Thursday, January 15, 2015

Goodbye, Goodbye (A Short Story)

I don’t know if I expected it to be raining. Maybe I thought that it should have been, that everyone should have been standing around in their black knee-coats with their towering umbrellas. That was how it should have looked, I thought. That is how I felt.
There was something about the sunniness that I couldn’t stand. It was nonchalant. As though it didn’t care, either way. As though today was just like all of the others, when clearly it couldn’t be. Rain would have been respectful, I thought, and they deserved that. But the sky kept smiling, melting me like a candy bar in my black suit.
The preacher was still talking, and I still felt as though he was speaking in some foreign language. Latin, no doubt. But everyone else kept nodding, as though they could understand just fine.
I don’t know which was heavier; the weight of that sun, that anchor of a necktie, or the hand that Uncle Lenny kept thumping on my shoulder. His hands were not good at comforting. But I didn’t feel the need for comfort; I just wanted the sun to stop shining, and to be home.
July was my other distraction. She was standing next to my aunt, Delaney, who was keeping her hands to herself, and was crying unhelpfully. But there were no tears on July’s face, as she looked at the preacher but couldn’t hear him. There was a spot on her dress; I don’t know what it was from. She scrubbed at it with her hand, subtly at first.
The preacher kept talking, and there were more people crying now. I couldn’t stand the thought of crying, myself. Uncle Len already was behind me, but he was trying to hide it. I could hear him sniffing through his mustache.
July was scrubbing at the spot on her dress. She looked down at it, to see if she was making any progress, but if anything she had made it bigger. She licked her fingers and kept trying.
I wasn’t sure how she could care about one spot that much, with this in front of us. But she kept scrubbing, and I could see a sort of determination in her face. She wanted the spot gone. Aunt Delaney put a hand on her elbow, then, and she stopped, and started wringing her hands. There was that nervous business in her again that made my stomach twist. I hadn’t seen her like that in a long time.
The preacher had moved on from Bible verses, by then, and he folded his hands in front of him. He was looking at the hole in front of us, and now, so was I. Then he looked up, and squinted at the sun. So did I. Clouds should have hidden it. There shouldn’t have been so much sunlight; I didn’t want to have to blink. Today should have been different. Today was different. And yet it was as if the whole world couldn’t care less. This was just another day. Just another human tangle.
“Heavenly Father,” I recognized the tone of prayer and bowed my head. But bowing pointed my head at the hole, and I could hardly stand that. I pinched my eyes closed and aimed them at the ground between my feet.
“We have lost a dear brother and sister this day, a beloved mother and father. Their loss is one that affects us, as we share in this sorrow. But we know that they are in your courts now, that they have gained the reward for which we strive, here below. We thank you, Lord, for the speed and mercy in your calling of them.
“We pray for your comfort to find us, here, to find the families of these dearly departed, especially their precious children, July and August…”
I stopped listening again, here. The hand was on my shoulder again, and it was heavier than ever. I wish he hadn’t said our names, but he had. And now there was another hand on me, and I’m not sure who’s it was, from my left. There were people all around, and I felt smothered in them, in their comfort.
When I could not bear to keep my eyes closed any longer, I looked up. July was scrubbing at the spot on her dress with her eyes closed and her forehead knotted into bunches. Her eyelashes were wet and plastered to her cheeks. Aunt Delaney was stifling her sobs with her hand.
The preacher concluded. I don’t remember what happened next, really. I was one moment buried in a mound of hugs and condolences and warm words and handshakes and touching, the next climbing into Uncle Len’s SUV. He had already taken off his tie when I buckled myself in, and I followed his lead, as we slid off down the streets.
The sun was in my eyes, almost like a taunt. “People die all the time,” it seemed to say.
Yes. But not my people.
I knew we were going home, and didn’t watch the road. I didn’t even turn on the radio. The silence should have driven me mad, like every other day. But at least, this way, there was some distinction. There was some respect. Today was not like other days. Today was different. There shouldn’t be any noise.
 “Can I get you anything?” Uncle Len asked. “We could get drive-thru. You hungry?”
I didn’t want anything. I’m not even sure that I answered.
“Maybe later, then,” he said quietly.
The grass was green, when we pulled up to the house. Maybe I thought that it should have been discolored. But the sun had not even wilted it, for the occasion. There were birds chirping. Aunt Delaney had already arrived, and she was standing in the kitchen wordlessly when I entered. Uncle Len stayed on the porch with the cigarette and solitude I knew he had been dying for.
The lights were all off, upstairs, and I didn’t bother turning them on as I kicked my shiny shoes off and heard them hit the wall. I tore out of my shirt like a snake shedding its sweat-soaked skin, and threw it after the shoes.
Water was running, and the lights on, in the bathroom when I passed the cracked-open door. I could hear July’s quiet sniffles when I pushed it open.  
She was standing in front of the sink with a sponge in her hand and she was scrubbing for all she was worth at the spot on her dress. I was worried that she might scrub her way through the cloth before she was done. Her face was a glowing sort of red, and here cheeks had the irritated look that only her own hands could have caused. She must have let her hair down about the same time I had taken off my tie, and it was something of a tangle, now.
She looked up at me when I came in, and the ache in her eyes was worse than all of the preacher’s words put together. “It won’t come out,” she sniffled. I stepped into the bathroom, even though it was hardly big enough for two people. “I’m trying,” she said quietly. I knew she wasn’t talking about the dress, then.
Make it small. I knew she was thinking it. When life is overwhelming, focus on the little things, the little struggles and little triumphs. My parents always said it. And now they weren’t here to. She was burying everything in this one little spot, even as the workmen were burying the caskets in their little spots.
I took the sponge from her, as she hid her face against the edge of the sink. I wrapped my arms around her waist, and felt the shiver climb through me and into my throat. Here, at least, in this room, the world did not keep spinning on; the world cared. It cared that we were alone.
“It’s alright,” I said. I’m not sure which of us I meant it for. “It’s alright. Come on; we’ll get that spot out.”  

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