The girl stood behind an elderly woman as the line inched slowly forward. The woman turned and whispered.
“So sweet.” Ione nodded politely as the woman smiled. Eileen was perhaps the sweetest girl that Ione had ever known. She swallowed hard and bit her lip as her face grew warm. The tears had been flowing for some time, but soundless and private. The woman smiled again and turned her attention forward.
“It’s such a waste,’ the young woman to Ione’s left said to no one as she walked back to her seat. The line had stopped moving, which wasn’t a surprise. But it still felt almost odd that so many seemed interested in Eileen now. Ione's nostrils flared; tears that had been only sad minutes before became angry as well; a bitter reminder of the day. She balled her fists and prayed for strength and self-control.
“Don’t you dare!” she mouthed wordlessly as she looked down; wanting to yell and scream and shout while staying quiet and out of the way and safe.
“Were you close?”
Another voice; this one from behind her. Ione turned to find two women embracing; tears flowing freely from their eyes even as Ione wiped away her own. She wanted someone to ask her about Eileen. Someone to learn how precious she was. Someone to care about her before things changed. And she wanted no one to ask. Eileen was too much like her for her to speak freely. Secrets she and Eileen treasured would never be valued by anyone but them. And speaking freely would betray both of them. She lowered her head once again and began to sob; whatever control she had departed swiftly as if to abandon her. She shook as she cried and one of the women standing to her side touched her shoulder.
“Please…..control yourself. You’re making a scene,” the woman hissed in correction. Ione winced as the woman removed her hand. A moment later she stood at the head of the line. Looking down, she saw that Eileen was as peaceful as Ione had ever seen, but she also looked like a stranger. Dressed primly and with no sign of whom the girl had been.
Ione started shaking again and the woman to her right turned and stared.
“I’m…..sorry….” a voice not her own came from her throat. She shook her head once and stepped out of line and walked quickly out the side door into the large hallway. A moment later she was joined by a teenage girl.
“I’m so sorry. They didn’t listen. They never listened.”
The girl grabbed Ione’s arm and pulled her close. Ione…. Ian held his sister and looked back at the casket as the rest of the family gathered around his aunt and gave her words of encouragement and agreement.
Eileen…..Allen McDonough lay carefully and coldly in a dark blue suit; her hair cut short and her face bereft of any makeup save for the final attention by a man who never knew the girl. The boy Allen would be remembered by the family forever but only Ian….Ione and Maggie McDonough would ever remember their cousin Eileen. And they wept.
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