I held her hand when they cleaned her, bathed her so that she could be put in the ground. I didn't understand that, didn't comprehend why being clean for going into the earth was a good thing until much later, until I remembered her sweet face in that purest moment, her soft lips, her stroked and brushed brown hair. She was so pretty under the lights of the house, so kind with her clean, painted nails gleaming. She would have been proud if she had seen herself, I was sure.
I sat there as they applied the makeup, gazed with dead eyes as small brushes lengthened dark eyelashes. I watched as paint was eased over glued palmers. I stared as a thick coat of bronzing base was spread over her round cheeks, her smooth brow, before the powder was patted on with a dabbing ball of fluff that spread a soft dust cloud through the room.
They had left us alone, her in her Sunday's best, made up so ... wrong. Fake. She looked hollow, some perverted doll, something that hadn't bandaged our cuts from when we tripped while playing tag, something that hadn't stroked our hair during nightmares, something that hadn't kissed our hair during thunderstorms.
A thing. She was a thing. Not a mother, not a giver of life, but a home for death.
I leaned over her, crying, my tears pattering against those doll cheeks, that unfamiliar face. I grabbed her plastic hands, pressed my trembling lips to her downy brown hair, and tried not to notice the scent of gardenias and lilacs, nearly overpowering, tempting madness, but not strong enough to hide the underlying decay beneath. Death had a smell all its own, and I didn't want to ever memorize it.
Especially not when it was this thick over her.
I moved back up to her face, fingertips capturing the tears that had sprinkled over her still face, and rubbed them with my thumb. Makeup came off along with it, and before I could stop my little fingers as they grabbed that paint off those sealed lips, smeared that pancake base off. I was sobbing as my hand was covered in it, wailing when I felt strong fingers grab and pull my wrist away before I could start tearing her skin apart like paper.
I couldn't respond; words were gone, gone on days with Mother, on lazy summer days when fat bumblebees drifted by our heads while he laid in the flowers. Happiness was lost in that same time, trapped in that dimension that didn't seem real, seemed to have been some show we watched years ago; I couldn't help my wailing as my brother pulled me into warm, safe arms. I screamed Mother's name until my throat bled, until I had to suck on ice for two days to make the pain stop, but Brother didn't let me go, even when I knew his head threatened to split from my hours of endless cries.
On the day of the wake, people milled by, telling us all how peaceful she looked, how it seemed like she was so at one with everything now, away from the touch of the agony of ravaging diseases. I evened my eyes, and whispered out coarsely that such things were simply because that wasn't our mother, that was a doll in her place. That it had to not be real, because our mother never did her face like that, never had her hair lying that way, never laid in such a manner. This was... was a fake.
It had to be. Our mother wouldn't leave us. Our mother wouldn't abandon us like... like this, like the things nightmares were made out of. Our mother loved us!
"We're sorry, boys."
To hell with your apologies! They didn't bring Mother back! They didn't change anything!
Afterwards, when we lingered out in fresh dirt and new flowers, when Brother had said that we would bring her back, I inwardly smiled.
After all, it wasn't our mother in there; it was just a doll with a bit of eyeliner to give it a fake impression of memory life.
Our mother would be with us again soon. Brother had promised. And Brother never lied.