"This can't be it," Jessie said under her breath, after Luke had done his job and bore his pall to the front of the church, then sat next to her on the pew. Gio was in the front row, with a couple of people she assumed were relatives, although she'd never met them. They seemed about as old as Mirabella – she'd never revealed her age but Jessie knew it from the information Gio gave to the police (and couldn’t believe she was actually in her 60s.) So maybe they were brothers or cousins. "I mean, there's hardly anyone here."
"Yeah," Luke whispered back. "Sad, right?"
Jess nodded, and for the first time in the last three days, felt tears welling up behind her eyes. Luke took her hand and gave her a Meaningful Look.
With her free hand, she fumbled through her purse for a tissue. "I mean…I mean…if only a half-dozen people came to my funeral….I'd just die!"
The two of them realized the humor in that and stifled giggles at the same time, holding each other so they couldn't break free.
"But yeah," Luke said. "I know what you mean."
"Yeah." Then, like a flash of light, Jessie realized what Mirabella's bedside note meant. The conversations the two of them had had where Mirabella made her promise to ghostwrite her life story. That's why Mirabella simply wrote that Jessie would know what to do.
Her mother poured another cup of coffee. "Honey. Just because you said you'd write her biography doesn't mean you're beholden to it."
This was days later, when Jessie drove over to Woodstock to return the dress. "I don't feel obligated," Jess said. "I just think…well, someone ought to tell her story."
Her other mother, Carol, wandered in from the garden, where she'd been planting bulbs for the Spring. She washed her hands in the sink and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Whose story are we writing?"
Jess sighed. "Mirabella's. She asked me and I sort of agreed."
"Is she the one who was abused and keeps a gun in her purse?"
Her mother told Carol, "It was in her suicide note. It said…what did it say, honey?"
Jesse stared into the black pool of her coffee cup, and sighed. "Jessie will know what to do."
Her stepmother set her mug on the counter and gave Jessie a methodical look. "That's cryptic," she said. "What you think it means?"
"Just what I said -- that I'm supposed to write her life story. But I don't know it all. She died before she could tell me."
"Well," Carol said. "You could simply fictionalize it. That gives you a whole lot more room to play with."
Of course Carol would suggest this; she's a novelist, and a pretty good one. She's even had a book published. "I suppose."
"I was telling Jess not to feel beholden to this Mirabella woman's drunken request."
Carol's eyebrows shot up. "That's awfully…judgmental of you, Sue."
Jess too was surprised at her mom. But then, a lot of people believed the myths about Mirabella. "She's not crazy! I mean, wasn't…" It would be hard getting used to putting Mirabella in the past tense. She is – was – one of those people who are larger than life.
"I know you think I'm awful," her mother said. "But I have my reasons."
"I always thought that you thought all women should stick together. Especially the ones who were abused," Jess said, pouting.
"Here we go," Jess's mother said. "The Rules and Regulations of The Lesbian Club."
"You're making fun of me," Jess said.
Carol smiled at her partner. "I'm putting that in the hopper. What a great novel title."
"You're welcome," Sue said. Then she turned to Jess. And touched her arm. "Honey, you're wonderful to want to do this for Mirabella. I'm just afraid…well, you're so sensitive, and…"
What the hell? Jess thought. Was she wearing some kind of sign around her neck? "You think I can't do it, either!"
"No, it's not…"
"You and Luke! You both think I can't write a novel!"
Her mother and Carol exchanged the quick, sympathetic look that Jessie knew very well. That "we must be careful with our next word as not to upset our sensitive child" look. Sigh.
"Honeycakes," her mother said, patting her hand atop Jessie's. She watched their combined appendages, realizing how little they resembled each other. She'd figured this out only upon doing a writing exercise from a book Carol had given her one Christmas. It was all about "my mother's hands," and you were supposed to stare at your own and find the resemblances and the metaphors, etc. She'd turned it into an interesting poem – at least she thought so, and so had Luke – but the interest was in the fact that she didn't have her mother's hands – she had her father's. And despite years of therapy, her mother still had not evolved enough for Jessie to say this to her without anger and recriminations. She'd never read the poem to her mother.
Her mother continued, "It's not that I think you can't write a novel. I'm sure that you can do anything you set your mind to. It's just that you write such beautiful poetry – " she looked up at her partner, "Doesn't she, Carol? Simply lovely, evocative…but sometimes authors who write multiple genres are more facile in one than the other."
Multiple genres. Her mother and Carol were not simply melding into each other, as she'd been told long-time couples often do (she couldn't even imagine the polyglot she and Luke would make, if they stayed together that long), but they'd adopted each other's language. Her mother, an algebra teacher, was starting to talk like a writer.
She must have appeared not to understand, so Carol jumped in. "Like Marge Piercy. You've read Marge Piercy, haven't you, Jess?"
"She writes novels, too. But I think, anyway, she's a much better poet. Yes, there's something to be said for those writers who can float easily from one to another, but you're such a strong poet that what I think you mother is saying is that, well, it's good to stretch but she doesn't want you to lose your strength."
Jessie took a deep breath. She should have just mailed the dress. Or left it on the porch when the two of them were out. She loved her mothers, but sometimes she got the feeling that they thought she was still a child, or so sensitive that the slightest slight would cause her to shatter.
"Thank you for your input," Jess said, slugging down the rest of her coffee and putting the stone mug into the sink.
"Oh, now honey---"
"No. It's OK. Whatever. Maybe you're right. I should stick with poetry. After all, why try anything new when what I'm doing is working so well?"
"Sweetie, there's no call to be sarcastic—"
"Who's sarcastic?" Jess said, turning to face them both. "I'm just agreeing with you."
Then she grabbed her jacket and huffed down the stairs. She'd show them. She would write Mirabella's story if it killed her. So she hadn't lived long enough to tell Jess the whole thing. That's why fiction exists, right? So she could make up the parts she didn't know.
The thing is, she had no idea how to write a novel.