When My Life is Almost Gone
Though her sister’s arm was tight around her shoulders, Joss couldn’t stop shaking. The funeral home was over air-conditioned, even for an unseasonably warm May day, and its pervasive chill invaded her husband’s black cashmere coat. The coat was a comfort to her, an encapsulation of memories that spanned their three years together. Joss snatched a tissue out of one of the rolled up sleeves and dabbed at her nose. The chill in the air was making her nose run and the huge flower arrangements threatened to make her sneeze.
Simone squeezed her tighter as the organ music welled, designed to tug even at the coldest heart. Who could resist the melancholy, doleful notes, seemingly specifically designed for sadness. The mourners sobbed and wailed around them: Joss could hear an older woman in the back crying as if her heart had been broken.
So young, came the whispers around her that swirled around the heavy dark drapes. So young. Joss glanced to her left and was captivated as always by her sister’s fluffy hair. It reminded her of a poodle. Simone had dyed it varied shades of brown, from a caramel all the way down to deepest espresso.
Joss studied the varied colors, picked out one that she guessed was the exact tone of her husband skin. That’s it, she thought, that’s his skin color. A warm toffee color that easily showed his beard shadow when he’d forgotten to shave.
“I want to leave,” Joss whispered to her sister. “I want to go home.” She had things to do. Jeffrey had a pile of documents that she needed to go through. She was wasting time at this funeral. She tried to stand, but Simone’s strong arm kept her in the seat. Must be from wielding that flat iron across people’s heads five days a
“Joss, please,” Simone kept her arm around her shoulders. Joss closed her eyes and inhaled the fragrance of her husband’s scent, a mélange of musk, sandalwood and lavender with base note of lemongrass.
The lemongrass tickled her nose now—or was it the huge carnation spray on the casket?– causing to her to squeak out a sneeze, a small sound that was lost under the sound of the mourners who, having been kick-started by the mournful organ music, were gearing up for a long session.
Joss stared down at her black skirt and smiled a little. She couldn’t wait to tell Jeffrey about this particular funeral. She and her husband were Methodists, preferring those cut and dried sermons and hymns to the overbearing, highly emotional services of the Baptists. The only time they really got a taste of “down home religion” as Jeff called it, was when they attended church with his parents. For all of her mother in law’s bourgeois behavior, membership in The Girlfriends and seat on the local Jack and Jill board, she loved her some real down home church.
Joss shifted in her seat, refusing to look at the casket that was directly in front of her. Why in the world did she have to sit in the front row of all places. It’s not a show, it’s not a movie, it’s a corpse. Who wanted an orchestra seat for a corpse?
Joss leaned over to Simone and whispered directly in her ear. “When is this going to be over? Jeff left a stack of documents that I have to go through for the next phase of our research project. I can’t waste anymore time here.”
Instead of giving her the LOOK, perfected from their mother, who had died from cancer when Joss was thirteen and Simone seventeen, her older sister started to cry and hugged her to her chest.
As Joss patted her sobbing sister on the back, her glance strayed to the copper casket. The bronze handles gleamed against the rich pecan backdrop of the wood. It had a hinged top and the interior was light almond velvet, she remembered suddenly, with a French fold. She had liked the French fold because it appeared comfortable.
She’d picked it out over the protests of her mother in law, who wanted a showier interior. Mother Parker had wanted only the best for her son. To her, the best meant the most expensive.
But Joss wanted Jeffrey to be comfortable in his journey to the afterlife.
Taking advantage of Simone’s sobs, which released the death grip on her shoulders, Joss rose from her chair and pulled her dead husband’s coat more tightly around her. The organ music continued, somber, heavy chords in a minor key that fell on her ears and about her shoulders like bricks. Her steps were slow and measured as she placed her feet, clad in strange, black lace up oxfords, one in front of the other. She closed the distance between her and Jeffrey and stood at the edge of the coffin, her fingers running over the smooth, cool, surface of the wood.
“Jeffrey,” she whispered so that only he could hear. Who ever had done the makeup did a superb job.
If she looked hard enough, Joss imagined she could see the shadow of his beard, just peeking through his toffee complexion. “You always had such great skin,” she murmured, reaching out to brush her fingers along his jawline.
The brief touch sent shivers up her spine. He was as cold as stone, his mouth set in a horrible line that never showed itself on his face in life. Jeffrey was serious, sure, but he lit up for her, always ready to leave whatever research he was working on at the time on his desk to attend to her. She had been so glad that they had been awarded the grant to work together finally. And now look.
“Jeff,” Joss touched his hands that the mortician or whomever had folded across his chest. “I love you.”
She paused, and then bent closer, so that only he could hear her. “I miss you. I miss you so much already. What am I going to do without you?”
The wailing behind her seemed to increase, thanks to the women from Mother Parker’s church. They were so nosey, always asking when they would have a baby, thinking them selfish that they wanted to enjoy each other’s company for a while before having children. But those busybody women wanted them to have children early and often.
Jeffrey had laughed when he told her what they had said and Joss told him in turn, that’s how she liked her sex, not babies.
Joss blinked, dry eyed, as she straightened Jeffrey’s crimson striped tie and smoothed the lapels of the charcoal gray jacket. She had always been trying to get him to purchase a new suit and she had finally gone ahead and done it herself, taking it to the tailor to get everything just right, unaware that it would be the suit he was buried in.
The dizziness seemed to rush up from her stomach to her brain, causing her to clutch the side of the casket so as not to fall. In the next second, her father and her sister were at her side, gently leading her back to her seat, where she sat and stared at the black wool of her skirt, eyes dry and heart full of sorrow.
What was she going to do without him?