I couldn’t shake the feeling that the funeral was for me. I’m not the best with details anymore, but I do know that I’m still alive. I think. I wore a baggy suit, dark gray with a navy blue tie. It was rumpled with shoulders that seemed to force me into a slouch. My mouth still tasted of mouthwash.
They sat me in the first pew. It wasn’t a church, but it was made up to look like one. I couldn’t remember how I arrived; I had been ushered from the door to my seat by a sad looking man with a dark beard that just graying at the sides. I attempted to look sad too, though mostly because I that was the general vibe. A resignation to gloom permeated. I spent most of the time looking at my feet. I constantly moved the scuffed shoes as if they were extinguishing cigarette butts. The service seemed to last for hours, but when I tried to catch the name of the departed, a pause in the eulogy forced my attention back to my feet and their somber dance. This played out until music broke the cycle. It was an organ version of a tune that I used to dance to with Marisol. She was a girl that I dated for a while. I think it was her that I used to dance with. I remember her wearing a nice dress, too proper to dance in, I think. I wondered about her. Marisol.
The name of the tune escapes me, but I think the original version was more upbeat. You could dance to it. The organ filled it with melancholy; organs do that I guess. The man with the beard lifted me off of the pew by my elbow and led me toward the coffin. His eyes were soft with tears and bright blue. They wrinkled at the corners as he smiled at me, pushing a tear. I smiled back, trying to hide that I couldn’t quite place him. I’m no good with faces.
“I’d rather stay here,” I said softly.
“What,” he asked.
He sounded a lot like my big brother Bill, but Bill never wore a beard. I hadn’t seen Bill in ages. I guess he could have grown one, but he was out in California. It’s strange how much people are all alike.
“Just for a second,” he finished.
“I said I would rather stay here,” I said again, this time much louder and angrier than I expected, pulling my arm free of his grasp.
“Don’t do this. Not now,” he whispered, squeezing my elbow.
I looked around and noticed that the room was full of people looking at me. I was overcome by a low dread. An irrational fear of the crowd welled up in my gut. Some of the onlookers had buried faces in kerchiefs, muffling the sounds of mourning, but the rest stared at me, awaiting my next move before looking away. It was better to go to the casket than disappoint the grieving crowd.
The casket lining looked soft, clean and comfortable. Inside was the body of an old woman with short, silver curls. Her hands were pulled together at her waist and a small, tasteful necklace wrapped around her neck and rested on her blue polka dot dress. Her face was heavy with makeup and completely strange to me, like some generic mound of wrinkled, leathery putty. Not recognizing her made me feel that I had let her down, so I leaned over and whispered an apology in her cold ear. I was sorry, but too honest to bring myself to grieve for this stranger. She smelled nice. I think it was gardenia. I always liked gardenias.
From there I was led a minivan waiting outside. Bill, who I decided looked good with a beard, helped put my seatbelt on and kissed my forehead before getting into the driver’s seat. I turned to look toward the parking lot and noticed a woman was already in the seat in front. It had been so long since I’d seen my brother that he must have started seeing someone after new after his divorce.
“Hi, I’m Martin,” I said, leaning forward as far as the restraints would allow and offering my hand.
“I know,” she replied, taking my hand and softly stroking the back of it.
He must have told her about me. Her face, puffy with tears, was kind. I would have to remember to ask Bill how they met a more appropriate time.
“Where are we going,” I asked.
“To the wake,” Bill sighed. “It’s around the corner.”
“Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy the ride,” the woman interjected.
I followed her advice. On the way to the wake we passed several small stores that I remembered shopping at as a child.. I had a general idea of where we were, but the burger place on the corner wasn’t where it should have been. There was a gas station instead. As kids, our parents took us to eat at “China Best” restaurant and I pitched a fit if they didn’t get me a burger at that place on the corner instead. Sometimes I was so stubborn that they would give in and we would all just eat burgers to avoid my tantrum. Bill never really liked burgers. I hadn’t thought about that in years. Now I felt angry that my parents would give in to my tantrums, but also guilty that Bill had to eat something he didn’t like because I was a brat.
“I’m sorry about the burgers and the Chinese,” I said, sure that he would know what I was referring to.
He looked back but didn’t respond.
The next stop was a large two-story house in a subdivision full of large, two-story houses. I knew it wasn’t Bill’s because he kept slowing down to check street numbers until we got the right one. Then I remembered, Bill never liked Chinese all that much either. When he parked got around to open the side door, I got tried to get out on my own, but got dizzy and almost fell out onto the pavement. Bill steadied me until I got my bearings.
“Be careful,” he said. “You can sit down again inside.”
“Sure. I need to eat,” I replied.
After the short walk to the door, sitting down again sounded like a good idea. An old man with a worn and wrinkled face surrounding Bill’s blue eyes answered the door. He hugged me and patted me on the back and told me how sorry he was. I was so tired that I just nodded and moved into the chair nearest chair. People from the funeral began filing through the door. Some stopped and asked me how I was holding up, but most of them just passed me and told Bill how hard it must all be for him, shaking their heads. I was hungry. I wanted a good burger. Bill was telling the old man a story about how our dad tried to jump out of the car earlier today; how Dad didn’t even recognize him.
It felt like years, at least, since I last saw Dad. I couldn’t remember exactly how long, but at least years. I remember him best when he was still young. He always towered over me in my mind, even after old age started shrinking him. I missed him. The sudden urge to see him again, to hug him tell him how much I missed him, caused my eyes to dart around the room in search of him. It was so long that I wasn’t at all sure what he would look like now. There were so many old people there that I couldn’t pick him out. Their age obscured their identities into one white haired, sadly smiling putty face. I began to stand, but I couldn’t get my weight shifted properly.
“What are you doing,” Bill asked, getting me back in the seat.
“I’m getting up,” I said, stopping just short of telling him that I couldn’t see Dad. “I’m hungry. There’s someone I want to see.”
“You want some water,” one old man asked before leaving to get some.
He returned and handed a cup to Bill who handed it to me. I was about to ask Bill where Dad was. Then a woman leaned over and told me that she was sorry that Marisol passed.
“Hey Bill,” I said, standing up. “Marisol died. I knew a Marisol. You remember her?”
“I know dad,” he nodded.
Suddenly confused, frightened and angry, I noticed now how crowded the room was, with everyone talking in low tones. Everyone there seemed to be hissing now. I needed food. My weight was again teetering on sending back to the seat when I caught the reflection of an old man in the mirror. Why did I look so old? My own face the same mess that I had seen in the casket; the same putty that was all around me. I didn’t know what to do. I was just so mad. Mad at Bill. I swung to hit him in the face, but I missed and he got me in a bear hug, moving me back toward my seat. I sat back down and started to cry.