by Edward Ahern
The church smelled of old wood and incense. About ninety people were bunched around a casket at the front of the church.
Jack had spotted her twenty rows behind the other mourners. He walked over and sat down next to her.
Carole winced, then shrugged. “We shouldn’t be sitting together, Jack.”
“The gossip won’t be any worse than if we were separated by an aisle.”
They were noticed. Faint murmur ripples, then graying heads atop dark clothing pivoted to reveal pale faces that glanced backwards over the pews at them.
“I noticed we weren’t mentioned in the obit.”
“No, we weren’t. Janice made sure of that.”
He smiled wryly. “Weren’t invited to their wedding either.”
“We went from A-list to outcast.”
“Yeah. You look good in black. You’d still look good in anything.”
Carole’s mouth twisted. “That long ago, looking good wasn’t our problem.”
“No. It’s been a dozen years since Pete married Janice and we broke up.”
“Jack, you moved out of state and didn’t take me with you.”
“You didn’t want to go.”
“No, I didn’t.”
The microphoned priest could be heard clearly, but the responses were muted.
“When did you go from receding to bald?”
“After we separated.”
Relatives and friends began describing the redemptive portions of Pete’s life that floated above the surface. Pete was reportedly a cherished man with no enemies or vices. Jack wanted to raise his hand and object.
“Remember Pete’s thirtieth birthday party, when we all got drunk and Pete picked a fight with a bouncer? Pete and I got beat on pretty good before they tossed us out.”
“Your were an idiot to step in and take on another bouncer when Pete got wrestled down.”
“He was losing. Thought I should help.”
“Like I said, an idiot.”
“Did you go to the wake, Carole?”
“No, I didn’t want his ex-wife upsetting the family.”
“Neither did I. I wanted to talk with friends Pete and I had shared, but it wasn’t the place to laugh about old times.”
“So why are you here, Jack?”
“Pete hated me right to the end, but he’d been my best friend. I needed to observe his passing. Besides, I was hoping to see you.”
“Don’t go there. It’s been way too long since our overwhelming lust dissipated.”
“But we were awfully good together, weren’t we? It’s never been as intense with anyone else. You admitted it was never as good with you and Pete.”
“It was just different. Pete was comfortable and predictable. You and I were crazy.”
“But we loved it. Look what we gave up to stay together.”
“For a while. But we didn’t last very long after the divorce, did we?”
Heads were turning their way again, and Carole leaned toward Jack so she could more softly whisper. “You still have a waist. How painful is it to hang onto?”
“Not painful, just boring. I don’t eat or drink what I want to, and I drag myself into the gym three times a week. You ever think about Provincetown?”
Carole showed a twisted smile. Provincetown had been the sexual high point of their relationship, just before they’d told Pete.
“I always thought that our being a heterosexual minority sauced up the sex. We were never that wanton again.”
Jack paused. “I do miss Pete. I miss his nasty sense of humor, the way he would always take my side in an argument, even when he knew I was being an ass.”
“And I envied what you had with him and resented that he was never like that with me.”
“Jesus, Carole, how wrong I was about Pete. I figured he’d eventually scar over and we’d be able to talk again.”
“There was nothing temporary about his hatred of us, was there?”
The organist started off into a hymn. The singing rose and fell in ragged, off-keyed voices. Jack was afraid to start whispering more loudly in case the organist stopped while he was in mid-comment. He silently reached out and wrapped Carole’s hand. She twitched but didn’t pull her hand away. The hymn limped to its Amen.
Carole tugged her hand out of Jack’s. “I can’t deal with this. I don’t want to see you again.”
“I’ve moved back here, Carole.”
“About three months ago. I’ve wanted to get in touch,”
“Didn’t want to be rash?”
Announcements were being made about the drive to the cemetery and the catered gathering following the burial.
“Carole, we either face the mourners as they file out or slip out the back door now.”
They stood together in a side garden featuring the Stations of the Cross and watched mourners and casket bobble down the steps and onto the church drive. They’d lost their gossip novelty and were being carefully ignored. Once released from church, the attendees became chatty. Janice seemed almost strident.
Carole sidled up behind one of the obelisks, shielding her from the crowd’s sight. It read: “Jesus Falls the First Time.”
“So, Jack, how significant is your other?”
“I wish. There’s never really been anyone else. Not for more than a few months. How about you?”
“Not really. It seems twice bitten was enough.”
They stood close together. Closer than strangers, not so close as lovers.
“Carole, would you like to come with me next week to visit the grave? I’m sure by then we’d be the only two people there.”
“That’s such a bad idea.”
Pete’s casket was dolly-rolled to the back of the hearse and loaded in.
She faced him more directly. “But I should visit his grave. When would you want to do it?”
Copyright © 2017 by Edward Ahern