You just turned 52 and your belly fat is pressed against the side of an open casket. You delicately arrange the coffin's quilted taffeta around the deceased just like you've done every day for the last 27 years of your awful life. You waited for the last of the family to exit the chapel and pull the door shut before you started the delicate work of closing the lid on their loved one for the last time. And by delicate, you mean get that lid shut and locked as quickly and quietly as possible so you can get the hell out of here and go to lunch. There's another funeral at 12:30 across town and the funeral director over there is a huge asshole when you're late.
You're good at your job, though. You almost never leave anything hanging out of the casket lid like those ladies who slam their gowns in car doors. You take pride in that, except for when you don't, and today you're a little distracted. The service you just sat through got you thinking about your craptastic life, the first set of kids you haven't seen in years, and your second set of kids who hate you.
This particular dead guy you're buttoning up died in his sleep. You can tell how most of them have died from the leftover expressions that sit faintly under the mortician's makeup. Car accidents have their own look (fear.) Suicides, too (relief.)
You like your job. Your mug has been the last thing a thousand or so people have seen before final darkness falls upon them for eternity or until they get exhumed or something. You know they can't see you but it is fun to pretend. You also don't know if you believe in their version of heaven or whatever they believed or whatever the guy giving the service wants you to believe.
Seriously. Your chubby ass has sat through baptist, roman catholic, jewish, mormon, church of christ, southern baptist, humanist, etc. services. You've had plenty of time to decide which version of an after life to believe. To you, they're all a load of crap. You have your own theory.
The way you see it, life throws you buckets of shit. So, there you are. You're standing there and you're covered in shit and you just have to take it. There isn't a damn thing you can do*. Life! If death is nothing more than a black void where you fall asleep and don't dream, then that sounds like a pretty good deal since you just spent 60 odd years covered in shit. And, hey, if there's some concept of heaven, then bonus, right?
Here you are. You're standing over this man who might be in heaven or he might just be dead. Either way this guy and the thousand or so people you dropped lids on before are finally free of all this nonsense. Sure, you're a little envious but at the same time you are happy for them, these strangers. You can't help it. A wave of emotion comes over you like a soft pink blanket and you lean in close and "BOOP!" them right on the nose.
A friendly little "BOOP!" with a smile and like a machine you drop the lid and lock it tight in one fluid motion.
You swing around and there she is. The niece is standing 10 paces away, wet eyes, big calves, red nose, tissue in one hand and something in her other hand she probably forgot to leave inside the casket.
Time slows to a crawl.
She's frozen. Blood rushes to your fingers. Your head feels light, your hands fall like stones.
There's this look on her face that you can't quite place. You're paralyzed and busted but she isn't paralyzed and you realize the look on her face is a distorted combination of two emotions. As the sadness fades, relief (see suicide) rushes over her and she doubles over in a fit of post sobbing laughter that you haven't heard since that day your ex realized she didn't have to stay.
We were roaming the streets on the first warm night of Spring in our t-shirts and jeans and the first skirts of the year. We were drunk and smoking and loving it.
"Look! Look!" Jen said. She was bent over picking up something in a shadow just off the sidewalk. "Look at this!"
She held it up, cradling it with both hands. It was dark and I was drunk and I couldn't see. I think I was still walking.
Someone said, "Oh my god. You just found that?"
"Yeah, it was sitting right there. What should we do?"
"Ask it a question," Sam said.
She ran under a street light and shook it, the Magic 8-ball that she found hiding in the shadow. Everyone huddled around her, taking turns.
"That's not how you play. Yes or no questions, only," Jen said.
"Here." She handed me the Magic 8-ball but all I could do is watch her lips form the word, 'here.' The way they kind of puckered while smiling, the corners turned upwards, her bright eyes, the matter-of-fact nod. "It's your turn!"
I took the toy and put it close to my ear as I shook. It sloshed and I shushed everyone and I made a big production out of it. I'm sure it was more annoying than anything. I whispered something to the Magic 8-ball.
"That's not how it works! You have to ask out loud." She said.
"This is important, Jen." I said, "I need a real answer."
This was true, I did need real answers. We all did and I thought for a second how this magic found us - Five desperate twenty somethings who needed an answer. A real answer to anything - We would have taken it.
I cheated, though. I didn't ask anything. I turned the 8-ball window side up, closed my eyes, looked toward the sky and waited.
"What's it say?" I asked.
Sam said, "Uhh… it says, Without a Doubt."
I handed him the 8-ball and pulled Jen in and kissed her hard under that orange street light. We had only just met an hour ago.
As we ducked out of the rain I exhaled and she rolled her eyes. The neighborhood was always quiet at night but tonight it was full of thunder and rain. My neck was on fire and I was standing and she was Standing. She seemed to be made of stars. Or, at least, more stars than most. Certainly more than me.
We shouted and ran to the next porch, singing and splashing with courage(? I'm not sure.) and contrived rage. That porch light was off and we held hands. We didn't know how much had changed and we couldn't have cared less because right then, right there, we were closer than we had ever been.
I pulled a plastic cup out of the trash and toasted, “Here's to you, darling" and tossed it over my right shoulder. I felt like this was meant to be. I was ready to waste away and to let the rain take us dOwN and ON & ON.
We ran into the street and I fell flat. She kneeled - her eyebrows were doing their job as the rain poured down her face. My knees were scraped and my arm was getting blue and yellow but my bones were good. She brought me up and made me forget.
I thought (right then and right there) she would ask if I came back for her, but instead -
“Let's go to the cemetery!"
And we ran. And then we were there.
The rain was gone and we laughed at the one star that shone between clouds not knowing if it was a star at all. My shoes squished. Hers were gone. We were close to her old house, now. She was thinking of her old pink bedroom while standing on a wet monument in bare feet under a black sky, coming clean.
“I didn't love you," she said.
“I've got a wondering soul," she said, “I've got nothing to give."
“COME ON!" She hopped down and we were running.
“I've got something to say." Her breath was short. “When I die I want 10 seconds to look back and know I've lived it right." We were running together and we hurdled a stone. “I know the mistakes I've made and how they each mark up my soul. Lord knows the mistakes I'll make. (We jumped another stone.) What will become of me? My soul?" We stopped and I bent over to catch my breath. She said, "God, I don't know."
And she flopped in the mud and she said, “I want you to be one of my mistakes. Right now." She pulled me to her. “If you feel it… What I'm feeling… Then come on!"
Her arms and legs were around me and a breeze blew and the trees rained down and we were salty and out of breath and then I was wearing her lipstick and her wet hair seemed longer and every movement sank us in the mud. Her neck smelled like candy & my favorite shirt was somehow gone & we were moving and sinking deeper.
The wind blew again and the trees filled my eyebrows with salty rain and she killed me with kisses and then It all somehow washed away and she ran. Fast.
I didn't get up for a long time. Maybe she said wandering soul.