You check your watch just before entering the double doors of the parlor. Eleven forty-two o’clock. Perfect. Just perfect. “Fashionably late” as always. It was not your fault this time, though. Really. Even though you have the habit that’s earned the reputation of being the one that shows up after everyone else, you have an excuse. No one woke you up this morning.
You arose an hour prior to an empty house with a pain in your ribs, forgetting that your family had a funeral to attend. You only know that this funeral is happening at midday today because you overheard your parents telling your brother about it the night before. No one specifically mentioned it to you. Your parents had already taken the old station wagon with your little brother without even leaving a note to say they had left nor did they bother to wake you. In fact, no one has really spoken to you for the past two days. You try to remember who the funeral was for. Whoever it was caused everyone to sink into a rut as they sulked around the house, but you’ve spent most of the time locked in your room to allow the dark mood to pass anyway. Your family must have just thought you would not be home this morning or that the deceased person wasn’t close enough for you to really care to go. Whatever, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Who was this service for anyway? Must have been some distant relative or cousin of your mother. She had been all tears in agonizing pain. Your father has held up well, though, if not a little unresponsive- nothing too out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, you quickly get dressed into your best attire, taking care not to upset your ribs, which are creating a greatly uncomfortable pain down your side. A beaten grumble when the shower wouldn’t start, forcing you to run your fingers through your hair to look as presentable as possible before storming out the door and starting the two mile walk to the tiny chapel.
The walk had been uncomfortable, wearing a dark suit and stiff dress shoes under the late summer sun, but still you soldiered on. A car refused to stop for you as you crossed the street despite there being a big red sign indicating to do so. You scream and give an obscene gesture at the person as they roar by in their beat-up sports car. You are not sure why, but you feel an immense anger at the driver as if they had insulted you personally by running this red light. Nobody waves back when you greet them, but that doesn’t surprise you. It was nothing new for a sixteen-year-old to be given a cold shoulder when addressing complete strangers. What upsets you slightly is being snubbed by your aunt and uncle, arguing in the front seat of a speeding car while their two spoiled kids screamed and bounced in the back. You tried to wave them down and holler, but to no avail. Oh well, probably didn’t see you in the midst of being late themselves. Not that you would really want to sit next to the two shrieking brats who couldn’t sit still and had no concept of washing their hands while having to listen to the two mental cases scream about divorce threats anyway.
You notice that there’s something off about town today. Like, even more than usual for this boring area. Most of the houses of people you go to school with all have signs in the front lawn urging drivers not to drive drunk and to wear seatbelts. Maybe that’s why the funeral for your relative is happening. Enough family reunions have showed you that some of those great uncles and other extended family members had no problem with downing the hard stuff before loading the family into their trucks and zooming home. Not too surprising if that is what happened, and your parents were already planning a sit down with you and your brother to lecture the dangers of inebriated driving after the funeral reception. Why would the townspeople care about some old man or woman who wrapped their car around a tree or something? People always chose the weirdest times and occurrences to take a stand.
You take a slight break to wait out a traffic light so you can cross the moderately busy intersection. You lean your arm on the light post on the side of the road to catch your breath. Why do your ribs hurt so much? Must have slept on them weird or some new growing pain you’re experiencing. Each deep inhale of breath sends another sharp pain down the left side of your body, causing you to pucker your sweating face. Did someone spend half the night kicking you in your side without you knowing somehow? You wipe the damp hair out of your eyes as the light changes and you cross.
The sign outside of the funeral home reads “Perron Family Service: 12:00” in plain white lettering amidst a matte black background. Hmm, must have been someone on your father’s side of the family. At least you aren’t late late persay. Maybe arriving after everyone, but you wouldn’t be interrupting the service midway through. Wait a moment. If it was for someone on your dad’s side of the family, why was mom so upset about it? You know she was close to your paternal grandmother.
Ooh no, please don’t let it be her that passed. You haven’t spoken to your grandmother in three months in which the last conversation ended in you blowing her off when she tried to console you after your first breakup. A sickening feeling hits your stomach. A guilt-riddled queasiness building up making you feel sick and bringing a tear to your eye. Your mind runs to sorrow like an out of control car down a steep hill. The memory of walking away from her as she tried to make your favorite dessert takes over and a tear wells in your eye.
No. Stop. You try to pull your head back to normal as you walk the gentle incline of the path that leads to the entrance. If it was your grandmother who passed, you definitely would have known. You mean, even despite the harshness of last time you saw her, you two were still about as close as any grandmother - grandchild were. Oh well, time to enter as you grip the cold metal handle of the door.
You step in to see a mass of people crowded in the chapel’s entrance room. Various relatives all talking to one another. All dressed in black. You catch your mother sitting on a bench next to your brother in the back of the room crying while your dad stands above her talking to his cousin. Well, crying is an understatement. She’s more pouring water from her eyes, using a soaked mass of tissues to wipe off every now and then with her free arm clutched around your somber-looking brother.
“Ahhhhh!” an ear-splitting shriek shoots across the room, silencing all the ambient talk. You turn to see that the noise came from your great aunt Theresa, clutching her face in shock like she had just seen a ghost. All eyes turn to the door.
“Huh- how?” a frightened voice asks from your second cousin, Anthony. A few children run to their mothers and hide their faces. A couple older adults all cross themselves, their faces pale and eyes wide.
You turn around to see if something walked in behind you, but there’s just the now-closed door you had just come in through. Your mother looks up and the dam breaks along with a horrifying groan as fresh tears flood out from her eyes. Your brother is hiding his face in her armpit. Your dad stands still, mouth dropped next to his cousin who has a similar appearance on his face. No one speaks as they all stare at you. You catch your grandmother hiding behind your grandfather, who’s nursing a silver flask every few seconds and reaffirming what he’s seeing. Wow. Maybe that walk really was worse than you thought and made you sweat more than originally figured. You walk past the staring crowd toward the open casket at the front of the chapel, past the entrance room.
You reach the halfway point past the pews lining the chapel when your hear a little girl ask, “Mommy, is that a ghost?” to the same aunt who had sped past you twenty minutes prior. Your aunt doesn’t reply as she stands there in paralyzed fear.
Approaching the coffin, you stagger back. A flood of memories hits you like a train. Walking home from a friend’s house at night. Bright headlights approaching quicker. A drunk driver revving his engine as he speeds through a stop sign. The car getting closer and closer until blackness takes over. You catch your breath after the flashback to recover. Another look at the corpse in the ornate box, dressed in their best clothes and done with makeup to appear like they are sleeping. Another tear wells in your eye and streams down your cheek before ending as a faint drop on your collar.
You’ve arrived late to your own funeral.