Beth lay curled up on her bed, having skipped going to school that day. Her grandparents weren’t happy about it, but they didn’t push her to go, either. She was practically in a catatonic state ever since she found out about her mother’s death. She had just stayed in her room all day. She hadn’t gotten out of bed once, and she refused to eat anything.
The worst part about it wasn’t that her mother was gone, or that her grandparents were being more unbearable than usual, or that everyone around town was sure to be talking about it forever and never give her a moment’s peace. The worst part was the letter that her mother had left to her. Beth still clutched the letter tight in her hands, and although she hadn’t looked at it more than once, she refused to let it go.
The words in that letter haunted her and stabbed through her heart, and now that she had read them, she could never forget them, no matter how hard she tried.
I can’t do this anymore. Every time I look at you, I’m reminded of all the shame and disgust people have for me. You’re the embodiment of it all. Of everything I hate about myself. I’m doing this because of you. It’s your fault.
She couldn’t even cry over her own mother’s death. She couldn’t cry over the terrible things she had been told in that letter, either. All she could do was lie there silently and stare at nothing. She felt like a hollow shell, so fragile that the slightest of movements could shatter her.
She stayed like that for most of the day, until finally her grandmother came in to check on her. Beth didn’t react at all, and her grandmother let out a sigh. “Are you just going to stay there like that forever?”
Beth made the smallest of movements, her shoulders hunching ever so slightly. Her grandmother sighed again then walked over to her, snatching at the letter Beth clutched in her hands. It slipped away easily, and still Beth barely reacted.
“There’s no point making yourself miserable over this. Your mother had no sense in her. Anything she said or did should be ignored. And this letter is nothing. Take it out of your mind.”
Beth blinked her glassy eyes and murmured, almost inaudibly, “I’m something she did, so should I be ignored too?”
Her grandmother let out an exasperated breath and went to the door, but before she left, she glanced at Beth and said, “The funeral is tomorrow. We expect you to come. So please, get over yourself and be presentable.”
The door closed and Beth was alone again. She looked down at her hands and seemed to only just then realize that the letter had been taken away from her. While it was probably for the best, she couldn’t help but feel even emptier than before with it out of her hands.
Things didn’t get any better when her grandfather came home. He looked into the room but didn’t say anything to her, merely shutting the door once more. But she could hear her grandparents talking on the other side of the wall. The things they said didn’t make Beth feel any better about the situation.
“This is ridiculous. What’s even the point of holding a public funeral? She blackened our family name, and on top of doing this to herself, why should we even do anything to honor her?”
“That’s enough, George! Whether we like what she did or not, she was still our daughter. And think about Bethany. This should be as much for her as it is for her mother.”
“Right, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it, after what Angela said in that letter. Bethany doesn’t care, and I don’t think she has much sense left in her anyway.”
This got Beth to move just a little bit. She shifted positions on the bed, her joints creaking from staying immobile for so long, and she buried her face under her pillow, trying to block out her grandparents’ voices. It merely muffled them, and she could still hear them talking, but now she only occasionally made out what they were actually saying.
Beth stayed in her room the rest of the day, still not eating anything at all, and she stayed in bed for most of the next day as well. But around the time the funeral was going to start, her grandmother told her to get ready, using a warning tone of voice that made Beth actually get up and do what she was told despite how she felt. Her grandma tried to get her to eat something as well, but Beth still refused, though she did finally drink a little water.
She wore a long black dress that felt way too breezy for comfort in the cold October weather. She didn’t complain, though. She didn’t say anything or look at anyone during the entirety of the funeral. She merely kept her head down and her hands clasped in her lap, being so silent it made people wonder if she was even breathing.
The words of the preacher rang hollow to her. She was barely even listening to him, though what she did hear she wish she hadn’t. She just wished that the service would get done and over with as soon as possible so she could go back home and not have to be around all of these people who didn’t even care.
What transpired after the funeral was by far the worst part, though. So many people were coming up to her and her grandparents, saying unconvincingly how sorry they were for their loss. In some cases they loudly voiced their opinions on Beth’s mother as a person. A few of them even made comments about Beth herself, seeing as she was being so unresponsive, which apparently made it okay to talk about her like she wasn’t there.
And then the Fultons came over. Bill Fulton was the deacon of the church. He looked Beth and her grandparents over and said that he was sorry. And then he said, “Perhaps with Angela’s passing, we can put all of this unpleasantness behind us.”
“Yes, perhaps so,” Beth’s grandpa said, though he didn’t sound entirely convinced.
Bill then turned to look at Beth, and for the first time she actually looked up and acknowledged his presence. He gave her a smile. It wasn’t a kind smile. It was toothy and mildly aggressive. “Well, Bethany, I hope you’re doing alright. If you ever need anyone to talk to, you could always come to me.”
Beth didn’t say anything, but then her grandfather nudged her, a little too forcefully, in the back. She turned her head down again and mumbled, “Th-thank you, sir.”
Mr. Fulton nodded his head, then turned and left them along with his wife. Their daughter Hannah hesitated a moment before following them. She looked at Beth with a genuinely sympathetic frown on her face, then she said to Beth quietly, “I’m sorry, Beth. Sorry for everything.”
“Me, too,” Beth whispered back as Hannah walked away.