His face is waxy now. Pulled into shapes and lines with the help of some formaldehyde and no blood. None at all.
His buddy sits along the wall, legs splayed to make room for his belly, face the color of forgotten ashes, eyes layered in heavy bags.
Mom is wearing her Sunday shoes, her tiny body perched on little black heels, legs bowing more like grandma's now.
Dad, in his necktie and sweater (did he remember how to tie it? Does mom know how to knot a tie? How does he manage to get out of the bathtub?! Whats that new sore on his head?), he doesn't seem to bear the weight of losing his last brother. His younger brother. Dad is wondering- Am I 82? or 90? and- who will cut the grass? and- when will I get better?
My sisters and I sit in a row, flanked by cousins and remaining elders. Auntie Tina is the baby. When she takes to the podium and looks at her big brother, lying there cold and unfeeling, she is fond and reflective. Not resentful for being called a baby after all these years. It's just her and dad now- the oldest and the youngest. I can't help but put myself in her shoes and imagine losing all my siblings except my big brother Al. And I wonder why my dad isn't weeping until I remember that he can't remember- how old am I? and who will cut the grass?
My cousin wants to talk to me. But I want to stare at Uncle George's face. I want to ponder the death in it where his life used to be. I want to study the puffed up white satin his head rests on now, his suit, his bald head, the reconstructed lines where his laugh lines should be. My cousin grins at me, asks about the kids, and because we may only see one another annually, I recite their ages- almost 20, 18, 16, and 11. It astounds me to hear this, myself. I remember that he has grandchildren, and politely return the niceties. 5 and 7 now, you say? Wow- where does the time go.
Mrs Funk a few rows over is sitting with her old new husband. Her first one died, and she found this one, still breathing. What do they do, old, and adjoining their lives? Do they make love? Lay together, vulnerable, sharing their losses in the warmth of each other's rise and fall? Do they merge their bank accounts, introduce their children, go to seniors lunch on Tuesdays? (mashed potatoes, ham, and apple sauce. Rhubarb crisp, for dessert.)
Their kids, no longer kids, are going through divorces. They had kids, or didn't have kids, moved across town, or across the ocean, and my cousin sighs, leaning closer- it's not what we'd planned.... divorce, and living common-law...
Life hands us surprises, I say. We don't know until we're someplace else than we thought we'd be, that this might be the way it is, the way it might be. But we find our feet again, and walk on that new ground.
I think again of my children. The way I thought it would be, the way I thought that we would be. In my mind I kiss the backs of their hands, rub their scars, rearrange again the pictures in my head, making room for the surprises.
I look again at Uncle George, hands layered across his best suit. I wonder what he dreamed of for his kids. I wonder if he did.
Some cousins (from the other side), rise to the podium, talk about their uncle. Say strange, disjointed things, pretend to be funny. People clap. I don't want them to clap and I dig my nails into my forearms to ground myself from running outside for coffee.... air...grace.... room for questions without answers. And once they start clapping, they're committed- obligated to clap for each attempt at giving homage to George. And so every few minutes, a weak pattering of colliding old hands, making noise for the living and for the dead.
Today I want to be quiet. I want to watch and I want to listen. I want to stare at his dead face and be introspective about living, or not living, and what does that mean. I want to think about meaning and significance without the pastor going on about meeting at some river- if (he points out) we were lucky enough to say all the right words to get what we don't deserve that has nothing to do with us and our choices, except for those words we had better have once said. I want some space to study George's ear- the one with a piece missing from it. A dog, from what I remember. I want to see if his eyelashes ever grew back after that stroke that rendered his entire body smooth as a sandy beach. (or was it a heart attack?) And I become afraid of what I will forget my daddy has told me about his own scars and the bolts that hold his leg together.
When I have the chance, I put my hand on the cousin whose father lays there, and I say- I've had such thoughts for you. So many thoughts. And she says- It's been too much. But isn't life that way? Isn't so much of life too much?
And I have to walk away. Nodding and sniffing and nodding some more. Yes. Yes, it is.
Over to my mother, toddling on her Sunday shoes- I have to sit down, she says. Can't stand around in these. Dad is tired too, and he has already forgotten what auntie Tina said about it just being the two of them now. The eldest, and the baby. Tomorrow they will stand together in the hot spring that finally followed the impossibly long winter, and they will watch their brother being lowered into the ground. I don't suppose they make much room for introspection any more? To wonder whether they are living their lives to the fullest, to evaluate how they spend their weekends, their money, their moments?
I need to gaze my full of uncle George today. Tomorrow I can't get away- too many tiny little fledgeling lives will fill my house and yard. They'll be pooping their pants and eating their snot and throwing tantrums when I don't let them run out to play in the street. They haven't started wondering yet, either. No vexing questions about meaning, or significance. But I am vexing as I look at George. And I am wondering.
And there's not much time. I need to get home- make sure Sam practised his piano, that his swim trunks made it into the laundry, plan a lunch for tomorrow, put the dishes back into the dishwasher. There's laundry from two days ago still on the couch, needing to get folded before the dog pees on them, and the lawn sure has a lot of dry patches this year. Quack grass- what long roots! and I wish I knew who borrowed our extension ladder, there are tiny saplings growing in the eavestroughs. The raspberries should get transplanted before that fence goes in, and I wonder if Brian would agree to installing a slide off the back deck? The van is sounding funky, there's an oil leak, and the odometer shows a zillion miles. I must register Micah for drivers ed! and Jane needs that dental surgery. Why does Sam get so distracted, and who can I find to teach piano next year? There are grad decorations to assemble and the grass to mow. The router is acting up and the car is dirty. Brian might be teaching a different grade in fall, and I will have two baby boys to get used to kissing. The stairs haven't been swept in weeks! and the rhubarb should be picked. I should bring some to mom, who will be moving more slowly than she did last year, and helping dad a lot more than she used to.
They might be sitting in the shade of the yard, waiting for me to come and cut the grass.
Dad will ask me again- how old am I? And what grades are the kids in now? I will rub dad's head and kiss the top of it. My tiny birdy mama will take my bacon fat and turn it into snowy homemade soap, or maybe some rhubarb pie that tastes faintly of maple bacon. She will laugh at my jokes, at least the ones her ears will let her hear, and we will wander out to the garden to admire the baby plants, after this long winter. She'll tell me there no bunnies this year and that Walter brought her some compost, Al tilled it in. That the raspberries are coming in nicely and the peony will bloom again.
I will study them and try to memorize their eyes and smiles. I will drink in their grace and their gratitude. I take in their laugh lines, still soft and fluid.
As I vex and ponder my own.