I combed the grass with my feet, pulling it up as I rocked on my heels. It was that time of year when only some splotches of grass broke through mostly depressing gray snow. There was a McDonald’s french fry cup bathing in the sunlight by my second cousin’s (whom apparently I had met before) feet. There were two possible explanations: (a) someone brought french fries to a funeral, or (b) someone brought french fries to please the dead. I chose to go with the latter. Which grave name sounds like they loved little sticks of 7 percent potato and 93 percent salt? Without moving my lower body, I managed to look at the surrounding graves. Martha Johnson, definitely no. William Howard Taft, nah, he sounds like a rock enthusiast. Agatha Dwerb! Yes! My mom looked over at me with salty eyes and I felt like I should get around to doing that thing she said I should do, today out of all days. I slowly lifted my eyes to the sky like I just threw a Goldfish or Cheeto (depending on if I was in the mood for spicy or not, and I was usually always in the mood for spicy except on Tuesdays) in the air, but I didn’t open my mouth. The sky was familiar – my light wash jeans blue.
“Love you, Grandpa. That one time we played poker and you showed me all your magazine cut-outs of Jackie O. was fun. I’ll miss your syrupy smell. Amen.”
“That’s all you have to say?”
“Just put Grandpa on the phone.”
“That’s not how it works!”
I squeezed my mom’s hand. It was wet. With tears or sweat, I’m not sure.
It’s not a suicidal thing – I think it’s just a human thing – but when I squeezed her hand I started thinking about who would squeeze her hand if I was lying in that box, and I shuddered in a kind of enjoyable way. For me, it’s usually a fatal car crash, but I spend less time dwelling on how. I go straight to the important stuff. Who gets the news first. I’m laying on a cold hospital table, right? And, my mom will obviously be there first. She’ll probably run in with her heels in her hand because she’s coming from work, and she’ll hold the pointy ends out when the nurses tell her one second so they can find my update because she knows how much time seconds are worth. She’ll rub her eyes because she’s tired. She’s been working all night. Her instinct will be to ask where the coffee machine is, but she’ll remember those seconds. I think, now, she’ll call my dad. He’ll be surprised when the phone rings, but he’ll get here in 30 minutes if traffic isn’t too bad. The doctor will come but because of his severe stuttering (which made him avoid social contact in childhood) he will lack the emotion in his voice to tell my mom that her son is d-d-dea-ad. My mom won’t want coffee anymore because she’ll want to be asleep now.
Jonah’s mom squeezes his hand back.
I don’t know if my friends will go to school the next day. I think Jessie will, but I think she’ll be a mess. I kinda really hope she’s a mess. I know she’ll hate me for making her fail her math quiz. Howard will be a total a**hole, like normal, but worse. He’ll stay home not because he wouldn’t be able to make it through the day at school, but because he’d rather play video games. Maybe he’ll cry. If he does it will come out of nowhere. And he’ll think he is crying because he has no more levels on Pokémon, but it will be my fault, and that makes me kind of happy.
Slowly some men in black strap the casket to a lowering device. The last man in black stubs his toe.
I wonder how fast the news will spread. And I wonder if those people who always pass me in gym laps will be upset. We jog (okay, they jog) like clockwork. Sometimes they actually ask me how many I did because they did an estimated five more. What about those people whom I sometimes crack jokes with in chem? The easiest way to make friends in class is to talk smack about your teacher, so we all related on how much Ms. Anderson’s pants didn’t seem to want to stay on her butt. Abby sure as hell should be upset. I gave her a pencil every freaking day. Who goes to school without a pencil? I wonder if my teachers will acknowledge my absence or if I’ll get a plaque with my name on it by a tree outside the school. I got okay grades and I was in the facial hair club; some would argue I’m not important but my sideburns would say otherwise.
The casket is ready for takeoff in 3, 2, 1. It moves slowly like Jonah’s mom without coffee.
My mom will want my funeral to be at church (not like we have been there since Easter ’09). I’ll be put in one of those annoying suits with the constricting elbow sleeves, but she’ll make sure I’m in my favorite bow tie. Dammit, I should have written a will. Howard would have liked the rest of my bow ties. He would burn them slowly, one at a time. He hates my bow ties! He’d probably roast marshmallows with their glowing fire, and he would think they added to the flavor.
The casket seems not to be fitting in the hole. The priest swears under his breath.
I don’t want my dad to stop playing mini golf on Sunday afternoons. His putts are almost as predictable as my parents’ fights. Avoid the dishwasher in conversation at all costs. So, I can usually estimate the score. I want him to improve. I want him to beat me. He can probably beat me.
Everyone half gasps. Grandpa’s girlfriend almost chokes on her snot.
My little sister will be okay. I don’t remember being five. So maybe she won’t even remember me. Maybe, to help her forget, my parents will hide all the pictures of me. Maybe my room will get locked. It will be that forbidden closet guests wonder about. What if they get rid of all my stuff? Hopefully they can’t bear it, so they leave it untouched. Maybe when Annabel’s, like, 30 my parents will tell her the family secret. She’ll be disappointed because it’s more crap she’ll have to clean out of the house when they die.
Silence (except for Jonah pulverizing the grass beneath his feet). But crushed grass doesn’t make a lot of sound, so basically silence.
When my friends go block party hunting, they better get the 900 block of Gunderson. That block rents the best bouncy house and someone puts the world’s best guacamole on the snack table every year. And I hope they use the name Michael when people ask who they are friends with. There’s a Michael on every block; everyone knows a Michael! Maybe once in a while they could try Jonah, as a tribute?
Men in black come back with three shovels. Julia, Jonah’s aunt and senior of two years, takes a selfie.
That guacamole. Am I drooling? Annabel calls avocados “guacamoles.”
Four men with three shovels start extending the length of the hole. Their bodies are in sync. Without the shovels in their hands it would look like they were dancing.
We buried a guacamole seed in our backyard. I was 9. It never grew anything. So, now every time I pass that spot I step on it harder than usual. You can be mad at the Earth. She sure does get mad at you.
The priest goes into an improvised prayer. He BS’s a few words here and there. He hasn’t used this prayer in a while. He hasn’t gone to a funeral like this in a while. He hopes these guys can dig a little faster because he has a doggy funeral followed by a 15 minute Panda Express/bathroom break at 12:45 before a wedding at 1. Jonah becomes very teary-eyed. His mother looks over, pleasantly surprised.
I saw Agatha’s grave. My feet started moving without my permission. I wanted to do lunges. I found my left foot inside the McDonald’s cup. Elevating slowly to prop the soggy thing on Agatha’s headstone.
When would they stop visiting my grave? Would they even put the right quote or phrase on it. I kinda hope it is, “My name is Inigo Montoya,” which is how I test if someone is worth my time when I introduce myself. Would they start by coming once a week? Would they pack a little breakfast and sit on blankets right on top of me?
Jonah’s face becomes a gray green like the grass in October. Jonah was born in October. The diggers continue digging. Aunt Hallie, who wasn’t actually invited but somehow found out, starts singing “Journey” at the top of her lungs.
Will they put stuff on my grave like on Agatha’s? I like McDonald’s fries. I’d prefer Gunderson’s guacamole.
“Payin’ anything to roll the dice, just one more time ….”
Grandpa’s poker friend, Jerry, curses Hallie out, accusing her of taking crack and stealing his car 20 years ago.
Surely they will start forgetting to come. It will be gradual, and then all at once I won’t even be sitting in the back of their mind! I’m talking demotion to the sensory cortex.
Beth, Grandpa’s second ex-wife, swings her umbrella, and it hits Jerry in the back. “I stole your car, idiot. You never helped raise Billy, and I also stole your mom’s waffle maker.” Beth gets feistier and starts kicking, as best as an old lady can (almost as good as Jackie Chan). The priest pulls Beth away while Hallie goes into “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Jonah’s head becomes heavy like when the Titanic became heavy when all the water broke in. Jonah cried during “Titanic,” but only in the first five minutes because Leonardo Dicaprio should have gotten a Golden Globe.
I knew my face was wet, but I wasn’t sure if it was with tears or sweat. I tasted salt. I felt my life pushing me. He looked like me but he was unfinished, incomplete (and it wasn’t a bow tie he was missing). He was standing there, but I could see through him.
I could see everything happening without me. I want to haunt my mother. I want to sit in the back of my sister’s brain. I want my father to stomp on the ground above my permanent designated parking space. I want my friends to shake my bones until they break. He used his hands like wind to carry me.
The casket is once again ready for takeoff. Jonah’s mother, strangely entertained, hasn’t noticed his now-iceberg color. Jonah stops and drops and he rolls about 360 degrees with an hour and a half of momentum, perfectly falling into that perfectly dug out hole in the ground. Just in time, too! Grandpa’s third ex-wife is approaching the casket because she has “some final words to speak with him.” No one notices Jonah is missing.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the December 2015 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.