Bruise Control

Everything had to be controlled. Right down to the very last minutiae. It was what people had come to expect from her. How they had learned to compartmentalize her behavior as just another part of “who she was.” But really, the only part that anyone could seem to notice. Evelyn had always been what some would refer to as a “Type A” personality. While those who were less euphemistic (mainly anybody who ever had the displeasure of working for her) tended to call her a castrating bitch when she wasn’t within earshot. Castrating of all genders, mind you. It was, again, just “who she was.” She was also the sort of person you couldn’t be surprised would plan her own funeral ahead of time. Yet the only person who didn’t appear to be surprised by this fact was Dakota, her only daughter among three other sons. The only child, in fact, who managed to stick around in the same city as Evelyn. 

Her brothers, Frank, Dylan and Sam, all in their mid- to late forties by now, had long ago absconded, finding her overbearing nature so insufferable that they often joked it was a wonder that one of them didn’t end up turning out to be gay. Dakota herself had chosen to remain a rather staunch sologamist. That is, when she wasn’t jumping onto the nearest dick for a night of temporary relief. She liked the ephemerality, the keeping at bay of all true sense of emotion. It was how she functioned best. Her therapist posited that such behavior was learned from Dakota’s own mother, to which Dakota countered, “I don’t think so—I do everything in my power to be the exact opposite of that puta.” 

Dr. Randall gently nudged, “If you really believe that’s the case, then why would you keep staying here in San Francisco. Wouldn’t you want to do like your brothers did and flee?” 

Dakota glared at her. “Dr. Randall, you’re reaching. I happen to like San Francisco. It’s a rich and vibrant city. It’s not my fault that, unlike my basic douchebag brothers, I can’t function in townie places on the East Coast.” 

“But don’t you find it odd that you’re the only sibling who didn’t run as far away as they could from your mother? Despite being, according to you, the most opposed to her personality?”

“No,” Dakota said flatly. “I don’t. Like I said, it’s gonna take more than my mother to get me to leave San Francisco. Maybe if another major earthquake à la 1906 killed me, sure. Then I’d ‘leave.’ Otherwise, I’m perfectly happy here.” 

Dr. Randall furrowed her brow and made a notation on her legal pad. “What about your recent complaints of Evelyn taking you casket shopping? Insisting that you sign a legal agreement that infers you’ll be prosecuted by her lawyer if it’s discovered that you’ve violated any of her wishes?”

Dakota laughed outright, realizing the extent of her mother’s absurdity when it was laid bare like that by an objective party. But instead of freely admitting that her mother was making her life miserable as she should have—as was the entire reason why she was paying thousands and thousands of dollars on therapy—she instead balked, “You really think she’s gonna enforce that shit? No. It’s all talk designed to scare us into obeying her precious wishes.”

“Who is ‘us’ to you?”

“My father and my brothers,” Dakota replied without missing a beat.

Dr. Randall made another note on her abrasively yellow legal pad before reminding, “From what you’ve indicated to me, none of the family members have been involved whatsoever in your mother’s life for the past several years. Your father essentially left her to go sailing around the world ‘indefinitely’ and your brothers never so much as send a Christmas card. What makes you think there’s an ‘us’ in dealing with your mother?”

Here, Dakota had to take pause to gather her own best defense for the case Dr. Randall was making. And that would take even more denial than it usually did to come up with a retort. “Maybe I spoke too harshly about them before. Just because I’m the only one here physically doesn’t mean they’re not still supporting me emotionally.” 

At this, Dr. Randall slapped her pen down and finally said bluntly, “Okay Dakota, I think our time is up. Maybe you want to schedule a time to come back when you can cut the shit.” 

Oh, Dr. Randall. So abrupt, so harsh. That’s probably what Dakota liked about her. She was a lot like her mother. 

***

At the coffin shop, Evelyn demanded that Dakota take pictures of her lying prostrate in each of the ones she most “saw herself being dead in.” When Dakota tried to lend some levity to the macabre situation, Evelyn completely chewed her head off. “Stop trying to make me like you. I just wanna be me,” she said when Dakota offered to simply turn her series of photos into a gif. As though it was the most outrageous suggestion she could have made, of all the outrageous things happening that day. Maybe it was… to this particular baby boomer. Who seemed to think that a harmless gif made her “like Dakota.” She could really be such an unnecessarily large cunt for no other reason than the sick pleasure it gave her to be one. 

The funniest thing about all of this was that Evelyn was never going to die. Dakota would probably croak before she did. Evelyn was in her early seventies and fitter than most twenty-year-olds. She never drank alcohol, did yoga every day and owned a slew of pets that Dakota was sure greatly enriched her life because she could order them all around without being talked back to. They had been so conditioned by Evelyn that they weren’t even like normal domesticated animals anymore. They didn’t want to be around outsiders, and if they were forced to be, one could count herself lucky if she didn’t end up getting a hand bitten off by the end of a visit. Her Doberman Pinscher was obviously the most terrifying. 

But, for whatever reason, it never stopped Dakota from continuing to try with her mother. To go over to the animal-plagued house at least once a week to see how she was feeling, what she was doing. What she was feeling was rage (channeled into her hyper-controlling, obsessive compulsive nature), and what she was doing was planning her funeral. During these conversations, Evelyn would loosely admit that she knew she didn’t have a lot of friends. That there weren’t very many people who actually liked her. “And that’s fine,” she averred. “But so long as you present this funeral as I want it, the ‘well-wishers’ will show up in droves. Won’t be able to turn away from its lavishness.” It was at this point that Evelyn showed her another sample of interior coffin lining. “I think satin is a bit tacky, but it’s just such a classic. It’s what’s done… when you’re a woman of my stature.” Dakota made no reply. 

Leaving the palatial “Painted Lady” on Postcard Row that Evelyn lived in, she looked back at it and saw her mother’s silhouette in the window—its curves and contours somehow being as severe and uncompromising as Evelyn herself. And Dakota knew, in that moment, that Evelyn probably wouldn’t even bequeath this unheard-of (in terms of never being available “on the market”) property to her daughter. She would likely donate it to some historical society that she could better “trust” to maintain the upkeep “to her specifications.” The thought of this made her loathe Evelyn anew, which, in turn, made her feel all the worse for having such contemptuous emotions toward the person who created her. And yet, isn’t that precisely why she ought to despise Evelyn? For bringing her into this monstrous realm? 

As the weeks continued to pass, with the funeral planning going on at a breakneck pace, Evelyn grew increasingly meticulous about wanting to be in control of what the “experience” would be. So much so that she actually got it in her head that she wanted to be carried around in the top ten coffins of her choosing… to see how “comfortable” it truly was. Then she could finally “rest” with regard to this endless devising (she claimed; but knowing Evelyn as Dakota did, she knew her matriarch would be incapable of ceasing until Death came a-knockin’). When Dakota told this latest tidbit to Dr. Randall, she added that it gave new meaning to the term “controlling.” That it wasn’t cruise control, but bruise control—Evelyn essentially wanting to know how secure her body would be, how “intact” and “unsullied” it would remain when being “jostled” in a coffin. As though, even in death, she might pop back up to life to tell her pallbearers they were doing it wrong. And no, Dakota would not put such a supernatural phenomenon past Evelyn if she was vexed enough from beyond the grave. 

Knowing all of this, and that it would be impossible to talk her out of the “immersive” experiment, Dakota determined this was the moment to take action. The men assigned to carry the caskets were easy enough to pay off, and they were sure to wait until the fifth or sixth “lifting” to drop the coffin in question so that it would look like a pure and true accident. Obviously, the coffin that would end up breaking would not be the one Evelyn was buried in, but rather, the pale pink one that preceded it. Lined with the dark pink satin she chose despite it being admittedly cheesy. And yes, there were bruises all over the body. Something Evelyn could not, in the end, control. Nor the fact that no matter how much effort she put into the planning, the only person who showed up to the service was Dakota. And yes, she had predicted correctly. The Painted Lady was not left to her—or anyone in the family—but to a San Francisco historical society. That was truly the clincher that assured her she had made the correct decision to “accelerate” Evelyn’s funeral proceedings…regardless of her best attempts to exercise control over it all. 

Walking out of the church and brushing a tear aside for the sake of her performance, Dakota realized that no one has less power over their destiny than themselves. We’re all, ultimately, at the mercy of other people’s vindictive whims. She then looked above her head, half-expecting an anvil to fall from the sky, courtesy of Evelyn. But no such fate arrived. So maybe it was true. When you’re dead, you’re dead. No matter how obsessive compulsive you are in life.  

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