Authors: Tiana Laveen
In My Sister’s Shadow
By Tiana Laveen
Copyright © 2012 by Tiana Laveen
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotes embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Redistribution, uploading to share sites, or any other attempt at pirating this brand or work is in direct violation of the author’s copyright.
Cover design by Travis Pennington
Editing by Natalie G. Owens
“Your work is impeccable,” Karen remarked as she glided her pale index finger down the side of the deceased woman’s cold, caramel face. “I’d swear she was just sleeping.” She slowly walked around the body that lie on the silver slab, looking closely at the details of Mark’s work. Mark sighed and removed his gloves, causing a snapping sound as he flipped them hastily down on the side of his work tray. He reviewed all of his items: gold-plated scissors, silver tissue clampers, plastic ass plugs, assorted lipsticks, and a box of scalpel replacement blades.
“She’s twenty-seven,” he remarked as he turned his back and rubbed his hand along his rough jaw. He hadn’t slept in two days. The recent storm had made him busier than ever and though he typically remained emotionless from his work, recently, his bravado was being torn to shreds as once again, children, pregnant women and two month old babies continued to roll in. Karen straightened her long black skirt, cleared her throat and pushed her glasses up her nose.
“It is a pity, Mark.” She walked up to him and placed her hand on his white work robed shoulder, “I have some documents in the office I need for you to sign. Please stop by before you leave today.” She smiled pleasantly as she left him alone in the thirty-nine-degree room. Mark squinted his gray eyes, finally closing them as the pressure of his exhaustion increased. He rubbed his nose, then his mouth as he dropped his head and yawned. He walked back over to the body and looked down at her. Tilting his head slightly to the left, he smiled.
“You’re beautiful. You never even had a chance. Your life was far too short.” His Southern dialect dripped on each syllable. He ran his long, knobby fingers through his sable hair and reviewed his work once more. “Little to no visible decomposition…well, there is a bit here by your temple but I think I covered that up pretty well with several layers of concealer.” He studied her, so closely that his face was a mere half an inch from hers. He looked at her flowing black hair and grimaced as he noticed several strands out of place. Grabbing his large alabaster paddle brush, he began to lovingly stroke her hair away from her face, styling it as if it were a dark lion’s mane of beauty. He placed the brush back down and looked around the chamber. She was the last body inside and he was exhausted. The small funeral home in Shreveport, Louisiana, was owned and operated by Karen’s father, and Mark was the funeral director who was occasionally pulled in for make-up jobs. He had a keen eye and his love of drawing and painting caused him to be a natural at make-up application for the recently deceased. When they were shorthanded, he also was an embalmer and even helped with set-up and at times, program design. He could do it all, and his sleepy eyes showed that he was doing everything but sleeping. It didn’t matter, however; he was compelled to assist where needed. He had a natural gift and touch that made him the brunt of unwanted overtime and over-dependency. He had trained over ten apprentices in the past two years and all of them, once it was known who trained them, went on to successful careers in mortuary science. He had a way of showing empathy, though inside, they were just words. He really felt nothing much at all. It had taken years of practice, but he had finally gotten it down pat – until today.
* * *
Something about Rhine Jacobs made his heart bleed. He knew she had died just like the others, trapped under debris in the school building as she gently cradled a third grader who was in fact found alive due to her heroic act.
I moved from Miami to here, to get a fresh start – to not see all the same people and same things anymore. They all remind me of Terry, and I still miss my brother so badly…Now, you’ve got me thinking about things I haven’t thought about in years!
He mentally scolded Rhine as he glanced at her again, crossing his arms sternly across his chest. He rubbed his head again and closed his eyes.
“Well, Rhine, your sister is on her way. She called. She wants to see you before we unveil you for your memorial. You know, they just don’t make women like you anymore. It seems the good ones always die young. I guess that’s why I’m still here.” He chuckled as he began the process of putting his coveted tools away.
Karen re-entered the chamber several minutes later. Her hands were clasped as she smiled at Mark faintly. “Mark, I didn’t realize Ms. Jacob’s sister was coming to do a preview so early. She’s in the lobby actually, right this second. Would you like me to bring her in?”
“Uh, no. Let me roll Ms. Rhine Jacobs in the other room, please. It’s warmer there and it’s time to start setting up anyway.”
Karen nodded in agreement, turned and left.
Mark removed his white robe, exposing a fitted white shirt and black slacks that accentuated his 6’1” frame. He brushed his dark brown hair from his face and traced the slight cleft in his chin as he glanced back down at Rhine. Taking both hands, he gently lifted Rhine’s stiff body into his strong, warm arms. He delicately carried her to an adjoining room, laying her smoothly inside the white and silver casket.
There you go, Rhine. I hope you’re comfortable. Now, I understand your sister is out here waiting, so let’s go get her, shall we?
* * *
“Her fiancé will be here soon.” Bijou stood stoically. Her blood red, matte lips and muted light caramel skin caught Mark’s attention right away. She was the exact replica of her deceased sister, Rhine – only add a beauty mark above the curve of her heart-shaped upper lip and a few wispy bronze highlights in her lustrous, jet-black hair.
“Fiancé?” Mark asked, snapping out of his fixation. “Oh…I am so sorry for your loss, Ms. Jacob. Condolences also to the rest of your sister’s friends and family…and her soon-to-be husband…”
She nodded as she carefully approached her sister, placing her lacey black-gloved hand against the side of the glossy, coffin as she looked down at her. Mark quietly stood off to the side, allowing her to take as much time as she needed. He folded his hands, looked solemnly down at the pale, yellow-tiled floor and waited. The large antique clock in the room ticked, as they bid their time while they witnessed expiration, in the fullest sense of the word. Bijou ever so slightly tilted her head to the left and nodded as tears brimmed in her eyes. She smiled weakly and laggardly traced the side of her sister’s face with her index finger.
“She was my little sister…by one year, almost exactly,” she whispered. “We fought as kids, and…as adults…but…I loved her so very much.” She sniffed. Used to these sorts of scenes, Mark went into his usual auto-pilot comfort mode.
“Siblings so close in age often do have…differences,” he smiled as he looked at her. She still glanced at her sister, but gave a faint nod in acknowledgement. “I have a brother as well. We are two years apart; he is the eldest. We have a similar relationship. The bond between brothers and sisters is very unique.” He cleared his throat.
“Yes, indeed it is.” Like Mark, her words were deep-fried in Southern Comfort, only with a bit more twang. She took a step back, her black Mary Jane heels clicking. She looked casually over her shoulder. “Whoever did her make-up did a splendid job. Please tell them I said so.”
“You?” Bijou pointed one long, clear polished nail towards him, her dark, perfect eyebrow arched. She rewarded him with a slight curve of her lips. There was a well of sadness in it.
Mark hesitated, once again struck by her unique beauty. She reminded him of a classic 1950s pin-up model, only she would have been in Jet magazine.
“Yes, I did her make-up.” He took a small step closer, crossing his arms as he met her slight smile with one of his own.
“It’s remarkable. I know she’d have liked it very much.” Bijou looked back at her sister, then back at Mark. Her evocatively dark eyes and lengthy eyelashes became the center of his attention. Her irises shone like patent leather, lustrous, not just from her freshly fallen grief-stricken tears, but from simple sauciness. She crossed her ankles and clutched her matching black clutch purse.
“Well, I better get going. Service will be soon, and I’d like to freshen up first. Thank you, Mark.” She approached him, her words breathy. She extended her hand. “It is a pity I’ve met you under such ill-fated circumstances.”
Mark shook her hand and narrowed his gray eyes on her. Her small hand gave a powerful grip, surprising considering her small frame. It was a handshake that was made for business, though she had sex appeal that was constructed purely for pleasure…
“It was nice meeting you too.” He reluctantly released her hand, the thin lace of her sleeve slipping away from his palm just as quickly as it had arrived. He watched her take slow steps until she exited out the door and rounded the corner, without looking back.
Mark stood there, looking at the open door for several moments. Then he made his way back to Rhine.
“Well, Rhine, you have quite an interesting and beautiful sister.” He blew out air as he could still smell her light vanilla-cherry perfume wafting in the air. “Let’s put your pearl necklace on, and prepare you for the last goodbye.”
* * *
Mark watched from the dark recesses of the room. The faint smell of baby powder drifted past.
Karen and that spray…I told her about that spray.
He watched as several members of the Jacobs family, large in number, took their turn speaking. It seemed that the women all had vintage beauty, regardless if they were short and wide, or tall and statuesque. There was something about these women that made them stand out in a crowd. One thing was for sure – they all had the same dark, alluring eyes. Several of them spoke French and they ranged from the palest of beige, to the blackest cherry one could find – exquisite from the top of their heads down to the soles of their feet. Despite the modern times, they seemed to have stepped out of a black-and-white television sitcom. Dressed with dark veils and long black dresses, some that hugged the curves, it was like watching a parade of nostalgia go past. A combination of Bette Page and ‘Leave it to Beaver’ summed it up best – and that, was the cherry atop this alluringly strange showcase that he couldn’t turn away from.
The gospel songs sung by family and friends were melancholy and poignant. When someone spoke in French, a translator was standing by, explaining the depths at which this family was grieving their little angel – a martyr in her own right. Mark rubbed his right arm, noticing a chill in the room. He politely excused himself and made his way over to the thermostat.
Seventy-four degrees…huh, that’s strange. It feels more like fifty-four.
He turned it up a couple of degrees and returned to the parlor. As he regained his previous post, he noticed Bijou. Her long lacey black veil hid her tears. Only when the light caught her just right did they illuminate, like tiny droplets of ice. She thumbed her red choker as she looked down at the ground. Occasionally, she rubbed her mother’s arm, but her quietness, her unobtrusiveness, took Mark by surprise. She seemed to have incredible reserve. As the services came to a close, a burst of screaming and crying came from a corner of the gallery. A heavy-set, reddish complected woman with long, stringy salt and pepper hair, dropped to the floor as her grief rang out like church bells. Several family members rushed to her aid, helping her to her feet. Her legs continued to buck, her eyes rolled back and she looked up at the ceiling as if she were waiting for an answer, an explanation, from God himself. When he didn’t respond, she began to scream again, “Why? Why?” wringing her heavy hands while the viciousness of grief gripped and ripped at her bleeding heart once more.