I joke about a pale acolyte dangling the burning cup near my bedside in the curtain-pulled darkness. A stink bug flies like a zephyr for a moment above the window. The held candles light downcast faces and mouths mumbling the ora pro nobis with the priest. In penumbras of hallway light, a little girl beckons with tentative movements, afraid of disturbing the heavy room. I cough, too tired to follow. It is dangerous to follow such a maiden. I haven’t much time left and she knows it. She gestures again.
With legs akimbo, a squirrel lies on the road like an angel fallen from a great height. Did I not just see that squirrel a few days ago chattering up a tree? It probably ruined the day of whoever ran over him. She probably went to her job with tears. “OMG,” she texts her best-guy-friend, “just ran over a squirrel.”—not realizing she was turning to him for emotional support—not realizing he’s madly in love with her—not realizing he’s always there because he wants to be—and not realizing the day was far more ruined for the squirrel, who just yesterday was chattering up a tree—”1st the squirrel then a funeral. What a day!! FML.”
What’s the price of a runned-over squirrel? The little girl stands on the sidewalk’s shadows under a clear umbrella, waiting for the traffic to pass. She walks into the street. She picks up the dead squirrel. She cradles it like baby. She pets it. She talks to it. Such a maiden is dangerous to follow. She disappears in the rain.
His thumbs are lightning: “That’s terrible! R U OK? U need anything?” He is ready to ditch his books and his lunch to be with her. He needs to hold her (spiritually), feel his (metaphorical) shoulder wet with her tears, and feel her (hypothetical) shaking back in his (emotional) arm. He doesn’t realize he just wants to be wanted, and she scratched this needing-to-be-needed itch very well. If he can’t have the ecstasy of her body, he could have her in the communion of her friendship. The longing gave him meaning—not realizing the the squirrel, who just yesterday was chattering up a tree, had no meaning (anymore).
On the way to the church, she talks about a date, or at least he thinks it was a date. She’d met this guy online or on Tinder—something like that, he couldn’t tell. Either way, this guy had come over to hang out or whatever. She discovered by looking through the peep hole of her front door that this guy was one of the teachers from the High School when she was a student there. She never had the teacher, though, but she knew about him. She knew he had a wife and kids. So, from behind the closed door, she tells him to go away. She said she just lay on the floor of her living room, laughing and laughing. “Really? That guy trying to get with me? It feels good,” she said, “to think about laughing on a day like today—what with the squirrel and all.”
Legs straight like a felled tree, I lay in the closed casket. For years, I joked about hiring a dozen Italian Widow Mourners to wail under their mantillas at all the right times. Today, they do not disappoint. I hear them from my box. Plus, a female friend of mine agreed to wear a red dress just so everyone at the Requiem would say “Wait. I thought he was—that sly dog! The bastard really was Byronic!” She’ll confuse my former lovers the most. This pleases me greatly. My friend doesn’t disappoint in her crimson gown of sin. I giggle in my casket.
She and he, though, sit towards the back, watching the ceremony of the frowning priest and eternally circumabulating pale acolyte as a choir sings Latin chants & Elizabethan dirges. He thinks it’s like watching slow-moving planets, the spheres in orbit. A reader mounts the lectern and says, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.” Leaning forward with her face in her hands, she cries.
He feels it happening, his body becoming porous and his soul sliding out. His hand reaches up to her shoulders. A gesture of comfort, he thinks, but his reddening face betrays his hands. One of his friends had a serious conversation: said he couldn’t talk about her anymore around them on Friday nights because it bummed them out. Because, they said, he deserved better. But, this girl gives him a little attention and emotionally needs him although she goes to others for the desires of the body.
He tells his friends she can’t be taking what I’m freely giving. His face is hot with shame as he touches her friendly. He can hear her laughing beneath the tears, giggling in that locked room deep inside her, “Him? Get with me?” One day he should let her go, he knows this, but today is not that day. Tomorrow won’t be, either. So, quietly, he offers a prayer of thanksgiving as he becomes again and again what she needs him to be. As he becomes what he wants to become.
They all file past me under the pall to receive the sacrament. The priest got a little shaky and almost drops the chalice. I roll my eyes in the casket. Jesus, hasn’t this guy said the Mass before? I guess not much changes—even in death. I’m still the same old Andy—just, well, you know, dead. The ad hoc choir and musicians made up of my friends does a pretty good job. No Bruckner or Berlioz, but that’s alright. They knew not to do any Fanny Crosby or “How Great Thou Art,” so I won’t haunt ’em. The Italian widow-mourners wail.
The little girl stands at the door of the church—the door leading out to the parking lot—and gestures to me. It’s a little motion, like she’s afraid of being seen. Plus, she’s still holding that dead, runned-over squirrel like a doll baby. I laugh. The Little Lady of the Roadkill praying for me. She grabs my hand and leads me out into the rain as they say, “Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.” Such a maiden is dangerous to follow. [Exit]
As he drives her home, he & she pass a runned-over cat with wet, matted hair. The cat’s face is disfigured, frightening. That night, he couldn’t sleep. He had uneasy dreams of her (inflamed by her tears and the closeness of her body), that cat’s face, and, in shadows of rain, the little girl looking both ways before crossing the street.