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The Funeral

Alright, this took forever to write, and I still haven’t decided whether or not I like it. I’m not even sure if this is the 100% final version, some changes may still have to be made, but it’s at the very least okay I think. It’s longish, but I think it’s one of my better if not near best concepts for a story and I tried to do it justice.

The Funeral

This isn’t right.

Aaron awoke, not sure of where he was. The surroundings were unfamiliar. This wasn’t his bed, this wasn’t his room, that wasn’t the view from his window. After a moment of confusion, the remnants of his troubled dreams from a difficult night’s sleep cleared from his conscious, and he remembered.

He was at home. In a motel. He had arrived in town the evening before. He had visited his parents at the house he had grown up in, stayed for dinner but then left. He had elected to not even go upstairs and revisit, let alone spend the night in, the room that for so many years he had called his own. He had gone from there to the motel, stopping along the way at a liquor store. However, upon arriving at the motel, he hadn’t even felt the energy to get properly drunk and fell into a restless sleep.

He was glad of that now. A hangover wouldn’t have helped him at this point. He had a funeral to go to.

_________________

His phone rang, and his live-in girlfriend, Christie, answered.

“Hello,” she said with that terribly soft and sweet voice of hers. “Yes, he’s here.”

She handed the phone to him and mouthed, “It’s your mother.”

Aaron took the phone, “Hey, what’s up?”

There was a pause, then his mom answered, “Hello, how’s things?”

“Things are fine. I’m good, Christie’s good, work is… work, but it’s good.”

“Good to hear.”

“You normally call on Sunday’s. Is there something you needed to talk to me about or did you just want to chat?”

“Yes, well, it’s… Haley is dead.”

“What? Dead? How? I… I mean that’s terrible.”

“She umm… she jumped.”

“She what? No… but, but what about her husband, and kids, too?”

“It’s been a hard few days for them I imagine.”

“That’s… that’s terrible. Wha- I mean, why?”

“I don’t think anyone knows. You’d have to ask her. And of course, well, that’s no longer possible. I mean, why does anyone really? It’s always been a mystery to me.”

“Yes… yes, well… well I…”

“There’s a funeral this Sunday. I think you should come.”

“Yes, yes of course, I’ll… I don’t think I can get out of work tomorrow so I’ll leave Saturday.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, yes I’m fine. I’ll see you Saturday, okay? I’ll come by the house first thing.”

“Alright. You sure you’re okay?”

“Really… really I’m okay. I love you, bye.”

“Love you.”

Aaron hung up and put the phone down. He turned and looked at Christie, sitting next to him on the couch with a concerned look on her face.

“Who died?”

“Haley.”

“Who?”

“Oh, yeah, she was a… I guess you could say a high school sweetheart of mine.”

“What happened to her?”

“She killed herself. Jumped apparently.”

“And you said, you said she had kids?”

“Two, at the last I heard. I guess the oldest would be about… 5 now.”

“That’s awful. How could she do that to them?”

“I don’t know. It really is… tragic. I have to go back on Saturday for the funeral Sunday.”

“Do you want me to come along?”

“Well, no. No I think it’s best I go on my own. And I know you have things you’re committed to here already.”

“If you’re sure…”

“Yes. Yes I’m sure.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Aaron stared vacantly out at the room in front of him, and Christie watched him still holding that same concerned look. A look that quite plainly said, I wish you’d tell me what’s on your mind. Aaron, however, remained oblivious until she spoke.

“How close were you and her?”

“Not very anymore. Last time I saw her was her wedding, and that was 5 years ago.”

“But you used to be?”

“Well yes, back in high school there was a period of a few months when we both, or at least I, thought we were in love. It came to a very… abrupt end, though.

“What happened?”

“It was… something happened that just… it made our relationship feel wrong, so we stopped seeing each other.”

“You don’t want to talk about it?”

“Umm, well, not really… no. It was a very long time ago.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, well, the short version is that a friend of ours, my best friend actually, and Haley’s ex, committed suicide, and we both felt in a number of ways responsible.”

“Oh god, that’s so terrible. You can’t blame yourself for that. Things like that, they can’t be blamed on anyone.”

“It’s taken me a long time to come anywhere close to accepting that. At the time I believed it was entirely my fault.”

“You shouldn’t have. It’s really just… unfair for you to feel responsible.”

“It was long ago enough now that I don’t feel much of anything about it anymore. Or at least I didn’t. But now with Haley though, well, I’m not sure it really changes anything but it brings a lot back.”

“Do you… is there anythi-”

“I’ve seen that look before, there isn’t anything you can do to help, and really I’m fine. Just a little shaken up is all. Even though Haley and I lost contact over the years, she was still an important person to me, and now that she’s gone, I don’t know how I feel about that yet.”

There was another quiet moment as Aaron stared down at the floor, and Christie continued to look at him with just as much if not more concern. She opened her mouth as if about to say something, but then stopped. She leaned over and hugged Aaron, wrapping her arms tightly around his back, resting her chin firmly on his shoulder. Aaron returned the embrace.

_______________

By the time Aaron arrived at the graveyard,\ the ceremony was well under way. Everyone was gathered in a circle around the coffin which was poised above the grave, waiting to be lowered. A preacher stood at the far end, holding a bible from which he read. Aaron looked at the people standing with him, all dressed in black, heads bowed, solemn and grieving, or at least showing respect for those who were.

Next to the preacher stood a man who Aaron recognized as Haley’s husband. He appeared to be on the verge of tears, Aaron was quite impressed with the man’s ability to keep it together. Next to him stood a boy of about five, staring blankly at the coffin. Aaron could see the tear stains on the boy’s face. Another boy who looked to be not quite two stood clinging to his father’s leg. He was too young to really understand what was going on, and, in a way, he was lucky for that. Next to them stood a couple who Aaron recognized to be Haley’s parents. They had outlived their child, and they weren’t the only ones Aaron had seen do so.

Aaron continued his way around the circle, it was an impressive turnout really, but of course nothing less than impressive could ever be expected from Haley. Most people he didn’t know. Moving along he came to an elderly man and woman that he almost didn’t recognize at first. John’s parents. He didn’t think he’d seen them since John’s funeral. It was strange to see them again now. He wondered why they’d come; he’d always thought that they blamed him and Haley for what John had done. The image of the two of them at John’s funeral was still clear in his mind. Him standing solemnly, much as Haley’s husband was now. Her, barely able to stand, weeping into her husband’s shoulder, shaking with grief. Imagining his parents like that had for a time been one of the few things that kept Aaron from following in John’s footsteps.

The preacher said his final words, and the coffin began sinking into the ground. Aaron looked at the coffin, wishing his vision could penetrate the wood so he could get one last look at her. He couldn’t pin down the emotion he felt watching her being lowered into the grave. In that box lay the body of a woman he had once been so close to, as close as two people can possibly be to each other. He had felt the life pulse through her veins, a pulse that was now still.

He thought about the last time that he saw her. He didn’t remember it well. There was the wedding, a great big Catholic ordeal, her new husband’s kind of thing. Then there was the reception. He didn’t remember much of the reception beyond getting blind drunk. His memories ended at the bottom of a highball glass.

The coffin reached the bottom of the grave, and the group surrounding it began to disband. Aaron lingered a moment, then turned and began heading back through the graveyard to his car. A hand touched his shoulder and startled he turned. It was Haley’s husband who had stopped him. He had in his hand an envelope, which he held out to Aaron. Aaron noticed that his name was written, in woman’s handwriting, on the sealed fold of the envelope.

“She left this for you.”

“Oh, uh, thanks,” Aaron said, taking the envelope. “And I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

The man lingered for a moment, as if debating whether or not to continue speaking, but then turned and began to walk away.

“Wait, do you, did you want to…” Aaron held the envelope back out toward the man, who had stopped a few paces away.

“No, I got one of my own. That’s yours,” he said, but still he didn’t leave. A moment of tense hovering passed and Aaron was about to try and say goodbye and leave, but then he spoke again.

“She was worried about you, you know.”

This caught Aaron completely off balance.

“Huh?” was all he managed to put together as a response.

“After the wedding, you know. She saw how you were, wouldn’t stop fretting about it.”

“I… I never heard from her.”

“I know, for whatever reason she wouldn’t make contact with you directly. Ended up calling your mother I think.”

“Oh, umm, alright then.”

“Well,” he said, and inhaled deeply, in a, ‘that’s that then’, sort of manner. “Goodbye.”

“Yeah. And uh, again, sorry.”

After which the man turned and left.

Aaron stood staring at the envelope for a minute. The handwriting was neat, curvy enough to indicate a female hand, but not overly flowery. He ran his thumb across the ink, feeling where once the tip of her pen had been guided by her hand to address her last words, to him anyway. He folded the envelope into his pocket and walked back to his car.

Aaron reached his car, seated himself behind the wheel, fit the key into the ignition, and then stopped. He had to think for a moment about where he was going to go. He decided that he should probably stop back at his parents’ house before heading back to Boston, it would be a while before he was likely to see them again, and he’d get an earful on the phone if he didn’t.

As he pulled into the driveway, he noted that there wasn’t a car in the drive. He let himself in and called out.

“Anyone here?”

There was no response. The house was silent. He remembered the days when entering the house was never quiet, always you would be met by the sound of claws scratching frenetically against the hardwood floor as the dog rushed to greet you, to make you feel welcome and loved. There was no more dog.

Aaron remained in the foyer for a moment, the ghosts of his life rushing around and through him. He saw himself as a boy, sitting with John in the living room in front of the TV, hands furiously working controllers. His teenaged self emerged with Haley from the kitchen, and ran holding hands up the stairs to his room. 18 year old him appeared again at the top of the stairs, alone and carrying a suitcase which he dragged down the stairs. He paused at the door, took one last look at the house around him, pet the dog, then left.

He headed upstairs and opened the door to his room. Through all the years it had remained mostly the same. A few old posters still clung to the walls, a few old collections still sat on the shelves. The bed was neatly made, and Aaron lay down on it. He thought about the life he had lived in this room. He thought about the day that life had ended. He thought about the 1 Missed Call.

As he left the theatre in the dark with Haley on his arm, he turned on his cellphone. The screen lit up and told him, “1 Missed Call: John.” He thought nothing of it and pocketed the phone. He’d call him back later. He would have left a message if it was important.

He tore himself from the recollection, and tore open the envelope. Inside, there was a single sheet of paper, with a single sentence written in the same handwriting as had been on the envelope.

I never stopped loving you.

_____________________

It was dark now, and cool for this time of year, yet still somehow managing to remain humid. Aaron’s hands gripped the rail tightly. He felt the rust come loose under his hands, and removing them he watched the small brown flakes fall away to the water below. It didn’t look all that far away. He’d heard that falling into water from a certain height was no better than hitting concrete, but he figured you’d probably need to be a little higher up than this. He didn’t think the water could be all that deep here. Maybe if you dove, you’d hit the bottom. There were probably rocks. Maybe you just had to fall in and let yourself drown. The other two had managed it somehow. It was definitely possible.

Staring down into the darkness, he recalled an old song that he’d loved in his teenage years, and he began to sing, softly and without rhythm, the one line he could remember.

“And Dad would dream of all the different ways to die, each one a little more than he could dare… to try.”

Aaron began to sob. It came over him all at once, the tears streaming down his face, the anguish building up in his vocal cords and escaping with his shaking breath. He sunk down into a sitting position with his back against the railing. It began to rain, and soon after it began to pour. The sound of the rain pounding the pavement and the water below became deafening. Aaron turned his face skyward so that the rain washed the salt from his face, and just as quickly as it had started, the downpour ended.


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