Anzzia Magazine Summer 2019 Volume #31 - Page 43

room, talking to Dave’s parents. Money changed hands. They were concerned that he be given a 'proper' burial. The priest had been helpful on this point. After all, Dave had only been sixteen.

I returned to school to grade semester finals. The students in my humanities course had read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'd had them write a paper on the meaning of Quality. As I was grading the second paper it occurred to me that we were on semester break. Dave couldn't have been working on homework last night. There was none.... I began to cry again. I cried until I'd soaked the paper in front of me. I threw them all in the trash and left.

That night Phil came over. He'd recently resigned as the English Department Chairman and was planning to go into the ministry. I'd seen him through a divorce and been best man at his second marriage. He'd been busy lately but stopped by to 'see how I was doing'.

I'd been drinking and smoking my pipe since I got home that afternoon. I watched Phil talk as if he was disembodied. The mouth moved but the words were delayed like in some poorly dubbed movie. His soft, green eyes, graying red hair and beard, and kind face looked at me. Yes. He was a gentle man.

"What you're going through, “he offered, "is grief."

"NO!" I got up and began to pace. "NO! NO! NO!"

I caught myself and sat down. Phil looked at me in silence.

"Look, Phil, I know you're trying to help." I paused a moment and listened to

Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony. "You know, the Eskimos have seven different words for snow. That's because snow isn't just snow. This isn't just grief, I just wish there was a word."

That night I began to drink myself to sleep. I drank to ease the ache. I drank because I was afraid I wouldn't go to sleep. I drank because I was afraid to dream.

The next day I went to the funeral home. Jim had asked me to be a pall bearer. I disobeyed my doctor's orders about lifting heavy objects and agreed.

Stan, Dave's best friend and debate partner, stood at the back of the parlor. Other members of the debate team milled about. Bespeckled, with long hair, gaunt faced, Stan stared into the parlor at the coffin. There had been rumors that Stan was going to follow Dave in some kind of pact. Stan's mother had called me several times, asking me to keep an eye on her son.

I asked Stan if he'd looked at the body. No. He refused to. He wanted to remember Dave as he was, not as some made-to-look-good...his voice trailed off. He looked away. He asked me if I had.

The casket was only fifteen feet away but it seemed like more. The room was stuffy and dusky. People milled about. No one was at the bier. I started towards it. Snatches of voices punctuated the steady drone.

"So tragic..."

"Only sixteen."

"Why?..."

"Will there be a mass?"

The casket was a powder, baby blue.

The Living

by

Robert M. Stumpf, II