An Appetite For Grief
A FMA one-shot by Tobu Ishi
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says
we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
-e e cummings
The funeral is over at last. The last of the mourners have straggled home across the fields. The front door slams shut behind Winry, and she stands with her eyes closed for a long moment, there in the hall of this house that belongs to her alone now, and tries to block out the unutterable loneliness of the silent rooms around her.
The house never felt too big when Granny was in it. She filled up every room to the roof with her presence, laughing and cursing and banging away in the automail workshop with hammer and drill, smoking on the porch until the smell of her tobacco filtered in through the windows and left its traces in the wallpaper and the carpet. Winry can still smell her, now. She takes a deep breath of pipe tobacco and machine oil, the inescapable aura that drifted through this house for the fifty-odd years of Pinako Rockbell’s residence in it. Winry holds the fragrance of her grandmother in her lungs for a sweet moment, the way Pinako used to savor a long drag on her beloved pipe, and then lets it out slowly. It is tangible enough that she can almost see it forming smoke rings in the air.
Then the tears come again, climbing hot up the back of her throat, and she gulps them down and goes into the kitchen. She’s going to need something stronger than willpower for a chaser.
Opening the old liquor cabinet by the silverware cupboard, she lets her fingers wander over the colored glass of the bottles inside. This is off-limits, always has been, ever since she was big enough to start getting into the cupboards and messing things about. The cabinet has always been the exclusive property of Pinako, opened up regularly in the wee hours before dawn for a shot of some brew or another in her morning coffee. Champagne for special occasions could always be bought in the market downtown. Pinako kept only the good stuff, none of that bubbly useless junk.
Winry finds herself wishing she had the knowledge of alcohol that her granny did, but that skill set was never included with the cracker-jack automail wizardry and solid common sense that she did inherit. Chalk another one up to luck, she decides, and grabs the biggest bottle, a huge heavy square thing made of thick yellow glass. On second thought, she loads up a few other ones, as many as she can carry in one arm, then shuts the cabinet again and turns the little key in the lock. If this stuff tastes like motor oil, she can always try another bottle.
It’s a heavy armful. She sets it in the middle of the floor, sits next to it with her legs stuck straight out in front of her and her big clunky boots knocking together. She refused to wear delicate little shoes to her granny’s funeral, knowing how Pinako despised heels. The classy black dress that Ed paid for at a Central boutique years ago spent the ceremony clashing with the serviceable hobnailed things on her feet, their worn black leather looking bizarre at the ends of her long nylon-clad legs. Granny would have approved, Winry thinks with the ghost of a grin, and kicks them off now, letting them skid across the floor to roll to a stop in the corner.
On second thought, she peels off the nylons too, throwing them to join the boots. She hates nylons, always has. They’re like an accident waiting to happen. She resettles herself and reaches for the biggest bottle, and then there’s a knock at the door.
Winry freezes, her hand stilled on the cap of the bottle, and the knock comes again. It’s too sharp to be flesh, has to be automail, but there were so many of Pinako’s old patients at the funeral that it really doesn’t help identification at all. If she’s quiet, they’ll have to go away, she decides, and doesn’t move.
The door swings open with a creak, and Winry sighs. Only he would dare.
“Winry?” Ed calls, and she hears his footsteps across the hall. He calls up the stairs, then the feet turn toward the kitchen. She debates hiding the bottles, realizes she doesn’t have time, and then his head pokes through the door, hair still pulled back in a somber ponytail. He’s got his suit jacket thrown over his arm, shirtsleeves rolled back in the summer heat now that there’s no more need for social niceties.
She looks up at him with painfully dry eyes, her hair coming out of its neat upsweep in little frazzled strands here and there. Ed swallows, letting his eyes range over the room, lingering on the bottles at her side. Then he bends and pries off his own shoes and throws them to join hers.
“I thought this stuff was off limits,” he comments, sitting next to her on the floor without a care for his neatly pressed black pants. She makes a face.
“I’m twenty five years old, Ed, I can raid the liquor cabinet if I feel like it,” she complains, reaching for the yellow bottle again. “Somebody ought to drink it, anyway.”
The cap isn’t cooperating with her twisting, and she’s getting sore pink toothmarks in her palms from trying. Glaring at it, she realizes it probably needs a bottle opener. She pats down her pockets for a keyring, spare tool, anything—she doesn’t feel like getting up and rummaging through the cabinet again.
“You don’t want that, it’s gin. Here,” Ed says, picking up one of the smaller bottles and setting the cap against the grill of his automail, then levering on it. It pops free with a hiss, and he holds it out to her with an ironic quirk of one golden eyebrow.
She takes it in both hands, staring at him in surprise. “Where the hell did you learn that?” she can’t help asking, startled. In all the years she has known him, she has never seen him drink.
He shrugs. “You pick up a few things, traveling,” is all he’ll say. Grabbing another bottle, he opens it the same way and knocks back a swallow, sputtering slightly as he does. She’s at least relieved to see he doesn’t drink like a pro.
She has no idea what’s in her bottle, but it burns like liquid fire on the first generous swallow, making her eyes water with something a little less bitter than grief. It’s better on the second mouthful, she discovers.
“We ought to have a toast,” Ed says, frowning into the depths of his bottle. “They always do when they’re having a drink in someone’s memory.”
The identity of ‘they’ is obvious from context; Ed has been cajoled and blackmailed into attending more than one state dinner over the years by his various contacts in the military. The fact that he’s suggested this at all means that it’s probably one of the few military customs he doesn’t hate with a blazing passion. Winry nods and holds up her bottle, and he raises his as well.
“To Granny Pinako,” she says, without too much of a teary waver on the words. Ed echoes the toast, and they drink, the sort of big generous gulps that only those not used to rationing themselves would take.
“To a long life, lived to the fullest,” Ed says, raising his bottle again, and Winry grins at that one and clinks her bottle against his before the next swallow. “How old was she, anyway?” he asks curiously.
“Eighty-seven next month,” Winry says. It was old age that did it in the end, a quiet settling into peace after a raucous lifetime. There was a trace of that world-wise grin on her face when Winry went to wake her in the morning. She already had her birthday gift ordered, a new design of driver that was supposed to be specially ergonomic in the handle. Pinako had been complaining of soreness in her joints, and Winry thought it might be nice for her old fingers to have something more comfortable to grip. She’s not sure what she’ll do with it now when it arrives.
Ed whistles in appreciation. “Not bad for an old flea hag,” he says affectionately.
“She didn’t settle down and have my dad till she was in her thirties,” Winry says, a grin wobbling its way onto her face. The tears are retreating at last, beaten back by a cocktail of strong alcohol and fondly shared memories. Her head is already buzzing slightly; she’s hardly ever drunk before, and has no idea how to hold her liquor.
Ed nods, takes another pull at his bottle. “She traveled all over the place before that, didn’t she?” He’s seen the photo albums, Winry knows. Pinako in Rush Valley with her cadre of mechanic buddies, all long since gone to dust. Pinako in the bars of Central, drinking her male friends under the table and using her winnings to pay for another shot. Pinako in oil-spattered overalls, her long hair spilling down her back, one arm slung around the waist of a much taller Hohenheim as they pose in front of her latest invention. Pinako shooing her son off to his first day of school, wiping his face with the last clean corner of her grease-stained kerchief before heading back to the automail workshop to take out her maternal anxieties on the machines waiting there. Tiny and spitfire and full of life, born with a wrench in her hand and grease in her hair.
It’s a pity she never had great-grandchildren to dote on, Winry thinks, and raises her bottle again, her hand only wavering a little.
“To my tough-as-nails granny,” she says, grinning. “To everyone she ever scared spitless.”
“Hey, we’re toasting her, not me,” Ed laughs, and she nudges him in the side with her elbow. “Ow…to her scary granddaughter,” he adds, before they clink bottles, and Winry tries to dig her elbow in harder, but misses and loses her balance, falling against his shoulder with a giggle.
“To the great-grandkids we never gave her!” she exclaims almost cheerfully, waving her bottle in the air. Ed blinks at her, startled.
“Us?” he says, frowning, and she snorts.
”Yeah, stupid, Al’s only twenty, what d’you expect him to do?” Ed still looks confused, so she explains as slowly as she would to a child, careful not to slur her words, “We’re all her grandkids, right? So when you have sprogs, or Al has sprogs, those’re Granny’s too. Right?”
“Sprogs,” Ed says, and chokes on his drink laughing. His automail clinks musically against the green glass of the bottle as he sets it down to keep from spilling it. Winry settles more comfortably against his shoulder, glad she’s on his left side. Automail’s great for almost everything, but it makes a rotten pillow.
“Yeah, sprogs,” she agrees, using Pinako’s vocabulary with relish, and takes another sip to underscore the point. Whatever the point is.
There’s a sense of unreality to the scene, she decides. Here they are, twenty-five and swimming in grief and laughter, getting soused in the middle of the kitchen floor on her granny’s best liquor. With their shoes off. For some reason that’s the funniest part, and she giggles again and wiggles her toes, wondering when they got so far away.
Ed gives her an odd look out of the corner of his eye. She sticks her tongue out at him and takes another long breath. The tobacco-smell has been joined by the faint scent of boy-sweat and chalk and old paper that she’s always linked with her old friend. She closes her eyes and smiles.
The bottle hovers near her lips, waiting for her next sip, and she runs the tip of her tongue around the round mouth of it, darting pink to pick up the stray sweet drops. Watching her, Ed finds himself fascinated by it, having trouble dragging his gaze away. There are tear-tracks dried on her cheeks, slightly gray from the mascara he hardly ever remembers her wearing. He traces his fingertips over them, gently curious, and she sighs and leans her face into his hand.
He notices in time that her fingers have gone slack around the bottle neck, and catches it as it falls to the floor, glancing at the level of the liquid inside. She’s drunk more than half the bottle. Ed stretches far enough to put it on the table—he doesn’t know why, it just seems like the right thing to do.
Wrapping his arm around her shoulders as she slumps against him, he wonders if he should try to carry her to the sofa. It’s a nice idea, but he doesn’t really think he can get up either. His bottle’s nearly empty, after all.
“Mmngh,” Winry mutters, and nestles against his chest. Her eyes are screwed tightly shut. Ed smiles down at her, and the expression feels like it’s trying to slide sideways off his face. He tilts his head to the side, but it doesn’t help the sensation any. He supposes it’s the tilting floor that’s doing it. No point in trying to walk across that, anyway, so he lies down on the linoleum and lets her curl against him and pillow her head on his shoulder.
Hopefully Al will find them later, when he gets back from the wake party. He left him a note when he realized Winry wasn’t there and went to look for her. This has been their own little party, he supposes, and certainly a lot quieter than dealing with half of Resembool.
“I miss her,” Winry whispers suddenly, her voice oddly clear despite the alcohol weighing down her tongue.
Ed sighs. “Yeah,” he agrees, and settles his arm more firmly around her waist. “Me too. Bet she’d kick me for letting you get drunk,” he adds thoughtfully.
Winry laughs at that, the sound muffled against his shirt. “Wouldn’t,” she says. “She’d understand. She was…” the thought trails off, and Winry manages a last snicker as she imagines how Pinako would likely have dealt with them. They would have gotten a telling-off, of course, and a business-like rousting up off the kitchen floor in the morning. She would have shooed them up to take their turns in the cold shower upstairs, and had steaming cups of extra-black coffee waiting when they staggered downstairs again. She might have grinned wickedly and dropped some comment about being at least glad they’d kept their clothes on, stupid sprogs, and made Ed sputter and spray coffee out his nose and have to be pounded on the back to get him breathing again.
A wicked little grin of her own spreads across Winry’s face at that thought, and she drifts off to sleep before Ed can ask why. He follows suit not long after, listening to the peaceful rhythm of her breathing.
Al will find them in a few hours, smother a grin and put the spare bottles away, and leave some coffee to brew all night before going to bed himself. They’ll wake up with twin pounding headaches and pick at each other all morning until Al throws a dishtowel at his brother’s head and tells him to quit being rude to Winry or make his own breakfast. But as much scrambled eggs and toast as they can manage to choke down will cheer them up a bit, and Winry will pause next to Ed’s chair after they’ve finished eating, and mutter ‘sprog’ furtively in his ear, and they’ll giggle together until their headaches force them to stop and Al gives them a funny look from where he’s washing up the dishes at the sink.
And somewhere out there, beyond the last portal of the Gate, Pinako Rockbell will be watching, swinging her legs on a workshop counter and nodding her approval.