Uploaded by zara mara


Concealment was easier in a crowd. Aunts and uncles and cousins swarming around
me, telling me I looked well, complimenting my suit which was the same color as
theirs but a better style - all attempting the same trick of light, grief-free conversation
- meant I could simply coast through the room without thinking too hard. Only a
couple of people were openly grieving. Hanging by the walls, eyes on the casket,
voices strained and cracked when they spoke. I kept my interactions with them to a
minimum. Just enough to be polite. I kept my posture straight and my words calm and
my face neutral through the whole ordeal, and was mentally congratulating myself by
the time everyone was seated and the funeral proper ready to start.
Sam was far away. I saw him in glimpses, but his posture was straight too, his words
calm, face neutral. What upstanding sons we were.
I didn’t pay attention to what was said before I went up for the eulogy. My ears were
buzzing, and I welcomed it - another layer to add to the numbness. Easier to block
everything out until this was all over. I was already fantasizing about that dingy hotel
room I’d dropped my bags in a few hours ago, and what a long, welcome sleep I’d get
on the cheap spring mattress after the funeral got out. And then later, how nice it
would be to emerge from my plane into bright southern California, where everyone’s
clothes were colorful and palm trees were more common than maple and oak.
My name was called - John, the son of the deceased - and I was poised when I stood
and approached the podium. I gave that half-convincing half-smile to the crowd, and
stood tall, sure the microphone would pick me up.
I talked about olive bread. My voice didn’t tremble. Others in the audience cried, but I
ignored them.
I thought I was in the clear when Sam approached me outside.
Farewells had all been said, and I was halfway in my cab, when he and his pale
Vermont face appeared in front of me again. I paused, blinking, wondering if he was
here to tell me I’d forgotten something.
But he stammered a little when he spoke. “D’you - is it all right if I crash with you?”
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Of course he needed somewhere to stay, too,
before he caught a flight back up north. And we were brothers, after all, and we’d
shared a room for most of our childhood. But the request took me aback all the same.
And the red in his cheeks, as though he’d confessed to something shameful, told me
he understood my confusion just as well as I did. It had been three or four years now.
“Well, sure,” I said, “but I don’t have an extra bed.”
“I’ll take the couch.”
And once we were both in the cab I didn’t have it in me to care anymore, whether
Sam was here or not. My all-nighter had caught up to me. The sky was gray, and the
sandwich I picked up from another out-of-the-way fast food place for lunch was
tasteless, and it was spring in the place my father had lived and died. We got to the
hotel room, and I kicked off my shoes and threw off my jacket, and went to sleep on
the bed with the rest of my funeral clothes on.
I slept a long, long time. Ridiculously long. I should have woken in the evening, when
Sam must have gotten off the couch where he’d crashed and left the hotel room. Or I
should have woken when it was dark, and I’d missed dinner and slept longer than I
had since I was a child. Or I should have woken when the sun rose, its murky light
oozing through the hotel curtains to show me a world where my father was
surrounded by dirt.
But in the end it was the smell that woke me.
When I opened my eyes, I thought it all must have been a dream. The funeral, the
death, the goodbye, the four years not seeing Sam, California - all a dream, and I was
still in high school struggling through stupid Latin vocabulary. And maybe I’d fallen
asleep at my desk midafternoon. Because the smell, strong and hearty and heady and
warm, was one that always greeted me an hour before dinner.
I didn’t understand the scene in front of me. Sam in a rumpled t-shirt and jeans, lines
around and under his eyes, his hair a little receded from his forehead - not high-school
Sam, but someone older. Holding a cutting board in one hand and a knife in the other.
“What…” I murmured, and my voice wasn’t my high-school voice.