Excerpt: From the Same Star

“Are you ready to go?” Aunt Mira asked softly. She was her mum’s older sister. Angela deliberately looked at the space beside her aunt’s head, sure that if she saw the red rims around her aunt’s eyes, she wouldn’t be able to hold it together.

Today was Angela’s mother’s funeral.

After waking that morning, Angela had stared at herself in the mirror for the longest time, unable to enjoy her reflection but unable to turn away. The realisation struck her that she’d never again be as beautiful in anyone’s eyes as she had been in her mum’s. Her mum would never look at her again like she was proud of her. She’d never see her come home with shoulders slumped after a hard day, and suggest they watch Gilmore Girls together.

There was another reason why she didn’t turn from the mirror. As soon as she turned, she’d have to go on to the next part of the day. Leaving her bedroom.

It wasn’t leaving the bedroom that was the problem, but that it indicated the beginning of a series of events that Angela would have done anything to avoid.

Angela wished, again, and with all of her heart that they could go back to last year and all this could be a dream.

She didn’t have an answer for Mira. Was she ready to go? How was she ever supposed to be ready for this?

Instead of answering, Angela moved to put down the brush she’d been holding. She’d been meaning to brush her hair when she got caught in front of the mirror. Smoothing her hair through with her hands seemed to do just as well today.

In the end, she only offered Aunt Mira a vague smile and walked out of the bedroom ahead of her. She didn’t think she’d be able to do it. She didn’t think her legs would be able to keep from collapsing under the weight of expectation. She didn’t think her face would be able to maintain this bland, nothing expression. She thought the cracks would start to appear, and she’d have to dash back into her bedroom, or the bathroom, to hide from this entire day.

By some miracle, none of those things happened. Angela stood alone in the living room until Aunt Mira entered behind her.

“Your father’s already gone to the funeral home. He said to tell you he’ll meet us there,” she said, still quiet.

Angela nodded numbly. Had her dad told her that? She couldn’t remember. She’d been forgetting a lot of things lately.

“Angela.”

Angela started as Mira’s hand touched her arm. She didn’t want to be touched. She hadn’t expected to be touched. Why was Aunt Mira touching her? It made Angela feel restless, like she needed to rub the patch of skin that was in contact with her aunt. But that would be rude. She couldn’t be rude. Not to Aunt Mira, who was burying her sister today too.

Mira seemed to realise that the physical contact was both unneeded and unwanted and pulled her hand back as soon as she had Angela’s attention.

“Today is going to be a difficult day for you,” she said, her voice very soft, very gentle.

Angela still couldn’t think of anything to say.

Aunt Mira waited a moment, then when Angela said nothing, she continued. “The most important thing is that you look after yourself.”

That wasn’t the first time someone had told her that. In fact, Angela was sick of hearing it. She didn’t want to look after herself. She’d spent so many long months looking after her mum. By the end of her mum’s illness, Angela had known everything there was to know about the cancer that had killed her. Now it was wasted knowledge. She didn’t want any of it anymore.

They lived in a small apartment above one of the shops on the Thornbury end of High Street. Entry was from a small alleyway in the back, up some stairs that sounded hollow underneath. In late August, the sky outside was blue, stubbornly so, heralding the coming of spring. Angela didn’t have a pair of sunglasses handy so she squinted into the light before she tilted her head down towards the pavement.

Then she followed Mira to where her aunt’s car was parked. Silently, Angela buckled herself into the front seat. Mira drove a Ute—not dissimilar to an American truck—so there was only a front and passenger seat.

Aunt Mira looked her way, making sure she was buckled in before easing out of the curb and onto the main road. After a few kilometres, she turned off the road and onto one that hadn’t been paved as recently.

Angela stared steadily out the window, avoiding Mira’s attempts at conversation until Mira turned on the radio and changed it a couple of times until she got to an instrumental station. Outside, Angela caught sight of a possum as it deftly scampered out of the way of their oncoming car and up onto a telephone pole, stopping briefly to stare balefully back at them before clambering up the rest of the way up.

It was still too early when they arrived. They were the first ones there. Obviously her dad was somewhere inside, but apart from their two vehicles, there was no one else in the car park.

And then at some point people started arriving, and that was worse. Angela felt at a complete loss over what to do. People kept coming up to her, expressing condolences and expecting answers that Angela didn’t know how to give.

After a while, Angela stopped questioning the lump in the back of her throat that made it impossible for her to speak. She found other ways of communicating, touching peoples’ hands lightly, nodding or inclining her head in response to things people said.

She overheard Aunt Mira speaking about her to one of her other aunts at some point. “It’s like she’s on some kind of drug to get through the day. I’ll speak to Chris about it.”

Angela shook her head and turned away. There was no one here she wanted to speak to. She just wanted to be away where she could pretend none of this was happening.

The day passed in a blur: funeral, service, wake, all. She and her dad didn’t talk for the entirety of the service. Even afterwards, he seemed to respect her silence, possibly thankful to sink into his own after the effort of the day. On the way home, neither one of them even so much as remembered to turn on the car radio. Angela couldn’t remember a single thing she saw out the windows on the way back.

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