An early blizzard iced the curve where Iris crashed her car.
It froze the earth so deeply we couldn’t give her a proper burial. The gravediggers laid a dark, green tarp where her final resting place would be come spring.
Iris hadn’t been religious, but her mother insisted on a Catholic send-off. My protests went unheeded. The undertaker told me that lovers didn’t qualify as next of kin.
The priest looked like a gangster in his grey tweed fedora. After opening his Bible, he rambled about “our sister Iris,” never once looking at the text in front of him. Friends shuffled their feet. Perhaps they were attempting to keep warm, but I read disapproval in their shuffling. For a brief moment, I thought Iris was the lucky one. She’d have laughed at that.
At the end of the graveside service, the undertaker retrieved the deep purple blooms I’d chosen. He’d said white roses were traditional for a life cut short, but I’d insisted on her floral namesake. On this one item, her mother and I agreed.
Each mourner laid a flower on the coffin as they left. I stayed until I was alone with the gravediggers, insisting on watching them carry her to the cemetery vault. I needed to know where she would be until she was finally buried.
I first heard her on Thanksgiving.
The makings of a turkey sandwich were scattered across the counter. I had no gratitude, and I’d declined all invitations. I didn’t want to be a tragic trophy at someone’s holiday table.
Initially, I thought I was hearing the radio in the next apartment. The gentleman who lived there had a penchant for AM talk shows. But then I realized the voice was guiding the preparation of my dinner, the way Iris spoke aloud to coach herself through a complex recipe.
Trembling, I set the knife on the counter and turned towards the breakfast nook. I can’t say I truly expected to find her there, and my disappointment at her absence was only matched by my sorrow at the ceasing of her monologue.
“Iris?” I called when my breath returned.
Our ancient refrigerator rumbled the only response.
I resumed my preparations, but that dear voice did not come back to narrate my chore. I couldn’t blame my tears on just the onion I was slicing. I knew I’d heard her. So strong was my conviction, I abandoned the cutting board and drove to the cemetery, only to find it closed.
I slept in my car rather than return the next morning. When the grounds opened, the workers who greeted me found my request odd, but the caretaker was sympathetic and ordered Iris be pulled from the vault.
The coffin had the sort of lid where just one half could be lifted. The caretaker raised it only enough to assure me Iris was still dead.
Perhaps he’d have been less solicitous if he’d known this wouldn’t be my final visit.
She’d always screeched like a boy whose voice was changing, so the mutilated harmonies I now heard couldn’t be blamed on rigor mortis. I used to criticize the way she sang while showering, but hearing these off-key renditions post mortem was an unexpected balm.
She serenaded me with her repertoire of Christmas carols, and while I loathed such merry melodies, I hummed along. If I hovered outside the bathroom and tilted my head just so, her songs came through more clearly. I stayed that way for hours, stretching like the antenna on my grandmother’s transistor radio, the one she ordered me to hold right there and whose tip she wrapped in foil to extend its range.
On Christmas Eve, I bought a tree. I laid out the presents purchased so many weeks ago. For once, I’d not left anything to the eleventh hour.
The ring was hidden in her Cracker Jack, and I nestled that sweet treat at eye level among the pine boughs. You had to look hard to see where I’d opened the box with an X-acto knife. She would never have seen the proposal coming.
I hung the ornament she’d given me the year before, a bell shaped like Santa, with male anatomy for the ringer. It jingled as I hooked it on a branch, and that ringing echoed around the room, calling attention to how silent it had been.
Who called the ambulance? I’ll never know. The last thing I remembered was driving straight towards the wreath on the iron gate of the cemetery.
The siren was a sustained blare. It did not ramp up inside the ambulance; there was no fade in, fade out like when one flew past me on the street.
I could not count the nurses, or stethoscopes or bags of blood. When the crisis passed, I was moved to a bed with a pillow so thin my head sank to the mattress below.
The room was quiet after the chaos of the ER, but quiet was not what I wanted. I ran my nails over the bones of my face, caressing them the way Iris used to. I fingered my earlobes and stroked my eyebrows, but I could not find a way to tune her in.
Georgene Smith Goodin’s work has appeared in Alligator Juniper, After the Pause and Every Day Fiction. She has won the Mash Stories flash fiction competition and regularly competes in The Moth StorySLAMS. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the cartoonist Robert Goodin, and their two dogs, Toaster and Idget. Follow her on Twitter at, @gsmithgoodin.