Surrounded by Family
Sem Megson

Anyone who has read enough obituaries knows they're not poetic odes to the deceased, but more like formulaic essays written by overwhelmed students the night before they're due. Jane Kreemore's obituary was no exception. It was filled with comfort-lined clichés and most of them were fallacious. For example, Jane hadn't "died peacefully." She had fought tooth and nail with that longer-toothed, sharper-nailed foe, Death, and had fought to the bitter end of her fifty years. She hadn't "suffered a short illness before her passing" either. During half a decade she had kept the extent of her emphysema a secret, preferring to go without sympathy than cigarettes. But there was one line in her obituary that was true.

Jane had indeed passed away "surrounded by family." Present were her estranged husband, adult son, and two sisters, however, that was only because Jane had become bedridden before she could change the lock to her bungalow to keep them out. Her estranged husband had been tipped off by a neighbor he kept in touch with, who saw a medic visiting the house. Soon afterwards the family moved in on their target with the strategic deployment of biological warfare.

For a week they took up positions and emitted their toxins on three sides of Jane's bed, but she just smirked beneath her oxygen mask or lifted it to fire back a shot. She had stores of ammunition they hadn't figured on combating at close range. Her health even stabilized for a couple of days when Death, at the head of the bed, stayed out of the battle to take notes from these familial assassins.

They were a worthy case study. Jane's estranged husband told her that being in that bedroom felt exactly like when they were living together and Jane concurred then asked him to move so she could see the TV. Her son kept repeating that he always believed his father would die before his mother and he didn't shut up until Jane told him that both his parents had died in childbirth. Her two sisters used their cellphones to search for photos of diseased post-mortem lungs and took turns showing them to Jane, who responded by coughing up charcoal mucus, spitting it into a bedpan and refusing to have it removed. None of them could match her. There, surrounded by family, her last words to them were, "At least we never pretended to love each other."

When she lost consciousness, Death reengaged in the battle and Jane went down with a salute to her greater opponent. At her funeral, the family was civil to each other the way diplomats are on the eve of yet another conflict. This civility lasted until the reading of the will, that splinter bomb known for maiming relatives, and it began the inevitable litigation over Jane's meager estate. No doubt she had intended to leave the family something they could fight about for years to come, ensuring a continuation of the legacy that had bound them together.

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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