The Irrelevant Bug, Chapter 15
Sitting on the step outside his mother's backdoor, House smokes one of the cigarettes he'd made the limo stop for on the way back. He had made it through the day, he had been polite, he had said the right words, done the right things. His mother would have been proud.
As he and Wilson had walked out of the funeral home, he had taken one last look at his mother's casket. He couldn't help but think of how much she would have decomposed by now; if she had been left to nature rather than forced through some death ritual of modern society. By trade, he could figure out just how bad she would smell and where the blood would have pooled and congealed. It gave, and gives, him a strange sort of comfort, something tangible with which to define this whole thing, whatever it is.
The decision to have her cremated is the only thing he could have done. She would have wanted it, and he doesn't want to let her down in death as he had in life by not visiting her grave. The weird and wonderful stories he's heard about cremation spring to mind and try as he might to bat them away, he can't help but dwell on burning times and ash remnants. Thoughts of his mother burning in the raging flames, though technically flawed, consume him and he can think of nothing else.
Waiting for his mother's dusty remains is the last thing he needs to do on this trip. When the urn arrives, he will be free to head back home, free to exist as the last House. A small part of him wants to stay, hide from the reality awaiting his return. There's been a focus down here, a new task to complete each day. Like working on a case, it's the kind of distraction he needs if he wants to pretend to be any kind of normal.
He breathes out a lungful of smoke, curling it around his mouth, making it billow and stream into the cold night air. He sucks in hard and the tip glows fiercely red like a friendly beacon in the darkness.
The back door squeaks open and House turns to see his aunt coming over along with his mother's friend, whose name he can't remember for the life of him.
'Hey there Greg, honey.'
House turns back and lets out another slow, languishing plume of thick, smoke, 'Hey.' All this sympathy has his Nietzscian persuasions running for the hills.
"God, it's freezing…" his aunt begins. "So, I thought your eulogy was lovely."
"There were a lot of people there today huh? A lot of people to whom your mother was very special." Mary added placing votives with tea lights around the floor below them.
"Yeah, I guess."
"I was glad to see so many members of the family there. It brings such comfort don't you think?"
House is briefly bemused by this tag team guerilla counseling session before he sinks back into the comfortable swell of his grief and draws once more on the cigarette. "Empty words don't mean anything to me. Just because they sound pretty doesn't mean they carry any meaning. They're irrelevant, pointless. Just what people think are the right things to say in a void of not knowing what to do."
There's a silence and House watches the tiny candles twinkle, casting weak light out into the dark of the night before anyone dares to speak again.
"Greg, I know you haven't seen your mother in a long while, but I just wanted you to know how happy she was. She had really moved into her new life very well. I think all her friends there today were very glad to have known her; I know I am." He wouldn't have thought his aunt had it in her to begin this conversation. She'd always kept quiet, let her husband do the talking; much like his mother.
In the lull of a loaded silence, the back door squeaks open once more and House laments the fact that if his father had still been alive, this is exactly the kind of thing that he would not have been able to live with. The irony is quite beautiful and House smirks involuntarily at the thought.
A new bottle of Maker's Mark clinks as it is placed beside him by the benevolent hand of Wilson.
"I thought we might like to raise a glass of something good in memory of your mom… House?"
House can think of no witty reply or anything that would come close to revealing how glad he is of both Wilson's timing and his taste in bourbon; old faithful drink, old faithful friend. He pours shots into the little glasses and hands them to his aunt, to his mom's friend, to Wilson and keeps one back for himself. "To my mom." He raises his glass and the impromptu wake for his mother begins.
"My sister in law."
For a while, they sit and drink in silence. The Maker's burns its way down despite the frozen ground sparkling all around them. Each is lost in their own memories of Blythe and each battles against the desire to cry and the desire to laugh.
Weirdly, House finds himself the first to break the reverie. "How can you be walking around getting the groceries one minute, then dead the next? How does that work?" He almost regrets giving his thoughts any kind of airing, but whatever, it's out there now.
The air hums with three brains trying to work out how to answer what may, or may not be a rhetorical question.
"You know Greg? I didn't know your mom for many years, but I do think of her as my very best friend. She would have hated to go like this." Mary starts, tentatively.
"Brave." House had always admired those with enough chutzpah to get to the bones of the matter.
"Hear me out. She worried so much about you. Nearly everything she did had you as some point of reference somewhere along the line."
"Like I said, brave." It had been a while since he'd been part of a conversation that was turning sour. It actually felt kind of refreshing.
"Sometimes we have to deal with the hand we're dealt. It doesn't seem like it now, but I know there's a greater truth to this, some higher meaning. What makes us str-"
"Don't finish what you were going to say." House fumbles beside him for the bottle and on reaching it, pours another shot into Mary's glass before she can go on.
"Ok. I'm sorry. You have me there." She laughs as she drinks and House's respect for her grows as he watches her handle the Maker's without a second thought. "You know, your mother had a fierce way with geese."
"I was… eight, or nine. We were staying with my aunt here and they had these geese, vicious bastards."
Sarah clutches his arm and chimes in, "Oh, I remember that too! Your father was overseas, you guys were staying with Bob and I, and you didn't know what a goose was!"
"I went out in the yard and was trying to feed them some bread or something. They all rounded on me and were hissing and I was terrified." House continues, gaze fixed firmly on the tiny flames below him.
"You, were scared?! This I would pay to see!" Wilson adds.
"They were really big! I was eight!"
"Your mom told me how she just marched on out there and beat them off with her rolling pin?" Mary prompts.
"Yeah! I saw the whole thing from the kitchen window. Greg, was surrounded by the geese, they were bigger than him and they were trying to protect their young. He was crying, big tears rolling out of those eyes and Blythe just stomped out and beat the biggest one on the beak. She grabbed Greg by the hand and dragged him out, geese hissing and spitting and nipping at his little legs." His aunt laughs as she remembers the image.
"To Blythe, protector of innocent children!" Mary said as she clinked her glass against Sarah's and Wilson's.
House suspects Mary doesn't realize the full extent of the truth behind her words, but that is all in the distant past now. Now, he is just Greg House, orphaned, parentless. He takes a large draught of his drink, finishing the shot in one mouthful and reaches for the bottle for a refill.
He sits back, leaning against the glass of the kitchen door and lets the conversation and the memories wash over him. Tuning out, he hears only a few odd words that seem to do a good job of summing up his mother's achievements and her life story. He feels the warmth of the Maker's tingling in his mouth down to the pit of his belly and he feels actually quite relaxed, comfortable in this strange assortment of people touched by his mother. He takes one more drag on his cigarette then crushes it beneath his foot. Marking the crisp white snow with ash.
"Greg? We need your help." Said Mary, shaking some peculiar shape at him in the darkness.
"Yeah, come on over here honey."
"What is that?" he asks as he lumbers over. He can just about make out a large, creamy oblong from the pale light of the tea lights.
"It's a Chinese lantern. We need your help to get it lit and send it on up to the sky."
"Your supposed to make a wish, send a prayer, whatever you want. The thing is, we all need to hold it together while I light it, support it while it fills with hot air."
"Oh." He doesn't think he's ever sounded more like a dumb ass.
He makes his way slowly over to Wilson, his aunt, and Mary smiling at him, holding the lantern by a ring of metal in front of them. He grabs a free bit and watches as Mary strikes his lighter and holds the flame to the pad he presumes is soaked in some sort of paraffin.
She gets it lit and their faces glow with the warmth of the flame flickering tiny like a distant memory. The flame grows and heats the air above it and the lantern fills with warm air, swelling the paper, making it crackle and rustle as it billows out to its full potential. Soon enough, the lantern resembles a hot air balloon and they feel the pull as the lantern strains, wanting to float up into the sky, begin its journey.
Mary closes her eyes and House secretly admires her inner hippy for this wacky idea. His aunt follows suit and Wilson too, shuts his eyes tight. He has to admit, the whole process captivates him. He assumes they are all making some sort of wish, saying some sort of prayer and he is consumed by the moment. He's always had a perverse fascination with faith, and with people confronting their own beliefs and ideologies.
"It's time." Mary whispers, somberly, reverently.
One by one, House, his aunt, Wilson and Mary let go of the lantern and it rises up into the night sky. House watches as it floats higher and higher, phoenix-like against the fresh snow beginning to fall anew.
The balloon of light, glows brightly, serenely and climbs higher and higher, wandering first left, then right, dropping briefly then zooming up once again.
They watch as it travels through the sky, casting its strange glow against the clouds and it seems like there is no limit to its possibilities.
Squinting, the assembled group clink their glasses together and raise them up after the lantern.
It's beautiful, and House feels all the stagnant, pent up confusion thawing, floating up and away along with it. He wipes tears away with the back of his hand and he feels something in his chest, give way. He breathes easy and fills his chest with a lung-full of fresh air.
His mother is dead; he is alone. This will form a vibrant thread in the weave of his life and somehow, that feels okay.
He turns his back on the lantern and on the little gathering watching it go. He heads back into his mother's house and knows he is ready to leave this place far behind him. His own journey must now begin, free from the suffocating wishes of his father, free from the loving arms of his mother.
Greg House against the world; for good, or for bad.
Okay, that's it folks. It's the end of the road for this irrelevant bug. I have loved writing this and I'm quite sad to let it go. Huge amounts of thanks go to Iyimgrace for seeing me through this, honestly, she's one super-cool lady. Thank you too, to everyone who has given this a chance and especially to those of you who have taken the time to write me a review. I appreciate everything you say more than you know. Thanks!