Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Intermission (present day)

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 2/20/2019

I stand up all of a sudden, mainly because I can no longer breathe.
Salt water blocks my throat as I look away from Father Leo. “I’m sorry,” I mutter, mostly to myself. I apologize a lot to myself nowadays. But I don’t forgive me back.
The priest calmly places his water cup on the tile floor next to his chair and stands with me. As I shudder through my sobs, I feel his hand rest on my shoulder. That just makes me break down further.
I’m not the sort of person to cry hysterically, much less cry at all; maybe it’s because I try not to remember crying. I don’t know. Either way, I’m the kind of crier who basically looks like I’m throwing up at the same time. Not dignified.
“Let’s go for a walk,” offers Father Leo. “You’ll feel better.”
After some processing on my part (and a lot of composing myself), I nod. I’d give anything to get out of this room.
Father Leo nods encouragingly to me as well, and together we exit the community hall. Before I’m out of visual range, I poke my head inside the receiving room.
I breathed out in a way that still made me choke.
Three elderly women, a young family, and my own stepdad and sister mill around the room. All dressed in black. All quiet and respectful. No more shouting about pumpkin spice marshmallows, no more sword fighting on the beach, no more car rides.
Everything is gone in there. The remainder of our communal peacemaker is lying in a pinewood casket, shut tight against viewing, in that room. I begged that there would be no viewing, so that only I would really know what happened to him.
But as I look in the room, it feels like I have x-ray vision, and it makes me sick to know what is under the casket lid. I turn away and walk outside with Father Leo.
The summer breeze wiggles through the humid air in exhausted spurts. As we journey down the sidewalk towards the lake, the only sounds are courtesy of the ducks and geese as they contentedly quack at each other. In the parking lot I see a family unloading a full picnic from their minivan. All over the park there are people in patriotic colors, shorts, sunglasses, flip-flops. I’m in a black suit and Father Leo’s in his black cassock, of course. It just seems, in a way, taunting. Seeing all these people ready for a barbecue, blasting country music. I can't process it innocently.
Josh was unnoticed enough. His death still means nothing.
“Levi,” Father Leo starts, surprising me out of my irrational anger, “I want to thank you for telling me this story. Even the parts that don’t flatter you.”
I shrug. “It’s not about me,” I say quietly. “It’s about Josh.”
The priest nods. “I have a feeling that this isn’t all of it, though?” He walks with his hands behind his back. We reach a bench under the shade of a massive willow tree. He motions to it, proposing we sit down and continue. “Tell me about his home life.”
I huff. “Non-existent,” I say. “I mentioned before that his mom died in a car crash. She was crying because his dad almost overdosed and was out cold at home, and she was going to bring Josh to her sister’s house while she went to a counselor. She was hysterical from the situation and rammed into a semi. Josh was lucky to live, but sometimes he deals with-” I pause. “Dealt with... ringing in his ears.” I look back up at the priest. “His aunt found out about the accident and thought Josh died with his mom. His dad found out and claimed that his mom was drinking.”
The priest nods, obviously disturbed. He leans forward, resting his elbow on his knee as he holds his chin in his hand. His eyes are watery. “I can’t believe this child suffered through all of this,” he says. His voice is quiet and rough. He holds his hands in prayer as his face contorts in ways I remember my face doing at the hospital a week ago. Anger, questioning, sadness… hate.
“How did he die?” Father Leo asks. He faces me again.
I turn away as I melt into the bench. It’s sticky hot and I don’t want to be in this suit for very much longer. I look around. It’s just past one in the afternoon. I take in a deep breath of humid air. I can still wait.
“December has to be described first.”

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