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The Perfect Funeral Day
Gray. Her world was gray. And yet, the sun was shining. It was all perfect for the occasion, that’s what he would have thought. Perfect, just the way he would have wanted it. But not the way she needed it.
'It should have been like in all the movies.' That thought kept playing in her mind. 'He deserves something straight out of a movie. And that would have meant more. He loved movies. He loved seeing his girls in the movies. His funeral should have been something straight out of a movie.'
But it didn’t look like it was fixing to start pouring, nor was it the middle of autumn. It was a bright spring day. The light clouds that hung around all morning were disappearing, scudding across the sky in groups, becoming wisps of smoke as she watched them; looking at anything but that shiny black coffin surrounded by flowers. A breeze devoid of chill was creeping through the cemetery, playing with her hair, her perfect black hair. Birds began to sing even more than they had that morning at dawn. She’d been awake to hear them; she didn’t sleep much. She liked thinking they sang for him. But they didn’t sound sad. That had hit her hard all of the sudden, and she had realized that today wasn’t going to be the perfect funeral day. It wasn’t going to be even close. That prediction now came true with depressing clarity.
And now she stood in the cemetery with Mother attempting to hold her hand; trying to console her. She bit back a laugh, but it ricocheted in her head. She wasn’t the one who needed consoling. No, she was fine. She was feeling perfect.
'It’s better this way.' She told herself with perfect honesty. She felt this to be true, through and through. 'He’s not in pain anymore, and he doesn’t have to know what I did, what happened to me.' But he had known. The realization struck her heart. He had known. Why hadn’t he said anything? 'He loved me too much.' For a moment, only a moment, she thought she was going to cry, but the tears didn’t come. They simmered below the surface, but not because he was gone, which is what everyone would have thought if she had let them start flowing down her cheeks. Staining her skin, her perfect white skin, making dark rivulets on the unlined ivory. She could imagine them, but she didn’t let them appear. She had too much control for that. She’d been on the screen too long to reveal her emotions unless she wanted to.
'Except when I was with him.' Yes, he could always tell what she felt, and since it never worked when she tried to hide something from him, she stopped trying, and she soon found that she couldn’t even try when she was with him.
The poor excuse for clouds was gone now. The sunlight streamed through the tree leaves, making patterns of dark and light, shadow and clarity, on her arms, her perfect white arms. Everyone else drifted toward the expectant cars. Mother had stopped grasping her hand, and stood by the shiny black limo, waiting for her to come away from the coffin. Thinking she needed a few moments to collect herself. She looked at the coffin, still sitting above the ground, containing him. She remembered the open casket at the wake. It had been horrible. All those people walking by, staring at the body.
'Did I disappoint you? That’s the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I went to Hollywood to make you proud, the way you were proud of grandma. The way you would have been proud of Mom. How’d I do?' There were no answers to her queries. He couldn’t tell her now. Why hadn’t she asked before? 'I messed up. I messed up big.'
'What color were your eyes?' She hadn’t thought about that before. He had always said how beautiful her gray eyes were, but what color had his been? Why had she never paid enough attention? Now it was too late, she would never know.
'I could have done better.' Someone was coming up behind her. Mother. Asking her if she was all right. She might have said she was fine, or she might have said nothing for all that she noticed. But, she must have said something, because Mother left, and she was suddenly aware that she was the only person in the cemetery. Except for the workers who would bury the coffin under the black Earth. With the worms and the plant roots. In the darkness where no light would reach until even his smooth white bones were long since gone. It suddenly seemed like such an inhumane thing to do. 'I have to be sure to not let them do that to me when I go.' The sudden realization of her own mortality caused her to quit staring at the shiny black coffin. She turned away swiftly, and for a moment, she thought she was going to run. Run and run and never stop, never look back, until she was with him or-. Or what? She didn’t know. She didn’t care. She turned back to the coffin. That awful black coffin.
'I thought he loved me. That was the reason.' The confession to her grandfather’s coffin didn’t surprise her. It had been building for a long time. 'I know you probably thought I did it because I wanted to make it big, but I swear I thought he loved me, and you know what’s worse? I thought I loved him, too. I forgot, I’m incapable of loving anyone. Anyone but you.' She approached the shiny black coffin. She touched the waxy wood, and tried to think of something more to say. Something…anything…but nothing came. Her mind was blank for the first time since all of this began two days earlier. Two days? No, it started before that. Long before her mother called to say he was in the hospital, with the sterile rooms, and the gray corridors with the flickering white lights.
Then, it felt as though someone spoke to her. Not from outside herself, but not from within. Someone was holding her, not mentally, not physically. Maybe emotionally, but who could tell? The person, thing, being, whatever it was, whispered. Inaudible, intangible and incomprehensible. But she could understand it. She knew she could. 'If I only concentrate hard enough. If I listen, listen as I’ve never listened before. I know I can understand, I know I can. And it’s important, I know it is.'
She had never been good at listening to anyone. Not even to him, although sometimes he could hold her attention enough to make her concentrate at least a little on what he was saying, but she was headstrong. Nothing would change that. He soon gave up. But she listened now. And slowly, ever so slowly, the whisper began to make sense. It was him. He was there with her. Not in her, not around her, just there. Wherever â€˜there’ was. She didn’t know anymore. She didn’t care; he was talking. And for the first time in her life, she listened to every word and she understood.
Then he was leaving, and she was begging him to come back, to stay just a little longer. Not too much longer, just long enough for her to say good-bye. But then he told her that she knew she didn’t need more of a good-bye, and then she realized she had been preparing for this since she moved to Hollywood. She had slowly, ever so slowly, worked away from him. Insulating herself against a moment she knew was coming in the near future. He had warned her, long ago just before she left. He had warned her. His eyes spoke volumes to her in one short, clear look.
Those eyes, telling her WE ARE ALL MORTAL. She had left the next day. Nothing in the world could keep her there after that. But she had returned sometimes. But the visits had become more and more infrequent. The ties holding her became thinner and thinner. Until that fateful day when she returned for comfort, but she couldn’t tell him what she needed the comfort for, but he knew. 'He knew.' She hadn’t come back after that. Not until her mother called to tell her that he was in a coma. He was gone when she arrived at the gray and white hospital. When she left, she told herself he didn’t know, he couldn’t guess. But she knew the truth. He knew everything, but he had also forgiven her. She knew that now, too.
And suddenly, she remembered. “Blue,” She whispered. Then she shouted to the silent cemetery in a voice so filled with pain and contempt that it rang through the air with a terrible force, “His eyes were blue.”
Who cared that the workers were now staring at her as though she was insane? Who cared that she was dying because of the mistake she had made? Who cared that she wouldn’t live much longer? She was going to join him. So who cared about the rest of the world?
She started turning in circles, faster and faster and faster, until the trees, the sky, the tombstones were all one blur of whirling color, ever changing and rotating. And then, she stopped. The workmen looking on in astonishment saw her there, poised, her skin, her perfect white movie star skin shimmering in all its glory in the sunlight that was so imperfect for a funeral day, and then, she fell. She drifted to the ground. Her black dress tight in one place and loose in another against her skin, her perfect white skin, now covered in grass and dirt. At first the workmen merely stared, thinking she would get up and resume her insane version of mourning. But she didn’t move. Someone approached her prone body, but she was gone.
She watched from above, but not from above; from the eyes of the workers, but not from their eyes; from everywhere and nowhere, she watched them first walking, unsure, then running pell-mell to the body. Watched them lift her body and carry her to a black truck. She followed them, still attached to that body, but also no part of it. She followed them to the hospital, the gray and white hospital where he had died. She followed them inside to a room. Saw them put the body, the perfect body on a white bed and examine it. They examined it the way people had been examining it since she had moved to Hollywood. She heard someone say it was too late. The girl was gone. The disease had won. Who knew a body so perfect could be so vulnerable?
Then, he was there. And they didn’t stay to see anymore. 'Did I disappoint you?' And there was an answer, 'Your beautiful gray eyes could never disappoint me, so neither can the rest of you.' And the day, the perfect day, was done, for her, forever.