Content Warning for: brief homophobic language.
Even after discovering no less than two corpses on her own, Annette couldn’t bring herself to clean up what remained of Bill from their bedroom. She couldn’t face her shames again.
It seemed like the obvious thing that was bothering Annette. She failed at saving a friend or family member from suicide…again. The worst running theme in her life continued to run. And that time, it was for her own husband. Her grief over it seemed clear when she had to get outside help for taking his body away. Annette even followed the law and contacted the coroner to take care of it. Other times, she just paid off doctors to sign death certificates.
She did the usual mourners’ stuff. Annette dressed in a long black dress and coat for his funeral, and spent ages after it curled up near his tombstone. Franco was the second-to-last person to leave, and he left Annette there. She wasn’t quite crying, but had her knees pulled up to her chest. A forlorn face. And it took her until well after nightfall to get back home.
No one expected Annette to do much for a while. Even though Amy and Sinbad had just gotten back from their honeymoon when it happened, they wanted to take a lot of the burden off Annette. Cooking? Sinbad was competent at it, or they could just get carry-out if it came down to that. Child care? Franco already liked both of the little ones in the house. Cleaning? Everyone liked that, at least a little bit.
But Annette kept up with the household doings just fine. Meals were cooked and nappies were changed without anyone else having to step in. At least a decent amount of the time.
No one could look at Annette and say that she was happy, though.
Her bedroom was still dirty with old blood and grey matter, and it would take a specialized cleaner to get those out of the wallpaper. Not to mention that her comforter and bedsheets needed replacing. The whole place was unfit to sleep in on all levels. It made Annette uncomfortable to even open the door. So she slept downstairs, usually slumped over one of the sofas. It reflected a lot of her life after Bill’s death. Solemn, humble in a sad way, and lonely. Lonely, even with Sagebear curled up next to her (bless her doggie heart).
In fact, that attitude persisted over everything. She still played with Samira. She sometimes asked for daddy and pouted when that didn’t happen, but still carried on with blissful obliviousness. Although the tot loved her peg box, Annette paid little attention to it. If either Amy or Sinbad was in the room, she focused on them. Her longing stares at situations like Sinbad playing video games with Julian on his lap seemed to go unnoticed.
It then hit her, when she peeked in at the couple making out in their bed with the same sort of longing. They had the one thing she wanted the most, which was another person.
Why, it permeated her whole life. Even going to the gym couldn’t help her shake the feelings of loneliness. Annette started to cut her treadmill runs short, preferring to sit on the belt and cry to herself. Not like she ever could make Bill a gym partner anyways, but she used to be able to return home from a workout to him.
And she would do anything for a solution. She would even go against her own understanding of the universe.
She knew of the bereavement group at St. John’s in Pearlbrook. It was based in some new-fangled Catholic teachings. Shark once tried out a meeting some months after Harwood’s passing. He was kicked out for being, in the reverend’s words, “a mopey queer.” Which was true, but Annette would never say that to his face. However, St. John’s had a new pastor, who might have had a more open attitude. Whether towards the gays, or for a weird hybrid like Annette.
Pearlbrook was still 45 minutes away. So Annette took Samira with her, lest Franco be the babysitter again. It was a boon when Bill was still alive but needing assistance. After that, it just felt cruel to keep pushing the job to a teenager. Plus, the reverend told her that another woman in the bereavement group had kids that she brought to meetings. A two year-old Samira would be welcome too.
Samira was not a concern at all that night. One of those three other kids took well to her, playing peek-a-boo with the little purple baby. They kept themselves confined to the space of a floral rug, in back of the semi-circle of plastic chairs and mourners.
Annette took her seat next to two older members, and hoped that she was dreaming about those nasty stares in her direction. She might have disproved at least some of Christianity’s core beliefs just by existing, but she couldn’t help that. And in that group, she was just another widow. Her only big difference between her and the rest of the group was being considerably younger. 50 compared to 60, or thereabouts.
The reverend gave her a warm and wide smile, though. He introduced himself as Reverend Bernard. The man looked friendly and humble in his simple black polo shirt and big, round glasses.
“Since we have a newcomer here, I’ll just remind you all of what our group is,” Bernard said, giving a nod to Annette. “We are a multi-faith church and a multi-faith group who welcome everyone. Black or white, Christian or heathen, gay or straight…I guess human or demon now.”
Annette briefly grinned. She was glad that the place had changed so much.
He turned towards Annette, with a tender look. “If you wouldn’t mind introducing yourself.”
“Annette Racket, from Twinbrook.” She clutched herself around the middle, as she recounted her own tragedy. “I lost my husband three weeks ago…I almost wish I could say it was an illness, but he shot himself. In our bedroom. Right…right in front of me.”
“It is brave of you to share that with us, Annette. ” said Bernard. “Now if all of you can just share your names.”
Annette listened. Cindy, to her right. On her left: Bryan, Luanne, Merlin, and Julienne.
She didn’t mishear it after all, or run into another Julienne. Annette hadn’t seen Julienne up close in a while, and she aged bad in the two years since their last real interaction. Much of her cinnamon-brown hair had turned white, and her strong, square face had started to sag a bit. The three other kids playing in back of them must have been her triplets, and Annette should have guessed that anyways. They all had their mum’s big eyes, and their dad’s brown skin and kinky hair.
Julienne didn’t seem to have much anger for Annette at first. In fact, she seemed just as weary as Annette did, looking at the floor with distant eyes. Annette hadn’t been keeping tabs on the news, but Julienne had plenty of people to lose. Her aging old husband, who was around Bill’s age, if she remembered correctly. Her aging old mum, who was older than Bill and last seen hobbling around town with the help of a cane.
It might have explained why Annette wasn’t kicked out of the diner in recent months. One day she heard that her ban was lifted, and she ordered many a bell pepper omelette for herself. But who would lift the ban, but anyone who wasn’t under the direct supervision of Julienne?
It’s not like shared grieving gave Annette much sympathy for her old nemesis. She knew that the bereaving could still be shitheads. Shark’s destructive behavior in the name of grief was not going to be justified by Annette, after all. If she thought that about her beloved nephew, Julienne deserved less forgiveness.
“Introductions aside, our scripture for tonight is Psalm 84,” said Bernard. He spoke from the lectern that time. It was one of those multi-faith gatherings. Everyone was welcome…to be converted to the sect of choice.
Annette slumped over in her chair and tuned out. Everyone else had their eyes and ears devoted to the priest, but she couldn’t listen to him with much seriousness. There was a bigger world out there than any Earth-centered religion covered. There was more to the mortal world than one small planet, and more beyond than a big man in the sky and his one enemy below.
But all Bernard cared about were those limited places.
“Passing through the valley of tears, they make it a spring. This is one of the most profound biblical verses in regards to the bereavement process,” he said. “This whole mortal world is a valley of tears, but it is the hope of meeting our loved ones again in our Heavenly home that provides us comfort in life.”
She didn’t expect the pastor to know much about her, but meeting anyone in a Heavenly home? Not only was Annette a sinner of a high degree, but she had to die to get anywhere in God or Satan’s clutches. And that couldn’t happen.
“Excuse me, reverend. But how is that a decent way of thinking about it?”
“Ms. Racket, it’s pretty basic faith-”
She got up from her seat for added effect. “I don’t care about faith! What about the possibility of never reaching that home? Most of us won’t. I certainly can’t. And who knows where my husband went? Your church says that suicide is a sin!”
“I…this is not the stuff to bring up in our group.” Reverend Bernard said it through clenched teeth. “I have office hours for that.”
Julienne watched the spectacle, while slouching in her chair. Maybe she was still tired and disgusted by Annette’s brash antics, even if none of that in front of her could affect her. But her disgust didn’t go unnoticed by Annette.
Annette approached Julienne’s seat and leaned in close to her, pointing an angry finger in her face. “And you…is this all a joke to you? Maybe ‘cause your ex is dead.”
“You’re making a fool of yourself, that’s all,” said Julienne. “I don’t give a damn about him anymore.”
“Ladies, this isn’t the place for your feuds,” said the reverend. His arms were crossed while he scowled at them. “The light of Christ isn’t a place for feuds at all!”
“This bitchy tweaker started it!” Annette blurted it out. Bill did tell her about how he met Julienne in 12-step recovery. He was hooked on opioids, and she abused amphetamines.
Julienne lost her calm with that. “Reverend, can you just ban her?”
“I can’t ban anyone from hearing the word of God,” Bernard said. “But I would ask you to leave this session, Ms. Racket. Now apologize to Ms. Knack about what you said.”
Annette instead grabbed her coat and scooped up Samira from the floor, leaving without a word. Everyone must have hated her, but Samira was beaming at her mother.
After getting Samira into her jacket, Annette exited the building with her. With her baby balanced on her hip, she stood under the porchlight for a bit.
“See baby, you need to learn how to tear others a new one when they act like that,” she said to Samira. “Do you understand, you little gumdrop?” She just giggled a bit.
It was soon after that meeting that Annette retired to her basement. The word of God didn’t help her one bit, so what was left? Wallowing in the loneliness she despised and suffered in. She could set up a sleeping bag down in the storage room, or perhaps get some reading done. The latter overshadowed that night. As much as you could interpret it as reading. She was obsessed with a few photos instead.
Annette was not a big reader at that time, but she could find herself engrossed by Harwood’s diaries for hours on end. Even when he disgusted her, she just appreciated his journey to becoming the man she knew even more.
If there was one thing that she shouldn’t have taken as an example by him, it was his approach to the tricky setup of polyamory. He lived for a while; of course he tried it once. There were quite a few pictures of him and his two simultaneous partners. Emma, with her ballerina’s frame and choppy hair. Troy, with his tattooed arms and glowing pale skin. Harwood: short, brown-skinned, and looking like the very last man who could attract even one partner.
The pictures provided were quite chaste; fun times on the beaches of Delmarva. Or maybe Harwood and Emma standing on their toes to give the tall Troy a kiss on each cheek. Of course, it fell apart for them as time went on, in horrible ways. A toxic cloud of emotional callousness and occasional violence from all three of them. But the good, innocent times and the naughty ones that happened in private (and in Harwood’s bad writing) gave Annette a bad bout of inspiration.
It was one way to not feel alone.
And there was a couple in her household.
But Annette saw no hope in such an idea, once she gave it a modicum of thought. Like she could convince Sinbad to be anything like his dad. She’d have trouble convincing him to do pottery classes, let alone rearrange his relationship just to make Annette feel better. Not to mention that the only example she could bring up was the one written in front of her. How could she convince any adults “let’s bang and then destroy each other, like these guys!”
She just hoped for something that wasn’t bad. Because threeways and loneliness were both very much that.
A/N: I could go on and on about the Production Hell this chapter was. Largely because of a segment that was excised completely. I spent a large amount of time shooting some scenes with Franco as he went through the process of mourning his father. It was supposed to touch on the teenage way of dealing with these things, but a lot of it turned out to be…boring and redundant.
Oh well. Maybe I’ll post it as a bonus one day (I actually have a couple of “deleted scenes” lying around now).
Why don’t we talk about Catholicism?
I was raised Catholic, and am now a sinning atheist lesbian. But I considered myself Catholic for nearly 14 years. And my mum is still very, very devout. To the point where her faith is probably her sole character trait. Or at least the first thing you learn about her.
Her background in Catholicism is hard to pin down. Her entire family is Catholic to some degree, but I don’t know where she gets a lot of her beliefs from. So don’t analyze this chapter hoping for a nuanced look at a cohesive culture of Catholicism and how they handle bereavement. This is all her stuff. And I don’t mean any of what I say in a bad way.
I read a lot of interpretations of Psalms 84:6 in preparation for this chapter (most commonly, it’s about how faith in God is comfort in this difficult life), but in the end, I went with how mum interprets it. Earth is a Valley of Tears, and Heaven is our real home. And the sadness of living is worth the reward of our eternal home (except for my gay ass; I’m SOL because I won’t take a life of celibacy or whatever they’re trying to meet us halfway with). She says it any friend who lost someone, or who is generally going through difficult times. I swear I hear it at least once a day.
The other detail is how a lot of the details I tried to put into this church are largely drawn from Catholicism, but not quite. Like a bare cross as opposed to a crucifix on the wall, the use of “reverend” for the pastor, as opposed to “father”, and Reverend Bernard’s outfit not having the Catholic priests’ collar (the stiff white ring underneath the shirt collar sort of thing). Some of this was in-game limitations (I didn’t have a crucifix, I didn’t have a proper priest’s outfit, etc.), but I can try and justify it.
The opinions on this may vary among Catholics, but the Church itself has the end-goal of reunifying all scattered Christian sects under The Vatican. Because Eight Cicadas takes place in the near-ish future (2048CE here, I suppose), the possibility of seeing some measure of unification…it can happen, right? Maybe some parishes were going through an awkward phase of reconciling Protestant and Catholic ideas and customs. Like a gangly teenager of a religion.
And priests sometimes go without the collar. My mum gets a catalog of various Catholic “supplies”, and they have a section devoted to priest-gear. From holy vestments to everyday shirts. They sell regular old polos, in a variety of fun colors! (Though if you ask my mum, she’s still miffed that priests wear regular pants now instead of the full cassock of old. We got involved in a traditional sect back in the day. It was weird)
(But really: it’s because all the content I had for this turned out be generic Christian)