By: Sylvia Schlunk
Stupid, stupid, dumb, dumb.
I was slouched on the hard, wooden bench, my arms tightly crossed over my chest, a scowl darkening my face.
Stupid mom, for making me sit for hours on end in this huge, suffocating room full of old people I don't know.
Stupid Sigi, for being a perfect, well behaved little gentleman and making me look like a fidgety four-year old.
Dumb Mr. Winston, for having gone and died and ruining what could have been a perfectly good Saturday.
Dumb hissing from my mother: “Stop that.” I realized that I’d been absentmindedly kicking my foot against the back of the pew in front of us: tattooing a cadence of stupid, stupid, dumb, dumb. I briefly considered ignoring her, but her icy glare convinced me otherwise. Instead, I heaved an exaggerated sigh, and started wiggling my toes. My too tight ballet shoes that my mother had sharpied black for the occasion were starting to make my feet numb. I began to thump them against the pew again in a vain attempt to regain some feeling -- stupid, stupid, dumb, dumb -- only for my mother to lean back over and threaten to tie my feet together. I rolled my eyes and let loose another dramatic breath, then sat up to see if I'd missed anything. I hadn't. The ugly old warthog mumbling at the front of the room hadn't even shifted an inch.
“Mrs. Schlunk?” I quickly jerked my head back around to see an odd little kid with gigantic glasses and not quite enough teeth lean over the back of the pew.
“Hi. Can Sylvia come sit with me?”
My mother gave a weary nod, glad to be free of me, and I did a brief mental victory dance while discreetly scooting to the end of our pew, not forgetting to glance back and shoot Sigi a triumphant grin. I crouched down low and scampered up a few rows to where my mother couldn't bother us. Jack joined me a moment later and didn't wait a second before relaying whatever exciting information he had been dying to tell me.
“Guess what? Guess what my brother told me?" For a brief moment, I considered telling Jack that anyone guilty of thieving my Pokemon cards and Lego Harry Potter was not worthy of my attention, but curiosity overpowered my resentment. "He said that people can go look at the body after the service!" Jack's eyes were gleaming, and he was a little out of breath, cheeks flushed with the excitement of his discovery.
“Anybody?” I asked.
“Yeah! I wonder if we’ll see it rise-”
“See it what?”
“Rise! My mom told me when my grandpa died, his body rose up to heaven!” I hurriedly slapped a hand over my mouth to suppress the laughter threatening to escape.
“Stupidhead. People don’t just rise up when they die!” I grinned, and a warty old hag in front of us turned around and gave me a scandalized look. I stuck my tongue out.
Jack slumped in his seat, glancing nervously at the hag. “Well, that’s what she said,” he muttered. I snorted derisively and turned back to the front of the room, trying to see if the casket was open.
Never again would I take the intoxicating taste of fresh air for granted. As soon as the service ended, I dragged my mother outside, desperate to clear the smothering atmosphere of the chapel from my head. I gratefully sucked in a long, deep breath and shivered as the cold, crisp November air swirled in my lungs, the scent of long dead flowers and decayed wood already fading into a bad memory.
My relief was short lived, however, as Jack quickly found me, grabbing my hand and tugging me back into the chapel. His impish grin, though missing several teeth, was more than enough to reignite my earlier excitement.
We waited impatiently behind a decrepit man wearing a trench coat and a fat, middle aged woman smelling strongly of mints. After what felt like hours, the decaying man finished paying his respects and tottered away, feebly grasping the beefy woman's arm like a lifeline. We squeezed past them and scrambled up onto a rickety stool set by the casket for children.
For a moment, I was rendered speechless. A disconcerting mixture of revulsion and intrigue filled me as I stared at the wrinkled, leathery face that I had seen so many times before. Memories resurfaced in my mind, insignificant memories of how he would show up at school and traipse around the hallways. Memories of how he used to wander into our classroom, smelling strongly of mothballs and fish, always looking a bit disoriented, like he had stumbled in by accident. Memories of how he never bothered to run the school, always preferring to hand out candy in the hallways and leave serious business to his wife. Memories that suddenly didn't feel quite so insignificant, as I was struck with the realization that somebody I knew, somebody who used to be just as alive and breathing as I was, had become nothing more than a memory.
"I wonder if he smells dead?" Jack's voice snapped me out of my reverie. I blinked, looked back at the body once more, then turned to grin at Jack.
For a heartbeat, we stared at each other, then, acting on impulse, I shoved his face into the casket and took off as fast as I could for my car, ignoring the horrified shrieking of the warty old hag and her spinster friends.