One by one, members of the jury pool filed into Probate Court. Mourners had once gathered here the day we buried Dad, after the church service. Judge Grigsby had presided then, and various attorneys had addressed the court to eulogize my father’s career in law. How proud I was of him that day. How heartbroken he would be to see, nearly thirty years later, that his four children were in his old courtroom in a war with each other.
My brother Lu and I were poised to clobber our two sisters in this lawsuit. Our attorney patted his thick binder of evidence itemizing all the wrongdoings Dorothy and Mariah had committed. But today, we would chose Door Number Three, a deal to settle. We were all summoned to an adjacent smaller courtroom where our appointed judge brokered the agreement.
Dorothy and Mariah, surrounded by their many attorneys, had already claimed their chairs in the cramped chambers. In a whisper clearly meant to be audible, Dorothy seethed “…I just can’t stand to see them, their hideous faces, get them out of my sight as soon as possible.” Lu smirked at the judge in a pleasant sotto voce, commenting to him, “my, such lovely demeanor our sister displays as an elected official.” I remained mute, my eyes fixed a spot above the judge’s head. I prayed that angels would descend and stifle the howling between my ears getting louder by the minute.
Hostilities erupted over final details of the settlement. “I’m going to kill him,” Dorothy raged under her breath at her twin brother Lu, who persisted with his request to claim Mother’s ashes. Wishing to crawl into the spot over the judge’s head, I recoiled further as the howling intensified with the hissing of my sisters’ voices. I imagined snakes writhing inside their souls, then willed the image to the periphery of my consciousness. Soon enough, I soothed myself, the two would slither away with their fool’s gold.
All parties finally agreed on the final draft of the settlement, and we were asked to verbally accept the terms for court records. Lu and I replied graciously the judge, “Yes, your Honor,” but Dorothy and Mariah rudely barked “Yes,” cutting off the judge mid-question. He regarded them stoically for a moment, then let out a sigh and directed us back toward the main courtroom so that he could dismiss the jury.
“You first. Go over to Dave and sit next to him and smile,” instructed Lu. I paused at the threshold of the courtroom door, thinking I heard fluttering wings; but there was only my big brother nudging me forward. Lu, meeting Dave’s eyes, grinned wildly and gave two thumbs up. All eyes in the courtroom watched this bit of theatre with unabashed curiosity. As I took my seat beside Lu, he could barely contain himself. “Look who didn’t come back in,” he snickered. Our sisters had ditched the scene.
En route to a celebratory lunch, we stopped at the funeral home to claim our mother's ashes. There had been no funeral, no burial, no memorial service commemorating her life. Lu produced the newly signed document granting him the rights to her cremains. Mother had been shelved there for over two years, and yet we were told that there would be a substantial delay until the director could be contacted to approve. Announcing, “We’ll wait here, then,” Lu plopped himself down in a chair and started making phone calls in a voice loud enough to wake the dead.
I strolled around the funeral home with newfound bravado, humming contentedly in the chapel where Mariah and her thugs had once huddled. Striding into the empty great room, I sang out, “hey Lucifer, where are your minions now?” That’s when I spotted a piano with a sign that read “Do Not Touch The Piano.” I promptly sat at the instrument and began banging out the opening chords of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C#minor. Lu hurried over to join in. We giggled at all our mistakes, and he shouted across the funeral home to the attendant that the piano was sorely out of tune. In fifteen short minutes, we were driving away with our mother’s urn of ashes.
Fifty years of bullying was at last ending. The howling between my ears began to subside. I fell asleep in the car as Dave drove homeward after our lunch with Lu. Exhausted from the courtroom drama, I slept until we got to the outskirts of Chicago. I awoke to a stunning silence inside my head, something I hadn’t experienced since I was a very little girl. When I told Dave, he reached over from the steering wheel and gently squeezed my hand. “What’s it like, is it totally silent? Do you hear anything else?”
And there, rising softly from my soul, I heard singing.