While Cathy loves Marlene's self-designed funeral -- down to the undanceable polka and complimentary lottery scratch-offs -- Paul and Sean are separately horrified by the entire "death" thing, for different (but really the same) reasons. Cathy learns she's inherited Marlene's house and of course offers it to the estranged daughters, but seeing how callous they are about her things -- including Thomas and the fishtank -- she declares war, throws 'em out, and gives the house to Sean instead.
Wait, what? Yeah. Seems Rebecca isn't just stalking Sean for round two of their terrifying breakup but in fact so she can throw up all over his pile of garbage that he thinks of as his belongings, because she's pregnant. After much discussion, Sean decides to move into the house and offer it to try raising the kid together. His first night, he's so antsy he has to sleep on the floor, but we'll see how it goes. I'm just hoping Sean will take more showers now, because that "towels are evil, I'll just run around naked" policy of his? Genius. Especially with the grime washed off so you can see what you're working with.
Paul wants to try this chemo Todd suggested (IL-2), but Cathy's still not feeling that, so they agree to wait six months to see about the next clinical trial. And Cathy's pool permit has finally come -- on the penultimate day of summer, naturally -- but she'll probably end up waiting another nine months to see that made. But after her experiences with Marlene's daughters, Cathy is done waiting for this stuff: She wants chemo, and to do everything she can. "I'm going out ugly," she says, and Paul explains that was never a possibility before thanking Dr. Todd sweetly for all his help.
Adam's not really showing much an emotional response to the fact that Marlene pointed a gun at him and then shot herself in the face. Not even when they watch Where The Red Fern Grows does he freak out. Not even when his parents sit him down and explain to him about the cancer and the treatment.
As Cathy's starting the first round -- and hoping she's not dying on the table -- we're treated to a wonderful vision of her future pool, Marlene beautiful and dancing to polka, that plays us out. But what's going on in the real world that night is that Adam finally gets what cancer means. Stealing from her purse, he finds the key fob for that storage locker and goes to investigate. It's not just a car anymore, in there, but a whole set piece: Presents, beautifully wrapped and piled to the ceiling, framing a picture of the two of them. Every birthday, every Christmas, every graduation and every milestone. For the rest of his life.
The worst part of swimming was always when they pulled the trigger.
She knew intellectually this was about making a sound so loud everyone could hear it, above all the family dins on the sidelines, and all the private anxieties echoing at the starting line. She knew it was about making sure everyone had possession of the same moment, about making absolutely sure they could all start at once, together: Dive in, swim safely across. Focus on the absence of the sound until the sound came, and they could begin. She knew that. But did it have to be such a scary, awful sound?
The day they put Marlene in the ground, next to Eddie, nobody wanted to admit why they were there, because they thought it was a tragedy. That disease lurked in her house and the shadows and eventually came for her; that she was swallowed by the abyss. They thought that her illness had finally betrayed her. Tomorrow was the last day of summer and the days were getting shorter, and nobody wanted to admit that Marlene died because something sick and scary and unimaginable forced her to pull back the hammer and press steel to her head and squeeze the trigger. Forced her.
Only Cathy understood that Marlene was the victor, that night. She didn't get killed by the disease, she killed the disease. It was her last act of will and a testament to that will that she chose the moment for herself, after she could no longer trust the world. Marlene sent a letter to her daughters, it arrived the day after she died, and what it said was that she wanted to go, now, because she couldn't trust herself not to do something stupid. Marlene was mostly pride, they thought, because they couldn't imagine that much strength.
Marlene arranged her funeral for herself, in those days leading up to everything. Balloons and polka music, lottery scratch-offs passed like appetizers. Cathy thought it was wonderful, because Cathy saw choice. Everybody else saw defeat. Paul saw his wife dying in slow motion, refusing treatment, letting hope poke out its head every now and again -- as a tree, sometimes; sometimes it took the form of a hive of bees -- but standing still when she should be running.
"She shot herself in the fucking head, this is not beautiful."
Maybe he was right.
The daughters smiled out at the congregation, and took their measure, and explained that Marlene hated polka music. That those who knew and loved her knew this was a lie: "She said the only way to dance to it makes you look like an asshole," they laugh. Her daughters loved her, but they knew what she was about. They couldn't imagine her strength, until they saw it. Her harshness, for what it was; her love that never looked quite like love. "But every time my dad pulled out his accordion, it always brought a smile to her face."