by - Jonah Parker Ryan
The funeral was bleak and miserable and the family insisted on having the ceremony at the gravesite with little regard for it being February in Chicago.
We sat on steel folding chairs. I assume this was because they wanted everyone in attendance to feel their pain.
And we did, for a while, until our asses went numb.
Then, mostly, we just felt cold.
The funeral itself is of little consequence to this story, though it will show up in another story at another time because it is a significant event in the life of someone important to me.
Right now, the only thing you, as the reader, need to know for this particular story which I have entitled, “Alone” is that I was at this particular funeral on this particular February afternoon.
And I was attending alone.
I was attending alone for reasons that will be made clear in the aforementioned forthcoming story.
And I was cold; the tequila in my blood was doing little to change that.
When the funeral concluded, I gave my condolences to the family, walked away, lit a cigarette, and stole another pull from my flask.
There wasn’t very much snow on the ground, but I could feel the chill as it radiated through the soles of my dress shoes even though I wore two pairs of socks.
I was almost to the south exit of the cemetery and from there I would have a three block walk to the bus stop that would carry me to the Orange Line where I could transfer to the Red Line which would---
You don’t care about my travel route; let me start over.
I was almost to the south exit of the cemetery when I noticed a girl sitting down in the frozen dirt in front of a headstone.
Something compelled me to stop and watch her.
It was probably about as awkward as it seemed.
She looked perfect from far away, the way everything looks perfect from far away. Her skin was porcelain white, a stark contrast to her dark attire and ruby red lips.
“I know you’re there,” she said without looking at me.
“I’m sorry, I just-- I’m sorry for your loss,” I said.
“Don’t be ridiculous, she’s been dead a long time.”
“Does that make it any better?” I asked.
She stood up and shrugged, “There’s a body here but it has no soul. It left to find another home.”
“That’s a beautiful thought,” I said.
“It’s true, I think, that everything is connected; the Sun, the Moon, the birds and the trees,” she said.
What did I get myself into?
“Well, I should get going,” I said and started to back away.
“Don’t go,” she said, “Ask me how I know.”
“Okay,” I said reluctantly, “How do you know?”
She smiled a smile that lit up her entire face, turned her gaze downwards to the headstone she had been admiring and said:
“The body here once belonged to me.”
“Right, I have a bus to catch,” I said.
“Stay with me, there’ll be another bus.”
I wanted to leave, but for some reason I couldn’t. I just stood there and stared at her, trying to figure her out. Physically, she didn’t look like a crazy person, she was well dressed, well groomed, and well maintained, not the ragged type that sits under a bridge and shouts at passer-bys.
“I’m not crazy,” she said, as if she could read my thoughts, “I believe that we’re all one. I think that’s why when you turn on TV and you see people dying, or hurting, you can’t help but feel for them.”
“I think that is just being decent. I don’t think there is anything spiritual about it,” I said.
She shrugged again and dimmed her face; I felt like I had kicked a puppy.
“You really believe that you used to be the person in the ground?” I asked.
“Do you really care what I think? You already think I’m crazy.”
I wanted to know.
So I told her.
“Yes, I do care what you think. I want to know,” I said.
“Sometimes, yes, I do believe I was her.”
“I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling I get. The first time I walked through this cemetery I was drawn to this headstone-- I just felt a connection with it-- with her,” she said.
“Who was she?” I asked.
“She was no one. I’ve researched her as much as I can but I can’t find anything about her life, or how she lived, other than her obituary,” she said.
“And what did that say?”
“Nothing really, it seemed like your standard run of the mill, fill in the blanks, obituary. She lived alone. She was always kind-- pretty much a mad-lib for the dead, only without a bunch of dirty words,” she said.
“Oh,” I said.
“You still think I’m crazy, don’t you?” she asked.
“I don’t think you’re crazy, I just don’t buy into any of that; religion, reincarnation, Heaven,” I said.
She smiled again, only this time her smile was one of sadness and hurt.
“I’m not sure I do either to be honest,” she said, “It’s just a feeling that I get when I’m here. It comforts me, it makes me feel like maybe there is something else after-- maybe we’re not all just here by chance-- and I want to believe it. I want to believe it so bad because it is so much better than the alternative.”
“That we’re all alone and just waiting our turn to die.”