Chapter XV: The Mourning Dress

Death makes fools of us all.  Lucy was no exception to this rule.  It was only until she was in the silence of her mother’s place of death, that she realized how irrational her hopes had been.  She leaned against the door, staring at the empty room.  Her soul was shattered against the floor, and she could only feel the numb pain of lose and anger.

It wasn’t fair.  Andrew had thrown their family away, Sebastian had been gone for years as well, and Adrian was often off studying for school to notice when Mum needed help.  She had been there to help open the store, to take over for dinner when her mother needed to sleep, to fight for her mother’s cure – even if only for a small amount of time.  And she didn’t get a proper goodbye.  She didn’t get to tell her mother how much she loved her, how important she was, how she just needed to hold on a little longer.

My children have come home.

It wasn’t fair!  Her tears prickled against her cheeks as she grappled with this intense grief and anger.

Lucy didn’t move for quite some time.  It was not until a few hours later, there was a soft beat on the door.

“Lucy, it’s Doctor Bedford,” the old man said softly. “I’ve come with Mr. Highgate.  May we come in?”

Lucy pushed herself up and leaned against the nearby wall to allow the doctor and funeral arranger inside.  Her eye watched the procedure as they examined her mother.  Bedford nodded solemnly to Mr. Highgate and they began to prepare to carry her out.

“Lucy, perhaps this would be better if you didn’t see this,” Mr. Bedford said, trying to keep his voice as delicate as possible.

“Of course,” she muttered and bowed lightly. “Thank you for taking care of this.  I can be down to the funeral house as soon as you need me to be.”

“I’ll call for you, my dear,” Mr. Bedford promised.  “But you must go lie down.  You do not look well.”

“Of course,” she repeated.  “Good day.”

Lucy turned to go, her breath sticking to the back of her throat.  It felt like a dream that she was swimming through.  One of her nightmares.  Only this time she knew who the Top Hats were.  This time her brother was alive.  And her mother dead.

In the hall, the boys were waiting patiently for their sister to emerge.

“Lucy,” Adrian cried, rushing to hug her.

She didn’t hug back immediately, but instead simply noticed that the youth had finally passed her in height, his blonde curls tickling her cheek.  It took a moment for her to remember he was still her younger brother and he was suffering just as much.   Gradually, she lifted her hands to gently hold him before the weight of their mother’s death pushed them back down.

“Lulu,” Sebastian started.

“I’m going to go lie down,” she cut him off. “Then I’ll get to sorting Mum’s things.”  It took her a moment to compose herself before she managed to look up into her twin’s eyes. “If you could go downstairs for a bit and start clearing out the kitchen that would be quite helpful.”

“Is there anything you need me to do?” Andrew dared to ask.

The two other brothers tensed, waiting for the venomous blow their sister would throw at them.  But it never came.

“If you wouldn’t mind, I need you to call Mum’s clients.  And go to the papers and let them know of Mum’s passing.  I can’t bring myself to do it, and if it’s a Top Hat that requests it…”Lucy explained before pausing to collect herself.  Her voice was beginning to waver.

“Alright. You go ahead and lie down,” Andrew said gently.

“November 22nd.  I want it to be on the 22nd.” Lucy choked back the tears, rubbing them away desperately.

“Come,” Andrew commanded his younger brothers, grabbing Adrian by the hand to pull him back.  “Give Lulu her time.”

And they vanished down the squeaking stairs as Mr. Highgate’s apprentices ascended to go into Stacy’s room.

Lucy turned away and rushed up the steps to her attic. Once there she threw herself onto the bed and began to sob all over again. She cried until she hiccupped into a nightmarish sleep filled with memories of her mother.

The next few days ached forward as boxes were slowly were packed away.  Lucy knew that with her mother gone there was no way for her to continue living in Flat 937.  One call to the bakery was all it took for her to get the rest of the week off and had earned the family free bread until the funeral was over.  Mel gave all her condolences and told her that she would close the bakery just to be able to attend Stacy O’Rourke’s funeral.  It meant the world to Lucy to hear that.  In fact, many of her Mum’s clients had expressed the same determination.  Her mother, Lucy realized, was well loved by people of all social standings.

Andrew spent most of the time working with the funeral home and Mr. Bedford.  Although the couple knew of Adrian’s new ‘career path’, they still wanted to give something back to the family.  After all, being a Top Hat was still a very prestigious position, and Stacy was quite close to the Mrs. Bedford.  Their gift to the O’Rourke’s was a comfortable funeral with a quaint gravestone for their beloved mother.

Meanwhile, Adrian and Sebastian mourned together as they packed away their mother’s store.  It helped that the boys both had someone to lean on as they put tailored items into boxes to be sent off to heaven knows where.  They had yet to decide where they should put the extra pieces.  The family was left alone by the Top Hats after Andrew called in his request to Winston.  The boys were grateful for this, but Lucy could care less about the Society.

She walked about her mother’s room in her simple black mourning dress and silently made small meals for them when the time drew near.  Every so often, the boys would manage to extract a word or two from her, but for the most part, Lucy remained silent as stone.  Not even Adrian could get the once ever-chattering sister to open up.  She did her best to comfort him and hold him but refused to speak on her own pain.  The second she did, this would all be real. It was as if it was someone else’s mother, who died. That is until a day before the funeral.

Lucy was going through the last of her mother’s clothing drawers.  She had sent the boys off for the rest of the day while she packed the last boxes of her mother’s things.  She still hadn’t figured out where the boxes would go but at least they would be ready.  Lucy’s mind kept playing the recent phone call from Mel – turning it over and over as if polishing an used coined.

“If you need a place to stay, I can always talk to my husband.  I’m sure we could manage a room for you while you worked for your rent,” the baker had offered.  Even Lucy knew that this was a bit of a stretch, but it was the only option she had.

You can go and see your mother and take care of everything you need to take care of, but only if you were give serious thought to working with us.

Poppycock.  Absolute rubbish.  She could not accept that deal.  For heaven’s sake, she would be living as a Top Hat!

It’s just who they are, Lucy.  It’s their job and an honorable one at that.

“Nice try, Mum,” the memory sunk deep in her throat – sticking to it like a foul taste of harsh metal.  Finally she added, “But you were wrong.”

Before her voice could crack anymore, Lucy went to her mother’s final drawer.  Her breathe hitched.

“Mummy, what’s this dress?”

“Lucy! Put that back!”

“What is it?  And what’s this black one?”

“Put it back, Lucy!” her mother had yelled.  It was one of the few times she had raised her voice at her daughter.

The little girl’s tears pricked her eyes as she started to cry.

“Oh darling, I’m sorry. Just please, please, put that back,” her mother came to cradle the girl and ease the dress from her tiny hands. “It’s Mummy’s fancy dress.  And Mummy’s sad dress.”

“Mummy’s sad dress?” the girl sniffled.

“Yes. . . Mum’s sad dress.”

Sure enough, the two dresses were still there, neatly stacked next to the other.  The first was a white silk grown covered in lace with a touch of pearls trailing down the corset top. Lifting the dress out, Lucy found the matching veil – a head band of stitched pearl flowers with weightless nylon – neatly falling beneath it.  The whole outfit was simple, yet elegant – with an air of grace to it.  No one other than Stacy could have made such a well-stitched creation.  It was moments like these, that Lucy wished she had inherited her mother’s skills and talents.  Carefully, she set it aside and her eyes locked onto her mother’s mourning gown.

The black dress was made with her mother’s finest silk.  Every stitch looked perfectly placed, the lace around the edges – deliberately pressed.  The same care that was given to her mother’s wedding dress had been given to this piece.  Lucy remembered the way it fit her mother beautifully at her brother’s funeral, and the year her father had disappeared.  Even when she wore it, she kept it clean and free from tears and stains.  As she picked it up and shook it out, her eyes caught sight of the dark veil her mother created for it.  Underneath was a curious envelope that had not been there before.

Lucy picked up the veil and letter within it.

 

To My Darling Lucille Hardcastle O’Rourke

Lucy’s heart quickened as her throat tightened in shock.  She turned over the delicate treasure and ripped through the envelope.  She could barely contain herself as a single page of her mother’s handwriting feel into her lap.  Tears fell as she carefully lifted the paper to her eye level, taking care not to damage the last piece of her Mum she had left.

Dear Lucy,

I left this last piece of me buried in the one and only place I knew you would look.  I could not leave this world without giving you something to keep with you until the end of time.  My dear, whatever you decide to do with your life, never give up and always keep fighting.  You have such a beautiful soul and a love that knows no bounds.  You must remember to forgive those who do you wrong.  In time, I hope that you will forgive Andrew, your father and even me.  You may feel like you are alone or lost when darkness closes around you.  But darling, our love will always live with you in a place no one can take away.  You will encounter many hardships and many pains throughout your life.  It is not the end.  You are just fighting against a single storm. It will never win, because at some point the sun must shine through.  Don’t give up.  And always remember one very important thing:  Never be afraid to fly.

I will love you always and forever, my dear Lucy.  Your brothers are so important to me, but you must remember you are my only daughter.  And that is a bond stronger than death – it can never be broken.

Goodbye, sweetheart.  Go where your heart takes you.  And when times seem dark, you only need to turn inside to find the light.

I love you. 

~*

Lucy hugged the letter to her chest as the door within her finally closed.  Her mind no longer raced with “what-if” and “why me?”, but settled comfortably at the last ink stroke.  This was how her mother needed it to be.

A wave of relief flooded through her as her eyes traveled to her mother’s veil.  Lucy knew what she needed to do and where she needed to be.  The girl stood and closed the door to her mother’s room.

Andrew came in from outside, looking around the tailor shop as the other two brothers packed the last items away.

“I suppose dinner will be soon,” he muttered, shaking off the cold.

Sebastian sighed and nodded while Adrian turned to look at the door leading to room.

“Perhaps we should go see if Lucy has started, she might want help,” Adrian suggested not as whole-heartedly as he would have liked.

The eldest O’Rourke agreed and the boys shuffled into the home to find the kitchen empty.

“Lulu?” Adrian called up wearily to the stairs.

“Lucy,” Andrew added boldly. “It’s time for dinner.  We’ll help you out.”

The boys began to move pots and pans, setting the kettle and retrieving food from the pantry.

“Sorry I’m late,” Lucy said as she came down the stairs.

Sebastian’s ears perked at the change in her tone and quickly turned to look at her. “Lucy, you look-”

The rest of the boys quickly followed suit and found their sister dressed in their mother’s black mourning dress.

“I hope you don’t mind.  There are a few creases in it, but I thought I’d wear it to the funeral.” The girl said, as she brushed nervous hands against her mother’s fine black silk.

“You look lovely, darling,” Andrew said, a smile crossing his face.  “Mother would be pleased.”

Lucy smiled back and hugged her older brother for the first time in six years.

 

2016 E. M. Vick

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