Tag Archives: funeral

“We went for grandpa.”

It’s now been two months since his father died. We had been to the funeral and I knew that losing his father must have been painful. Still he just held our son’s hand and sat there silently. No tears, no sadness on his face. Just a calm face with a hint of concern. A few times he looked down to Ian and nodded to himself.

We watched as they closed the casket and walked in the first row when they carried it out to the grave. They lowered it inside. There was another speech. I threw a flower and my husband and son threw soil.

On the way back he didn’t say a single word.

Josue had never been the type to show his emotions but he had been close to his father, closer than any other father-son pair I can think of. They had spent many weekends on camping trips and their “men tours.”

Of course it all makes sense now.

I wanted to give him the space he needed. For a week I waited for him to make a move, for him to let his grieve out. Then I asked how he felt.

He never screamed at me before, at least not like that. Not with so much anger. Continue reading

A Bond of Blood

There is no force in the world that is stronger than the bond of blood. The bond of blood is that of parent to child and that of sibling to sibling. And of all the possible bonds the strongest is that between twins.

That’s why it’s so damn hard to even lift my fingers to write all this down. Because all our bonds have been broken; every bond of blood has become a blood-drenched bond.

And all of it is my fault. My parents warned me not to violate one of the unwritten rules of German culture – that if your last name begins with ‘S’ it’s first name cannot begin with ‘S’. SS, one of the initials that stands for the eternal German sin.

I thought that was folly. I thought if my child grew up outside the country nobody would mind.

“You are ruining his life.” Said my father.

I laughed.

That’s how the bond between my father and me broke.

Sammy and Jimmy. We chose the names because we liked them and because they sounded alike; they sounded like brothers that would be a team for life.

And they were a team. They did everything together; they even had their own secret language for a while. Sammy and Jimmy always took the fall for each other – a missing cookie? Both claimed to be the culprit. Someone forgot to write their homework – both claimed not to have done theirs. Ripped pants? Of course both wore it during the day.

Watching them made me proud. Watching them reassured me that I had done right.

They were smart. I say that with pride, but also because it’s true. They learned reading faster than any of the other kids in their class; they excelled in every subject.

We had a ritual for their birthday. We went to the bookshop and each could choose the smartest and thickest book they liked. Not the books for children or teens – the real, expensive, solid books; the ones they could stack on their shelves with pride.

They always chose the same type of book; they coordinated their purchase just like they coordinated the clothes they wore, the sports they played, and the friends they made.

On their thirteenth birthday we went to the bookshop again. I wanted to help them be more independent and sent each in one direction – Sammy to the left, Jimmy to the right. At first they didn’t want to; they wanted to stick together like always. I wanted to be a good father, to help them be independent and mature.

That day, without my knowledge or intent, I committed my second sin; I broke the second bond of blood.

Jimmy came back with a book on economics. Sammy came back with a book on philosophy.

Each read their books and then they exchanged and each read the book of his brother. But somewhere through that first book they changed.

Since the divorce, at the time they were just ten, I always made sure that we my sons and I had dinner together, just like I hoped that my former wife and my former daughter too had dinner together.

The all-male dinner table was the place where they asked me the questions young boys ask and told me the worries young boys have. And it was also the place where I first notice that they broke apart, that they had different opinions.

Jimmy began to lecture us on economics – price points, demand curves, later even game theory.

Sammy began to bombard us with philosophical thought experiments – if you shoot a man that would have died anyway, but in the process save ten others, are you still a murderer? In a world without color, could you understand the concept of red? And of course, his favorite: If your brain was exchanged with another man’s brain and then one of your bodies would receive a million dollar and the other would be killed – would you rather like your brain receive the money and your body to die, or the other way around?

We argued about the body switch experiment. Sammy said it was fantastic and everybody would choose to kill his own body and give money to the new body with the mind. Jimmy said that all this was nonsense; he said that none of that would work and any reasonable person would give the money to himself.

In my memory that’s the first real fight they ever had; the first real issue on which they disagreed.

At first I liked these changes and the variety in conversation they brought. I thought it was healthy that they had become separate – and, after all, they still worked together most of the time.

Maybe they would have found neither economics nor philosophy – maybe together they would have chosen books about something altogether different, like medicine or law. Either way, I can’t change the past. No matter how much I would give to be able to do it, even if I would give my own life for it – I can’t change the paths on which I pushed each of them by sending them in different aisles.

Sammy went into a downward spiral. His passion for philosophy led him to a passion for magic and then one for alchemy. He spent days and weeks hunched over old books, silently laughing to himself. He barely paid attention to school or friends anymore.

Jimmy seemed to become more open and social but mostly stayed similar in character to how they both had been. Then, shortly before their sixteenth birthday, from one day to the next they seemed to have become different people.

Whatever I tried, I just couldn’t help Sammy get back on the path. While Jimmy aced every test he tried, Sammy failed the first test of his life, then a second, then a third.

I asked Jimmy to help Sammy and as far as I could see Jimmy tried very hard to help. But all their tutoring sessions ended with fights; with Sammy shouting at Jimmy that it was all his fault and that he should go away.

Despite his efforts I think Jimmy helped even less than the two tutors I paid and the many hours I myself tried to help Sammy get back on track. Honestly, if anything, I think all those efforts made the situation all worse.

Sammy was bitter and angry most of the time – while Jimmy was cheerful and helpful in every respect. Sammy gained weight; Jimmy gained muscles. Sammy failed exams; Jimmy jumped through them with ease. Sammy locked himself in his basement, rereading old books; Jimmy went out and made new friends every week.

With 19 Sammy dropped out of school – while Jimmy went on to university. Sammy was fired from job after job – while Jimmy, a few months into his second year of studies, founded his first company.

Jimmy sent money and books for Sammy, he wrote letters of reference, and called in favors with old friends – but Sammy was on the wrong track and nothing Jimmy or I tried made Sammy any less angry or unsuccessful.

I remember the phone call I had with my own father, shortly after Sammy had lost another job because of ‘laziness.’

My own father said that it was my fault, that I had made a mistake by giving Sammy the initials SS. He thought that that’s how I destroyed Sammy’s life; that the shame and guilt had driven Sammy to failure; that I had set him up to be an evil and vile person.

I have to admit, nothing ever got to me that much; nothing ever hurt me more than to have my own father tell me that I ruined my own son’s life.

It hurts as much to admit that, in one way or the other, my father was right.

With 22 my son Jimmy sold his first company and founded a second.

With 22 my son Sammy got into a pub fight and lost one of his eyes.

With 24 my son Jimmy found the love of his life; with 25 they got engaged.

With 24 my son Sammy found a girlfriend that screamed at him for the tiniest things; with 25 he got a criminal record for beating her.

With 26 my son Jimmy sold his second company for more than 300 million dollar.

With 26 my son Sammy steered his second hand car into oncoming traffic.

Jimmy and his wife came to the funeral; so did Sammy’s mother and sister and I. Sammy’s girlfriend didn’t even send a card.

The women went to bed early. Jimmy and I sat at the dinner table that seemed too big for just two.

We sat silently for most of the time while one gin after the other disappeared in my throat.

“I miss Sammy.” I finally said.

“I miss my brother too.” Jimmy said.

“I guess your grandfather was right. I messed him up. It’s all my fault.”

“You didn’t mess Sammy up.” Jimmy said.

I shook my head.

“You remember,” Jimmy said. “All my alchemy books?”

I emptied another glass of cold liquid in my mouth and enjoyed the gentle tickling burn it left in my throat.

“They had some interesting stuff about twins; that we are connected by a bond stronger than anything else; a bond that is strong enough to even allow you to switch your bodies and to change fate. We had that bond.”

“You loved each other.” I said.

“Jimmy and I tried a technique from one of the books,” said Jimmy. “When we were fifteen.”


“Promise not to hate me.” Jimmy said.

“I could never hate you.” I said.

I didn’t know that was a lie.

“Do you remember how I always told you about the philosophical thought experiment? The one where you have to imagine that you can switch bodies?”

“That was Sammy, not you. You didn’t believe in it.”

“Right.” Jimmy said.

There was a thin smile on his lips.

“One of the alchemy books said that the fates of twins are linked; they are connected and they can influence and balance each other. And it gave instructions.”

“Instructions for what?” I asked.

“Do you remember the outcome?” Jimmy asked. “The outcome of the thought experiment?”

“Instructions for what?” I repeated.

“What’s the outcome?” Jimmy asked.

“One gets rich and one dies.”

“Right.” Jimmy said. “Instructions for that.”

He smiled.

“As said, twins have this bond. I proved that to Jimmy when we were fifteen.”

This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

Old Smoke and New Fire

It was summer when I met Naomi. We were at the barbeque of a mutual friend and she wore a yellow summer dress with blue details and smiled while she talked.

I don’t remember who introduced us; probably it was the host or maybe the host’s girlfriend-of-the-day. Naomi laughed when she said her name – and she laughed louder when I forgot it for the second time and she introduced herself for a third time. “Na-o-mee.” She pointed at herself while pronouncing the “mee.” Then she laughed again.

That day it was normal; that day I expected everyone to smell of barbeque smoke.

Only a week later we met for the second time. It was a random encounter at a far-too-common coffee franchise. She wore a white dress that danced around her body while she walked.

That day we arranged to meet for a lunch; since then we have been friends; just friends. I admit there was a spark, but we have never been more than that. We were both in relationships at the time, and by the time those ended our friendship had grown too comfortable. Somehow the spark disappeared and only the joy of spending time with each other remained.

That day, in the coffee shop, I noticed the smoky smell again. I made a joke about her addiction to barbeques and again she laughed with this inviting, all-encompassing laugh that makes everybody want to hear the joke.

All that was two years ago. Our friendship remained, and so did our regular meet-ups over coffee or lunch. Usually monotony bores me; regular meetings with the same regular people become draining and exhausting. With Naomi things are different. I think it’s because her smile is genuine, and so is her laugh – genuine, honest, fresh. Genuine smiles and laughs and conversations don’t get boring.

For a while I told myself that the smell was just my imagination – an olfactory memory of the day we met; an association that my mind replayed every time I saw her face and her smile. But there was no repeating memory for the perfumes she wore or the foods she ate. The only memory that returned every time I met Naomi was the faint smell of old smoke.

I never dared to ask her about it. There is something insulting about telling a woman that she always smells of smoke – or any other thing. Of course, on the one hand a friend deserves honesty and bluntness, but on the other a friend ought to protect a friend, not make her self-conscious about a smell that is either just in the friend’s head or that she is already aware of and tries to ignore.

The smoky smell was faint, and I have always been a particularly smell-conscious person. I told myself that probably nobody else noticed it; certainly no one else ever mentioned it. Naomi’s strong perfumes usually covered most of the scent anyway.

Whenever we hugged hello or goodbye, or when we sat or stood next to each other for a while; that’s when it was hard for me to ignore the smell. It was like the common joke– “Now you are aware of your breathing.” – From the moment you hear or read the sentence it is hard to not feel your own heaving chest or the cold air moving through your nose and the back of your throat.

I learned many things about Naomi: why she had tried to learn sitar (too many Bollywood movies), the way she had become vegetarian (on a trip to France she became friends with a cow that later ended up on her plate) and even that she thought the size of a man’s heart and the way he valued his woman’s pleasure was more important than the size of the probably most size-compared object in the world.

The only thing Naomi never spoke about was her family. I knew that she left home with sixteen and that her mother had had an accident, but not much more.

Last Friday, when Naomi pressed a gin and tonic in my hand to celebrate a pay rise, I finally asked.

“I don’t talk about that.” She said.

“Why not?”

“Because my family believes we are cursed. That’s why I left home.”

“They actually believe you are cursed?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it.” Naomi said. “Let’s just say the gist is that supposedly all women in my family are cursed. We will all die in a fire.”

“As in ‘burn to death’?” I asked.

“Something like that.” She said. “And my grandma used to say that there is a sign for it, that you can smell it on our bodies.”

“Just like you smell a bit of smoke?” I asked and immediately felt like sewing my mouth shut with a hot needle. Naomi stared at me with her eyes and mouth wide open.

She hesitated.

“You can smell it?” She asked.

I bit my lip.

“Yes.” I said. “You smell a bit like old smoke.”

In the end we did talk about her family.

Naomi’s maternal grandparents had fled their home country. Naomi was never told why, but she thought it had something to do with their superstition.

It was hard on Naomi when her dad left. At the time she was only nine. That her dad left was hard on her, not just because he always made Naomi feel safe and protected her from her overbearing mother, but also because it was shortly after her grandmother’s death.

Naomi didn’t meet her grandmother very often, but when she was told that her grandmother had died Naomi cried for a long time; then she cried again at the funeral. At home, after the funeral she locked herself in her room and then cried more. But this time she cried because of the fight outside her room; the angry shouting of her father, the furious insults and pleas to “think of Naomi” voiced by her mother.

There were three such nights of fighting. Naomi stayed in her room most of these days. She played loud music so that she wouldn’t have to hear the words being spat. Still she remembers part of the fight:

“It was an accident.” Shouted her mother.

“I don’t care.” Shouted her father. “I don’t want my children to die like that.”

The next day his part of the wardrobe was empty. A year later he had a new wife – and two years after that he had twins. He sent Naomi photos and gifts and talked to her on the phone, but he never allowed her to visit.

When her grandmother died Naomi was told it was an accident; something had gone wrong in the kitchen. She was young and didn’t want to know any details, and her mother was careful not to say any more. Naomi was only nine; she didn’t understand the significance of a closed casket.

Her mother found a new partner, one she never married but with whom she had a son. Naomi felt they preferred her brother over her.

When Aunt Iris died Naomi was 14. Again nobody told Naomi how her aunt died, but while she listened to a funeral speech about pain as the path to redemption Naomi stared at the dark wood of the casket and tried to imagine what her Aunt Iris’s body might look like. With 14 she understood the meaning of a closed casket.

After Iris’s death Naomi got close to her cousin Cassandra. They talked nearly every day on the phone and met every few weeks. Naomi was even invited to Cassandra’s 18th birthday party. Naomi made a card for Cassandra and gave her heart-shaped chocolate.

Not even a week after the party, about a year after Iris’s death, Cassandra stopped calling. Naomi and her mother heard only three days later what happened. Cassandra had been in her bedroom. A problem in the electrical wiring. The fire killed her and three others.

Naomi’s mother didn’t allow her to go to Cassandra’s funeral. She said it would bring bad luck. Naomi never forgave her for that.

For her sixteenth birthday Naomi refused to have a party. Her mother insisted. She said that they should “seem normal.”

At five in the morning Naomi carried her packed suitcase downstairs, collected her shoes and coats and left. That day, while pulling her full suitcase out of the front door, Naomi stopped being angry at her father. That day she finally understood why he had broken her heart.

While she told me about her past, the glass long empty in her hand, Naomi wasn’t smiling her usual smile.

Back then, when I saw Naomi’s expression, I thought she was just scared for her mother’s life; suffering because she knew a loved one was in pain; scared because her mother’s dress had caught fire at a New Year’s party. Now I know Naomi was also scared for herself.

“My mother survived the rocket.” Naomi said to me last Friday. “I thought that it would all be over; but when I visited her in the hospital I could still smell the smoke. It was more intense than ever before.”

“Oh.” I said.

“When I was small my grandma told me to tell her whenever the smell got worse. She said that if the smell got worse something bad would happen.”

“Oh.” I said.

“I should call mom.” Naomi said. “I hope she’s okay.”

When she got up to refill our glasses I blew out the candles.

“You like your gin strong, I remember?” She said.

“I just don’t want to fall behind.” I said.

She laughed.

We talked about gin, drinking, and then about other things.

I swayed when I walked home. I could barely keep my eyes on the road. But it wasn’t the alcohol, or at least not the alcohol alone, that got to me.

Since our conversation a question was stuck in my head. I kept wondering whether I should tell her that the smell of burnt wood, the scent of smoke that had always hid under Naomi’s perfume, had gotten stronger.

This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

The Ghost that Got Revenge

Liz brushed the short black hair out of her face.

“I remember seeing my grandfather for the first time when I was small. I must have been five or six. He walked around the corner with this incredibly pale face and the white nightgown. That day I only saw him for a moment, but he was always there, every time we visited. I was terrified of him, not just because he was so pale, but also because he always looked angry.”

“You were scared of your grandfather?”

“Yes. When I was small I refused to sleep alone at my grandmother’s house. I was worried that the ‘man in the nightgown’ would get me. He always walked through the house with his teeth clenched together. My mom thought I was just being silly and forced me to sleep alone in a room. I had many horrible nights because of that; because the ‘man in the nightgown’ kept patrolling through my room.”

“Your grandfather was patrolling the house at night? Were there many burglaries?” I paused. “I’m not sure how any of this could prove your uncle’s innocence.”

“I’ll get to it,” Liz said with an angry tone. “You have to judge my sanity, fine. Let me talk then.”

“Okay.” I said.

“Okay.” Liz said. “The point is that my grandfather was there when I was a child. He was always there; he was always patrolling the house. The adults never saw him, but I did, and once one of my friends came along on a visit to my grandmother, and she saw him too.”

“Your grandfather was invisible for adults? Like a ghost?”

“Exactly. Seems like you are a particularly smart person.”

“Sure.” I said.

Liz frowned, and then quickly shook her head.

“Anyway,” she said. “My point is that I’m not making this up to protect my uncle. I saw my grandfather many times when I was just a child; I told many people about seeing him; I told them about him even before I knew that there was a grandfather missing. I only understood that my grandfather was dead when I was eleven or twelve, but long before that I described to people how ‘the man in the nightgown’ looked.”

“I called him ‘the man in the nightgown’ and I knew that he was always angry and that he always held a blade in his hand; a small, thin blade. I think that was the knife that killed him. My grandmother always flinched when I talked about him, and particularly when I mentioned the knife and how angry he looked.”

“Liz, you are trying to tell me that your grandfather was haunting your grandmother’s house?”

“Yes. I think he was waiting for revenge. My grandmother always said that he died from an accident. But I think my grandfather was murdered. I always saw this long thin line on his throat. I never understood what it could be, but it all came together at the funeral.”

“What happened at the funeral?”

“Well,” Liz said. “I came along with my grandmother. I first thought it was strange that she wanted at all to go to the funeral. I mean, the guy was killed in her house, and her own son, my uncle Terry, was locked up for killing him. It’s a bit disrespectful to go to the funeral of a man your own son killed, isn’t it? It’s even disrespectful if he was an old friend.”

I nodded.

“So, I was angry at my grandmother for going, and I didn’t pay much attention to the ceremony. I only went along so that she wouldn’t fall or have a breakdown or something of that sort. But when I lead her to the casket I recognized the wound. I recognized the wound because it looked exactly like the one I had seen so many times on my grandfather’s throat. On the corpse they tried to hide it under the collar and with makeup, but still it was clearly visible: just one long and thin cut.”

“You think the wound looked similar and that’s why your grandfather’s ghost must have killed this man?”

“At first I didn’t think of that. First I only noticed that the wounds looked the same, I just thought it was odd. But then later, when they carried the casket to the open grave, I saw my grandfather standing just a few feet away from the hole. I hadn’t seen him for several years, but he looked exactly like in my memory – the short mustache, the neatly done hair and the long nightgown-like dress on top of his pants. But he was smiling. I saw him so many times as a child, and a few times as a teenager, and every one of those times he was pacing through the house and looked angry. But this time, at the funeral, he was just standing still and smiling.”

“Alright, the ghost was smiling.” I said with a hint of impatience.

“That’s not everything,” Liz said. “The thing is that I didn’t know the victim’s profession. I mean, it wasn’t relevant and nobody had ever mentioned it. But the priest, while he was speaking, he said that the victim was a barber. You understand, he was a barber! And in that moment the scales fell from my eyes: The thing my grandfather was wearing, that wasn’t a nightgown; it was a barber’s cape. It was one of those capes that they put around you so your hair doesn’t get on your clothes.”

“Okay.” I said.

“And you know why they never found the knife that the victim was killed with?” Liz smiled triumphantly. “That’s because my grandfather still has it. I saw him playing with it. It was the same knife that I’d seen so many times, but he was happily swinging it around. My grandfather took revenge. He took revenge because that other guy killed him first!”

“So, Liz, you are saying that this man killed your grandfather during a barber’s accident sixty or so years ago and now your grandfather’s ghost took revenge?”

“I don’t think my grandfather’s death was an accident,” Liz said. “And he didn’t take revenge just for that. I think he had a second reason.”

Liz grinned.

“At the funeral I met the victim’s granddaughters. He has two. And they both look just like me.”

This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.