I pass the driver a fifty — more than enough to cover his fare with a very decent tip — and slip my oversized sunglasses on as I step out of the cab. A visit here, of all places, wasn’t in my plans for today. I shouldn’t be here. Yet here I am, standing in front of the cemetery to quell my burning curiosity.
Two sun-bleached stone angels stand watch as I walk through the wrought iron gate. A chilly wind blows over my wide-brimmed black hat, causing my mesh veil to flutter and tickle my nose.
I heave a deep sigh and trudge along the cracked cement walkway, which has tangled weeds poking through it. A church bell rings at a distance, shaking me to my core.
The wind whistles through the branches of the cedar trees, making the tall grass sway. The symphony of croaking ravens announce yet another life taken away too early.
I walk past discolored headstones and vandalized masonry to come upon a sea of black-clad mourners congregated around a gravesite. They lean on one another for both physical and emotional support. Their wave of anguish spills out and rolls across the grass toward me.
As I approach them, the scent of roses and freshly-dug earth reaches my nose. With every step, I am able to clearly see a walnut brown coffin, with brass side rails, gleaming in the sun. The coffin is covered in white roses, their purity is in stark contrast against the dark wood. Light and dark. Life and death.
My heels sink into the soil as my heart numbs. I shrink further into my black pea coat. Though I feel like turning back and running away, my feet keep taking me forward. The mourners speak in hushed voices as I approach, and I am soon surrounded by bowed heads, melancholic sighs, and whispered prayers.
Near the head of the coffin, stands a white-bearded priest. He says a small prayer in a low, monotonous tone.
A middle-aged woman, presumably a relative of the dead man, gives me a who-is-this-stranger look. Heat rises in my cheeks. Maybe my lipstick is giving me unnecessary attention. I shouldn’t have worn such a bright shade of pink to a funeral. What the hell was I thinking? I take a Kleenex from my handbag and blot the color away, making sure to wipe my eyes and my nose to add to the act.
A thirty-something man, roughly around my age, recalls his favorite memory of the deceased. Remembering how his dad, Philip Salerno, was ‘a doting husband, a proud father, and a loving grandfather.’ And how he has most likely already passed through the ‘pearly gates of heaven, being welcomed by Saint Peter himself with open arms.’
A gray-haired woman, presumably Mr. Salerno’s widow, leans on him and sobs into his shoulder as the coffin is lowered into the ground.
I slowly walk toward them; leaves break under my shoes. I sympathetically take Mrs. Salerno’s hand and murmur, “My deepest condolences. I’m sorry for your profound loss.” I then turn to her son, looking into his red-rimmed eyes. “I’m really sorry.”
Salerno Jr. fights back the tears and croaks, “I’ll miss Dad so much.”
Curiosity bubbles within me as I blurt out, “If you don’t mind, may I ask how he passed away?”
He clears his throat. “It was a hit-and-run.” His shoulders slump. “Poor Da—Dad… went for a late-night walk near the woods. He lost his life before the ambulance arrived.”
I clap a hand over my mouth. “Sweet Jesus, that’s awful.”
“Indeed.” He stares at the ground and clenches his teeth. “What’s worse is that the cops haven’t found the son of a bitch who ran over him yet.”
A sudden lightness washes through my head. I give him an understanding nod. “May your dad’s soul rest in peace.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Salerno wipes the tears from her face and looks at me. “Sorry, I forgot to ask. How did you know Philip?”
My lips curve into a faint plastic smile. “Err, we… we knew each other through… err… church.”
She opens her mouth to probe further, but I give the duo a departing nod and quietly retrace my steps toward the gate.
Before I turn the corner, I look back at the gravesite one last time. My chin dips to my chest and tears prick my eyes. I remove my sunglasses and wipe my cheeks with a tissue. Why am I crying? Is this grief? Is this guilt? Or is this both? I really don’t know. To be honest, I don’t want to.
I stroll out of the cemetery with quick steps. With a long sigh, I dig out some gum from my coat and pop it into my mouth.
No matter how much a part of me wants to apologize to Mrs. Salerno for getting hammered and running over her dear husband with my SUV, I can’t. And no matter how much the other part of me wants to correct Salerno Jr’s sexist semantics to ‘daughter of a bitch,’ I can’t.
All I can do now is leave drinking for good. Okay, I had a drink after the accident, which sent me looking for the bottom of the bottle. But no more. Maybe one, to toast to Mr. Salerno’s untimely demise. One glass of vodka won’t hurt, will it? One last fling with my Russian love — served over ice with fresh mint leaves and a wedge of lime, of course.
Adrian David writes ads by day and short stories by night. He dabbles in genres including contemporary fiction, psychological thrillers, dark humor, and everything in between, from the mundane to the sublime.