A young girl looks down on a casket that holds the body of her mother, a mother whose face was always turned away.

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Casket Watch

Bob Gillen

Amy knew her mother from the back. Now, standing over the open casket that held her mother’s body, the thirteen-year-old stared hard at her mom’s face. She cast a glance around the empty viewing room, then pulled her phone camera out. She aimed it at her mother’s face, snapped several shots, slipped the phone back in her pocket.

Her mom had been an artist, a prolific painter. She stood at her easel in her home studio morning, noon and night. Her back was always to the room. 

Her mom broke for meals, but even then she had her back to the kitchen while she cooked. She often took her meals back to the studio.

Amy stifled a sob, gulped in the cloying aroma of funeral flowers. Jasmine, lilies. From outside the viewing room she heard the muffled voices of her father and the funeral director.

It was her dad who read to her at bedtime. Her dad drove her to school and to her sports activities. 

With her mom gone, Amy had no idea what her dad would do with all the artwork. There were canvases everywhere. Their garage overflowed with frames, stretched and rolled up canvases, painting supplies. But the artwork meant little to Amy. She’d be happy never to see it again. Too much of a reminder. Her mom was gone. Gone suddenly. Falling to the floor face down of a heart attack. Face down. Even in her dying she kept her back to the room.

Amy studied the pictures she had just taken with her phone. Her mom looked dreadful. Of course. She’s dead. She deleted the photos. If she couldn’t rely on her memories for an image of her mom’s face, she told herself, she would go without. 

Amy continued to stand over the casket. Tears washed down her face. Mom, you always turned your face away from me. Now I have no chance to know you. To take in your face. Your smiles. Your frowns. Your far-away gaze. She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand.

She studied her mom’s gray face. What color are your eyes? I’m not sure I ever noticed. They look brown right now. Do they change in death?

Amy’s dad entered the viewing room. “You okay, kiddo?”

Amy shook her head. “Why did she never look at us? At me?”

She pointed to the casket. “This is all I have to remember her face.”

Her dad handed her a tissue. He put his arm around her shoulder. “She loved you…. Her painting overwhelmed her life.”

“But it’s too late now. She’s gone.”

Her dad took Amy’s face in his hands. “Yes, she’s gone. But look at me. Look at my face.”

Amy stared at her dad.

“You’ve got me. You’ve got my homely face.”

Amy laughed in spite of herself. “It’s not homely.”

“Your opinion,” he said. 

Amy hugged her dad. “Don’t stop looking at me, okay?”