She was fanning herself with a ticket and a check. The tide had risen, heavy and dead enough for the world to sink into—and all they had left was to think of the funeral.

“It’s okay to be angry,” he said to her as they waited for the train. And he meant it, if only because he’d wanted someone to say it to him when he was younger—sitting at the station after missing a bus; looking down at broken glass in a picture frame; when, curled up in bed at night as a kid, he heard his parents yelling in the living room beneath him, the sound, the ruckus, the thudding coming to him from under his bed, circling endlessly around his head. He wanted her to feel things, feel them outrageously, furiously, so that they pushed her one way and then the other, led her down the street, out of the city, to woods and over mountains, showed her ruins and fields, loud places, quiet ones, the world, all the while feeling, feeling.

“I’m not angry,” she said.

The world, he thought, a light that wouldn’t catch—strike, strike against the side of the matchbox, the smell of sulfur. How can you not be angry? He wanted to ask. Her mother had died in such a funny way. She had been dying funny since he’d come to know her, laid up in bed, a sack of bones with just one layer of skin between the world and her marrow so that when he shook her hand the first day he met her—as she lay sprawled out in the hospital bed in the living room, white sheets too white piled around her body like a mountain range—he felt every bone in her fingers, each knuckle and joint sharp against his own. Her face—eyes looking past him—had no muscle, no fat, only bone, and the skin sagged, not like it did on the old under the weighted years of gravity, but because there was nothing left to hold on to anymore.

She was dying already. She was dying anyway. But then, one day—a good day—a fly flew into her mouth, in the middle of a sentence, and she was dead.

Her father was going to have it cut out of her throat and preserved.

“It’s okay,” he said, “To feel whatever you’re feeling.” He thought about putting a hand on her shoulder but didn’t. The train was maybe five minutes away. In the distance he could see the headlight glinting in the growing twilight. The humidity felt thick against his fingertips, like he could feel it pressing into the lines of his skin—beads of sweat were dripping down the nape of her neck.

“Would you stop talking?”

“Okay,” he told her, meaning he would stop talking.

In the dark beyond her, he could see the beach packed with bodies—and, years from now, he knew, when he was dying, when he was laid up in a living room, looking back not on his own life, but those which had become entangled with his, he would remember the way she had looked at him then, over her shoulder like a kid was tugging at her sleeve, a discontentment there, not one—he knew—that would fade, but that stuck in the eyes, a coldness sweetened by youth and the dimming of it, the sadness of it, her mouth set in a worbled line, the muscles in her jaw taught. He would remember how he looked down at her hands then, the nails prim, the knuckles white against the blue skirt around her legs. He would reach out as though reaching for her face, from the sheets of his death bed, from the mountain ranges around his own body, and his children would see the glaze in his eyes, see the whites of his eyes, and pretend as best they could that their father was not dying.

“Don’t say anything please.” The train light flashed across her face, closer now.

He worried the fly would be at the funeral, preserved in a bell jar, that everyone would be wearing color and not black, peering over the glass at the thing that had done it—the worst cancer: happenstance.

“Okay. I’m sorry.”

The platform was bustling. There were families, suitcases, young men in stiff suits who looked down at their wristwatches as though they had something to hurry back to. It all felt close to him, too close to him, and he rubbed a hand over his face. Funerals. Terrible things happened at funerals. He remembered being a little boy, feet dangling from metal folding chairs, staring and staring at the space above the coffin, something rising out of it, a soul, breath, or heat. He remembered looking down at his grandfather’s or grandmother’s or somebody’s face, not recognizing it, not caring to, the coldness of it shocking him back across the carpeted room. There was something awful about the way adults went around at funerals, dressed in black, laughing, crying, holding empty glasses in their wrinkled hands, pretending they felt old enough to deal with death. He’d watch his mother’s black heels sink into the carpet, see the flick of her dark eyes as they flitted over to his father across the room—and he would never follow her gaze. He would feel himself burned alive, floating out of his seat into the air, picture his ashes on the mantel, and wonder if death was watching through the tinted warped glass of an urn as everyone else kept living.

The train rushed into the station. A wave of air pressed against them, and she took a step back into his chest. An accident, but she stayed there, frozen, as the train slowed and the doors opened, and the gush of air fell away to stillness. For a moment, no one seemed to breathe, no one moved, and then: a rush of bodies toward the doors, pushing past them, scuttling around them.

But the conductor didn’t even glance at them, standing on the platform, staring in at the dead mouth of the train. The doors closed, the train chugged off, and she started crying. He put his hand on her shoulder, felt the stick of sweat, felt every bone, every muscle, the blood in her veins as it rushed beneath her skin, and even as they turned to leave, as his hand fell to his side, as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the tips of fingers, saying “Let’s take a cab,” he still felt her little shoulder as it trembled under his hand and knew that he would never again feel as alive as he did then.

Powered by Froala Editor

Powered by Froala Editor