The day was for shit: windy, chilly, dank, overcast. That was apt. There was an eighty percent chance of rain, according to the Weather Channel, so I wore my lined raincoat. I was still cold but then, I’d never been to a funeral where I wasn’t. Not even in the summer. Shari told me it was “empathetic response.”
The service was solemn. They were always solemn. People cried and whispered and shook their heads, laid flowers and tossed their handfuls of earth into the pit. I did too, although it was just a ritual. I’d rather clutch someone than let him go. It didn’t bring me any comfort. I don’t think it brought anyone comfort. There is no comfort in saying goodbye. Fin told me that. Fin was, among other things, a fucking brilliant philosopher.
Like always, I stuck around after everyone else left, holding the bag and staring at the flowers and the dirt they’d tamped down firmly after they piled it over the box they’d locked him in. To keep him there which, even six feet under, was going to be tough. Fin was not a person you kept anywhere he didn’t want to be.
He was my friend, maybe my closest friend and, except for Shari, and my oldest. I loved him. Forty-fucking-two years old, an artist, always had time for everyone. He was delivering a meal to someone, an old woman who lived alone, no kids, couldn’t cook for herself; he didn’t even know her, really. But three afternoons a week, like clockwork. This time it was raining, the car skidded, hit a rail, and…
I hate losing people. But I’m at an age where it’s happening too often, though most of
them are closer to my age than Fin’s. It isn’t just the loss itself; it’s the getting past it. Yeah, yeah, Life Goes On. I know: That’s what the service is all about, some kind of closure. But after they’re over I never feel “closed.” Just closed off. I hate funerals too, and I hate cemeteries. They’re all so about… death.
I hate death too. Probably not a particularly reasonable thing to hate, but there you have it. Of course, I’ve never made any pretense of being a reasonable man. Mel, and Shari, they both said I love too hard. Hey: Love is love, y’ know? I don’t know any other way to do it. But, thank God for Shari anyway. She – clarified, I guess the word is, things. About Fin, like she had about Mel.
When I was in college–this was in the ’80s–I had this friend; Mélisande, no less–the name made her cringe. So I called her Mel, like everyone else. The thing I remember most about her?, was yellow: Her favorite color, she wore it everywhere. We just sort of found each other our freshman year; I don’t remember how. She was a lesbian, but neither one of us hung around the bars or the clubs. And this was way before the closet door was open, even on campus. We were inseparable–oh, yeah: gay guy, dyke chick, but, like, for three years the only thing we didn’t do together was make love. It was our running joke.
I even spent a summer with Mel’s family, at their “castle” on the Virginia shore. That was a trip, being the showpiece so she wouldn’t have to charm the local straights and could go out with the woman she loved. Shari. She was older, really grounded: a Zennist, very accepting of the world and people and their places in it. I got to be pretty good friends with her, too. The three of us?, we were probably the strangest ménage that ever was.
Just before the end of the summer?, Mel drowned. In the ocean, maybe a hundred feet out, she must’ve gotten a cramp, or… No one ever knew, but one minute she was there, the next…
We–all of us–were devastated. It was like we couldn’t stop crying. Except Shari. She was an absolute rock; and at the interment she brought a big shopping bag with her. People looked at her, but she ignored them. She stood there, the whole time, holding it, just silent. And after everyone else had left the gravesite, even the diggers, just the two of us still standing there, she reached into the bag and she took out two huge, enormously yellow balloons. She gave one to me, and held hers up; then she let it go. And it went up, high into the sky until, finally, we couldn’t see it at all. Then she turned to me and said: Now you. And I let mine go, it rose and flew away. She put her arm around me. There, she said. Now she’s free, so are we.
I think about that every time I go to a funeral. Like today. Some of the people looked at the bag, at me, like I was, y’ know, kind of strange. I don’t care. Fin was my friend; I loved him, he loved me. You love people, you hold on to them. For dear life. It’s hard to let them go.
You don’t forget them, but you have to let them go.
So when everyone else was gone, then I opened the bag. I took out the enormously purple balloon–Fin’s favorite color–and looked at it, held it tightly by its string, let it rise above my head.
“You need to be free,” I told it. “So do I. It’s something I have to do. For both of us.”
I let go of the string.
The wind took the balloon; it fairly raced into the gray sky. I watched until it was out of sight. Then I folded the bag, put it and my hands in the pockets of my raincoat, and left. The chill was still in the air and I needed something warm.
About the writer:
Evan Guilford-Blake writes plays, prose and poetry. His work has appeared in about 100 publications, winning 27 awards. His scripts have won 46 competitions. Thirty-eight of his plays are published. His published long-form prose includes the novels Animation, The Bluebird Prince, and the award-winning story collection American Blues, as well as the award-winning chapbook In the Realms of Light and Darkness. His genre novel Noir(ish) will be published next summer by Black Opal Press.