Thursday, September 28, 2006

6. Goodbyes

The alarm clock read 8:37am, but somehwere along the line 37 minutes had been added, so 8:00am even it was. This was the result of what was affectionately known as "Alarm Clock Chicken" that Dave and Lily played for a couple of months, all in an effort to be on time more often for work or play. Dave had finally blinked at thirty-seven minutes, which annoyed him to no end. They were still late sometimes; when one is aware how fast the clock is, it's easy to calculate how many times the snooze button can safely be hit.
Now Cade's slumber paid the price. He was dismayed, but not all that surprised, to hear that the song playing on the radio was "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Clapton, not G'n'R, thank God. He could do without the screeching on this particular day. His body didn't want to obey his mental command to get up, not out of fatigue, but out of grief and guilt. He willed his feet to the floor, stood up, stretched. He walked over to the closet, pulled out his black suit, and hung it on the door. A subtly-checkered red tie and black shoes were next.
He smelled it just before he heard, "Good morning." He turned around, and Melissa was standing there with two mugs of steaming coffee. She handed him one and they looked out the balcony doors at October, leaves drifting lazily to the ground. Wordlessly, they drank. It was good coffee, as always; as the resident expert coffee maker, he had set the machine up the night before for the first time since his parents had bought it, all to forestall the day's activities by a few more minutes.
Today, Cade would not be late, because today was the day he said farewell to his brother.
It looked like rain was coming.
Perfect. Just perfect.
* * *
The rain came, as advertised.
Matt, not being much of a churchgoer, had made it quite clear to Cade that when he died he didn't want a "church thing" as he called it. "I'm going to Hell anyway, so just hurry up and get me six feet closer as soon as possible" Cade remembered him saying at a distant relative's funeral a few years ago, while they waited in line to pay their respects. "And then get drunk and get laid, or I'm coming back to beat you down."
It was pretty funny then.
And now, as he and five other gentlemen, including his father, carried the casket from the hearse to its final rest?
Somehow, it was even funnier. He felt a smile come to his lips, which, for the sake of decorum, or maybe the desire to not look completely insane, he suppressed. He supposed Matt had known what he was talking about all along.
* * *
One thing that is a constant about funerals, particularly ones taking place in bad weather: how long someone stays generally speaks to their level of respect for either the deceased, those closest to him, or both.
Very few people left this one early. The ones who did were relatives that Cade only saw at funerals, which served to give him yet another reason to hate death.
Eventually, the funeral wound down, as everyone headed to the Becker's household for the reception. At last, Cade and Melissa were the only two remaining. Cade knew his wife was pissed at him, as a result of his plans to leave her for a while and find out whatever he could about Matt's death, and still she stood beside him, arm in arm.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah. You ready to go?"
She nodded. "Why don't you take a minute; I'll be in the car." She kissed him on the cheek. "I'm taking the umbrella, though."
"Fair enough."
Being a woman of her word, she took the umbrella. He didn't mind; he thought that if ever there was a fitting way to bury his brother, standing in a downpour, cold rain dripping down the collar of his raincoat just had to be it. Sunny and seventy-two degrees would have been complete bullshit.
He stared at the coffin, deep in the hole. The four feet or so between Cade and the lid felt like light-years. He allowed himself to let some tears run. They felt hot on his cheek, in stark contrast to the raindrops that pelted him. He searched for something to say, the perfect exit line that he would, years from now, believe was the best thing he could have possibly said as a eulogy.
What came out of his mouth was ideal, pure.
"Someone's gonna pay, Matt."
He turned and walked to the car. He was sure that he would never return, until the day that he ended up lying beside him.
* * *
The reception was over; only the mess remained. Lily was doing her best to quickly remedy that.
Cade and his father sat on the deck smoking cigars, enjoying the crisp night air. They hadn't said a word for twenty minutes, not because of any chasm between them, but because nothing really needed to be said.
Cade drew on his cigar, a 1964 Padron, held it, tasted it, and exhaled. His father was looking at him, amused. "What?"
"Nothing. You smoke exactly like I do. It's funny."
"I do a lot like you."
"Then I've done my job. Someone needs to take up the mantle of cool when I'm gone."
Cade chuckled. "No rush."
"None at all."
He leaned forward in his chair, something to say. "Your wife and your mother, Jesus, especially your mother, lemme tell you, want me to talk to you about this investigation or whatever the you call it that you want to undertake."
"So talk, Dad."
Dave took another draw, and seemed to mull it over. "You're in mourning, you're beat up, and all you might gain is a slightly clearer picture of why Matt's dead. To be honest, whatever you find you...we...might have been better off not knowing. Your wife doesn't want you to go, your mother sure as hell doesn't want you to go, and I don't want you to go."
Cade knew there was more, so he said nothing.
"Having said all that, I understand why you want to do this. I'd do the same thing, if I were young and stubborn enough. But don't tell your mother I said that."
* * *
Morning came, as mornings tend to do.
Cade had his bag slung over his shoulder, hugging his mother and father. There were so many whispered Be carefuls mixed in that it was hard to tell which was from whom.
When it came to Melissa, she said, simply, "This is asinine."
"You're here for a week. Just give me six days, tops."
"Fine." She tried to sulk, but it was wholly unsuccessful. She understood, because she always understood. It could be very annoying. "Just be-"
"Careful. I've heard."
She punched him in the shoulder, then kissed him on the lips.
He threw his bag in the passenger side door, when he heard a bark from the front door. Loki wanted to get in on the action. "It's okay, boy, I'll be back before you know it."
The dog responded with a pathetic whimper that came close to breaking his heart. Melissa looked at her dog, looked at her husband, looked at her dog. She opened the door, and a black streak shot into the passenger seat.
"Have fun, boys."
Cade winked at his wife, jumped in, and turned the key. Loki stared at him, happy as can be. His canine eyes, so expressive, said, "Road trip!"
To be continued...

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