This May or May Not Be an Excerpt
Cal had said once when he was alive that he didn’t want everyone somber and wearing black at his funeral. That he wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life, not a mourning of his passing. It was a cliché, of course, but an admirable one. He had told his wife to make sure everyone wore vibrant colors, and laughed, and played his favorite country songs about bars and women.
Naturally, when the funeral finally came the church was a quiet sea of black, each pew its own dark, undulating wave of sorrow and discomfort moved by a quiet, restless, nervous energy. Women wore black dresses and sharp black heels, held back tears, clung to the hands of little boys looking neat and temporarily poised in black suits with their hair slicked down to look more grown-up. Men wore black slacks and black shirts and bleak expressions, holding their stoicism like a trophy.
I sat in a back pew, rebelling against Cal’s wishes in union with everyone else, in every way dressed the part of the mourning sister, there but not really there. The wishes of the dead don’t matter. The rituals we enact for the dead are only a comfort for the living.
What should Cal care what we wore? Whether we laughed? What music we played? Was he watching us from somewhere?
I felt like I was somewhere else. Someone else. There had been a dream, a dream that wasn’t a dream, a person who wasn’t me–
The wishes of the dead don’t matter.
Everyone made their way to the casket for their last goodbye. People kissed his forehead, lips pressed to cold skin that didn’t feel like skin anymore—not that I would know, I guess, but somehow I just knew that I knew that it didn’t. For some it was a last chance at physical affection, for some a formality. Some stooped and wept and whispered when they kissed the thing that had been Cal, adjusted the tie that rested over its quiet chest, patted its shoulder tenderly but with the care of one turning the pages of a dusty tome. Others simply bent stiff and awkward, brushed their lips against his forehead quickly, mumbled a goodbye, and shuffled away.
I couldn’t bring myself to touch him. I looked at his face for a few immeasurable moments. Everyone says how peaceful people look in death. I stared as if trying to read him—trying to see if there was still a soul in him, a soul that could say yes, I’m at peace, or no, please help me.
The rituals we enact for the dead are only a comfort for the living.
The thing that had been Cal, of course, said nothing. Its face didn’t look at peace to me; not quite. There was something unnatural about a face in death that I had never considered before this moment, something that I dare not linger now long enough to understand. The few seconds I had been there stretched on–
Would I “come back” from this too? A thought came to mind, a poem I had loved once years ago:
“All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.”
I almost said out loud, “Cal, you’re making me think too hard,” or “Cal, did you ever read Poe?” or even “Cal, is this real? Am I away again? Will I come back?” But I didn’t. The thing that had been Cal wouldn’t answer, and someone behind me would want to look into its face, imagine it peaceful, maybe kiss it or touch its shoulder or brush its hand a last time.
I moved on, thinking about bright colors and laughter and Garth Brooks.
…The dead don’t matter.
This may or may not be an excerpt from a novel I may or may not write. I am generally not a fiction writer; to quote Sherman Alexie, “Writing poetry is my first love; Writing fiction is my arranged marriage.” I don’t dislike fiction; I just for a long time saw poetry as the only way I knew how to explore ideas, until a conversation with a good friend started blossoming ideas I didn’t know how to explore in anyway other than a novel-length story. We’ll see what comes of it; I hesitate to make any commitments.
I know where in a story this would fit, if there was a story for it to fit into or if indeed I could be certain it would be in the story anyway, or if even there was a promise that such a story will exist, but I’m not sure of any of those things, so no context for you.