About the Author
Date of Birth:August 1, 1953
Place of Birth:Houston, Texas
Read an Excerpt
I don't want to give the impression that my sister, Barbara, is a liar. I will admit that I have long thought that her flair for melodrama has been wasted on her usual audience, a family that has more often called for the hook than begged for an encore. I am the last remaining member of her immediate audience, and time has not deepened my appreciation of her skills.
The most recent performance began late one Friday afternoon at my front door; I was summoned to this makeshift theater by the repeated ringing of the doorbell. Even the overture provided by my barking dogs and yowling cat was unequal to the script she had prepared.
"Irene!" she cried, throwing herself into my arms. "There's a stranger in my grave! "
I disentangled myself and asked a question I've often asked her. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Someone else has been buried in my grave!
I looked her over. "From the eyebrows down, you appear to be alive. Customarily- "
"Well, of course I'm not dead yet. I mean, someone is already in the grave I'll be buried in when I die," she said.
"I don't know. That's why I came to you for help." She peered over my shoulder. "Why aren't you letting me in? Is the house dirty?"
"No, it's not," I said, then thought of the time I had found her carefully washing out all of the covers on the light fixtures in her home-Barbara would not wait for a burned-out bulb to necessitate the chore. "The house isn't dirty by the standards of human beings with real lives," I amended.
"Frank is too lenient with you about keeping the place neat," she said, pushing past me.
I issued aninvitation to come in as she made her way to the living room. I put the cat in the bedroom and the dogs outside, as much for their benefit as hers. I offered her something to drink, but she politely declined as she took a seat in our grandfather's armchair She often sits in that chair when she visits me. Barbara has always been annoyed that our father passed that family heirloom on to me instead of her. She ran her fingers over the upholstery and frowned. I know that kind of frown. On Barbara, it's the equivalent of a labor pain before the birth of a critical remark.
"You came here to ask for my help?" I said.
The frown became a smile. "You're a reporter-here's something you can investigate. I think this would make a great story--"
"Uh, Barbara, I don't think the Express is going to be all that interested in-"
"Of course it will! You don't want the LA Times to get this story first do you? It's exactly like that case that was inthe headlines awhile back. Cemetery fraud. Illegal burial.Selling the same burial plot to two different people. "
I sighed. "I'm sure it's nothing more than a simple mistake. If you're certain the plot is yours, just go into the cemetery office and show them your receipt."
"Receipt? I don't have a receipt.
"You lost it?"
"No. No one sold it to me, but it's where I'm supposed to be buried.You know that."
I felt the beginnings of a headache. "What cemetery are we talking about, Barbara?"
"Where Mom and Dad are buried."
"Yes. I'm supposed to be buried next to Mama."
"Supposed to be buried next to Mom? Let me guess who's doing the supposing."
"Of course I am! I knew her longer than you did, Irene.'
"Okay, okay. I've always wanted to be buried there, but even having you buried there would be better than some stranger lying next to Mama for all eternity."
"Barbara, I don't own that plot and neither do you. The cemetery can bury whomever they want to in that space. It's not up to us."
"You never have cared about their graves!"
"Oh, for pitysakes--"
"You haven't. I'm the only one who visits them."
I stood up and walked over to the sliding glass door that leads to our backyard, looked out at my husband's carefully tended garden, felt myself relax a little. Trying to stay calm, I said, "For you, it's important to go to the cemetery. I respect that. But for me, it's ... not where Mom and Dad are.'
"You think someone else is buried in their graves?" she asked in alarm.
I turned to look at her. "No. I mean, the cemetery is only where their remains are--that's all that's there, what's left of their bodies.Not who they were or who they still are in my memories of them.'
She shook her head. "Honestly, Irene.As if you can only have it one way or the other. Besides, if you did care about their memories, you'd honor them on important dates."
I felt my spine stiffen. "I know that Tuesday was the anniversary of her death, Barbara. If you think I've forgotten the day she died, you are seriously full of shit."
"But you didn't bring any flowers to the cemetery, or you would have noticed that no one was in my--in the grave next to hers on Tuesday. And if you had returned on the anniversary of her funeral--"
"You think it's healthy to be that obsessed with death and funeral dates?"
"If you had returned today," she went on forcefully, "you would have noticed that between Tuesday and today, someone was buried next to our mother without our permission!"
"Maybe that person's family--whose grief must certainly be fresher than yours-has every right to bury someone there without our permission.'
She folded her hands in her lap and looked down at them.
"Not the praying bit, please, Barbara."
At least she didn't say them aloud. After a moment, she looked...