       *

      After Mother put me to bed and kissed me good night and went downstairs I got a little sad thinking about José. Whenever we had to line up for lunch or recess, me and him were always in the back because of our last names being Y and Z. Sometimes we got teased because we were both short and when we stood together at the end of the line, it kinda looked like we were lined up by who was tallest, even though we weren’t. That’s because Jessie is at the front of the line and she is really tall, even taller than all of the boys. The boys made fun of José a lot. Whenever he was around, they would answer all the questions with, “No way, José!” José would get really mad and scrunch up his teensy face and make fists and say, “Stop making fun of me!” Thinking about that, I started to feel very sad and my eyes even burned a little like I might cry, and I wanted to go see Mother, so I climbed out of bed and took my teddy and tiptoed out of my room.
      It wasn’t very dark in the hallway, because Mother was still awake and she was downstairs and there was a light on down there so I could see the stairs and didn’t have to worry about falling. But then when I got about halfway down the stairs, I stopped and hugged my teddy and listened, because I thought maybe Mother would be watching TV, but instead I just heard her crying. I didn’t used to know that Mother cried, and sometimes when I heard her I called to her and asked her what the noise was. “Just the house creaking,” she would say, but one time instead of calling to her I creeped downstairs and hid behind the island and poked my head out and she was sitting in the big armchair that used to be my daddy’s and crying and saying “Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy,” and that was my daddy’s name, so that is when I figured out that she was still sad about my daddy. And tonight when I started hearing her crying, I just turned around and went back upstairs. Because I didn’t want to see Mother crying and eyes red and puffy and her nose maybe runny like mine gets when I cry. So I crawled back into my bed and hugged my teddy really close and whispered stories to him. I whispered a story about a princess who turns into a butterfly, and then I told him about Billy Ranger spilling glue on the carpet and then I think I probably fell asleep because it was morning and Mother was knocking on my door saying, “Get up, pie, Isabella, up, up, up.”
      At breakfast, she said, “You can go to the visitation.”
      “What’s that?” I asked.
      “It’s like a funeral for people who don’t know the family very well,” she said. “It’s on Saturday. The letter you brought home gives the details. Would you like that?”
      I thought while I ate my cereal. I have to eat it quick, otherwise the snap, crackle, pop goes away, and that is my favorite part. “Yes,” I said after a couple seconds.
      “Good, good,” Mother said. Then she said, “Let’s run through those spelling words one more time,” and so I practiced spelling again and I got them all right on the first try.

                                                                                             *       *       *

      On Saturday, I wore my pink and blue party dress and Mother even let me paint my nails on Friday night so that they would match. I brought the card that I made for José’s family during Art Time on Friday. It was really pretty, I drew butterflies on the front and then a picture of me and José inside and I wrote Sorry for your loss in my best letters and so I knew it was a good card.
      Mother came with me to the visitation and she also was dressed up and she looked very beautiful I thought, so I told her so as we walked in and she squeezed my hand really tight. I heard her crying again last night and this morning her eyes were puffy and she poked at them in the mirror and made a big sigh and then put on lots of makeup so now you couldn’t tell.
       The visitation was at a funeral home, and I wanted to ask Mother if it was the same funeral home where my daddy had his visitation and if he’d even had a visitation or maybe he just had a funeral, because Melanie had told me that not everyone has visitations, but sometimes she says things that she doesn’t know about so that people will think she’s smart, so I don’t know. But I didn’t want Mother to get teary and sigh a lot and be sad, so I didn’t ask her. She read a sign at the beginning and I recognized José’s name and then the next word was “visitation” because it had “visit” in it, and so we knew where to go. The room was big and white and had a really tall ceiling and lots of people and chairs that had dark green cushions on them kinda like the ones in our dining room. I said to Mother, “Is this the visitation?” and she said, “Yes, pie.”
      We stood in a line and I asked Mother what the line was for. “To express our condolences to José’s parents,” she said.
      “What?” I said, only I said it a little too loud because she said, “Shh, pie. That means to tell his parents we are sad for them.”
      “Oh,” I said. There were not very many kids there, but I did see Mrs. A. sitting in one of the seats and I told Mother. Then Mrs. A. turned and saw me and waved, and so I waved back. “Probably Dr. Bob is here too,” I told Mother, and she said yes, probably.
      Finally, finally we were almost at the front of the line, and suddenly Mother gripped my hand so tight that it made me scrunch up my face. “Ouch, Mother,” I said, but she was breathing fast, fast, and when I looked at her, she was not even looking at me. “Mother?” I said, real quiet. She was looking ahead a little bit and blinking fast, fast, with her breathing so I looked where she was looking and I saw a coffin. I know what that is because of Snow White, only her coffin was white and beautiful and had angels and birds carved on it, and this coffin was wooden. Then the line moved some more and we were right at the coffin and I could see in it and see that it was like a comfy bed inside and José was there. My tummy did a little flip-flop and I felt a little like I might throw up, but I swallowed really hard and then I felt sort of better. Only sort of though because I still felt my hands being a little shaky, but I kept looking anyway. José’s eyes were closed, and he was wearing a suit, even though he never had worn a suit to school. I didn’t like how he looked, lying very still and quiet and his face wasn’t scrunched up and the only way you could tell how tall he was would be if I lay down too then you could see that I am point two five inches taller. Mother was still squeezing my hand so tight, but I thought maybe now I knew why, and probably my daddy did have a visitation, and then I started feeling very sad.
      Suddenly I heard a woman say something and I looked up and at the end of the coffin was a man and a woman and I knew they must be José’s parents because they were both short and had the same little black eyes as he did. So I really quick pulled Mother to them and held out my card. “Sorryforyourloss,” I said real quick, just like I wrote inside the card. José’s mother took the card and as soon as she started to take it I pulled my hand away and it gave me a paper cut on my finger that started to bleed, so I put my finger in my mouth to suck on it because I didn’t want to get blood on my pretty dress.
      José’s mother said something that I didn’t understand and then she said, “Thank you, my dear. Thank you, thank you.” I just looked down at my feet. I was wearing my white party shoes and my lacy socks that are so pretty, even though they have a little hole on one foot so my big toe sticks out. But I really love them because the lace looks so pretty with my dress so I didn’t tell Mother about the hole or she wouldn’t let me wear them.
      José’s father said, “What’s your name?” I looked up at him. He had a little beard and I wondered if José would have gotten a beard when he grew up too.
      “Isabella,” I said and then I stuck my finger back in my mouth.
      “Isabella,” said José’s mother.
      “You were his reading partner,” said José’s father, and I nodded and looked back at my feet again. I wondered if he knew that we were like best friends because we were the shortest ones in the class, but I was taller than José, because with José lying down in that coffin he might not be able to tell. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “It would have meant a lot to José.”
      Then I said, “Okay, thank you, bye,” and me and Mother walked away and I said, “Mother, I want to go now.”
      Mother let out all her breath in a big whoosh of a sigh and said, “Are you sure, pie?” But when I looked at her she looked kinda hopeful and she had let my hand go a little bit.
      I nodded very strong. “I think maybe I don’t like visitations very much,” I said. The picture in my head was José lying with his eyes closed and I opened my eyes really wide and stared at Mother to try and see her instead.
      Mother kneeled down and hugged me really close. “Me neither, pie,” she said.
      “Mother,” I said.
      “Yes, pie,” she said, and we started walking to the door.
      “Did Daddy have a visitation?” I asked her.
      “Yes,” Mother said very soft.
      “Was I sad?” I asked her.
      “Yes,” said Mother, still soft.
      “Mother,” I said. “What did Daddy smell like?”
      Mother stopped walking again and kneeled down again and held my chin with her hand and looked right in my eyes and she said, “He smelled like pumpkin. Pumpkin pie.” Then she gave me a big hug and a kiss and I could tell she was crying because some of my hair got a little wet and so I hugged her back real tight. Then I looked up at her and I wiped away some of her tears with my hand. Her cheek was warm and soft like her hands right after she puts lotion on them, and she grabbed my hand and held it against her face and didn’t let go.

Emma Riehle Bohmann is currently an MFA candidate at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, where she is on the editorial board of The Hollins Critic. Her work has appeared in the anthology Amsterdamned if You Do, Fiction365, and The Red Clay Review.

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