After the funeral, a few guys in black suits with white gloves on came in through some secret door somewhere and wheeled the coffins out. One of them, the boss probably, took the blue and yellow hockey jerseys, numbers 11 and 16, which had been draped over the coffins, and handed them to Mr. Warner. He’s holding them sort of like a clothesline, draped over his arm held out a few inches from his body. Like he wants the wind to dry them out.
I’m one of the last in the room. A lot of people went outside after Mr. Warner thanked them for coming. I was still standing over the guest book with a pen in my hand, reading some of the memories other people shared. A lot of them were BS from kids that used to bully me and Brian in middle school and just ignored us now. I guess it’s easy for someone like that to just jot any old thing down, like it’s a yearbook: have a good summer!
I saw Jackie Arrentini come in a while ago and I ducked behind some old guys who must have been Mr Warner’s friends. She left pretty quick, but I found out she wasn’t actually gone, she was just standing outside the front door talking to some other kids from school. Last time Jackie Arrentini saw me she made me cry in front of Andrew Weissman and his little brother. Then she told everyone I had a crush on Andrew and he didn’t talk to me for two months. I wish she could stop turning up.
I stuck my head out of the room and looked down the hall at the exit. Yep, she was still out there. And nobody left to hide behind and sneak out. I look around and Mr. Warner is gone. His friends are gone too, it’s just me. I scribbled down the only thing I could think of in their book, just that I miss them both and some other stuff like that. Being alone with just their school photos and a table of flowers is giving me the creeps. I went out in the hallway and braced for Arrentini. Maybe there’s another way out? Instead of going straight out the front door, I went left. There were a few more rooms like the one I was just in and then a ninety degree turn in the hallway, and there hanging from the ceiling right at the bend there was a red and white glowing exit sign with an arrow pointing left. I can go out the back, grab my bike and be out of here before Jackie even sees anything. What the hell.
The other rooms, parlors—is that what the rooms are called? Or is that the whole building? The other parlors were all empty, just one funeral today I guess. Down the hall to the left, past some closed doors, and to the left again to a bigger hallway, split down the middle by a row of kind of tacky white plaster columns. Like at the Lincoln Memorial.
The exit was right at the end of the hall. But—shit. One of those morticians was holding the door open. Before he caught sight of me, a teenage kid without even a pair of good shoes on, definitely not kosher to be be back here, I ducked behind one of those pillars. There was a black car pulled up outside the door. On the right hand wall I could see a bunch of glass display cases now, full of photos it looked like, along with some newspapers and other printed pages framed up. I checked back around the other side of the column. The guy is still there, just holding the door. It looks heavy too, big brass handle, thick frosted glass panel in the middle. Some noises. Another door opens, on the left side of the hallway. Two more guys push and pull out one of the coffins and carefully maneuver it through the door. The door guy lets the door whoosh shut and I see their silhouettes through the frosted glass moving around the hearse. A trunk slams and the shadow of the car moves up a few feet; another moves up to its place.
The door opens and the morticians come back in. One of them laughs quietly and slaps another on the back, they are making a new guy holds the door this time as the other two go back for the second coffin. They bring it out into the hallway, but the angle is wrong or something so they have to realign it to the door. They are pushing and pulling it sort of like someone trying to turn around their car in a tight alley. I hear another car door slam outside and some footsteps and a woman comes running in. The guy on the door lets go of it and it whooshes shut, he looks like he isn’t sure what to do. The woman—the woman is Mrs. Warner. I remember she ran out of the room when her husband started tearing up thanking everyone for coming, like he was cutting his Christmas party short or something. Alright, the kids have to be off to bed, so thanks for coming, enjoy your holiday. She started this whispered conversation with one of the two guys pushing the casket. She grabbed him by the shoulder and her voice broke. Alright, alright I can hear him say, trying to calm her down a little. He tells the other guy something, the young guy. Maybe a few years older than me, looks like he could be the door guy’s son.
This poor kid is bright red. He looks between the two morticians, and at Mrs. Warner like he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do. One of them nods and he reaches down and unhooks some latches on the casket. My head stuck out the side of the pillar, frozen with my eyes locked on that box. Together the kid and the other guy pull open half the lid. Inside the form of Brian or Luke. It strikes me now that maybe nobody knows which one is which. He’s wearing a suit, hands folded across his chest. The hands are swollen, blue. His face as well. Where his eyes were it looks like gauze or bandages wrapped around his head. His hair is messy and thin, the lower half of his face is distorted. Everything is pulled forward from the neck, probably from where the rope held him up. His skin is the texture of fresh cut halibut, but dark, almost purple.
Everyone’s eyes are locked on the boy, everyone except the door attendant, who is staring into space, bored looking, waiting for a cue to do something. Mrs. Warner has stopped crying. She reaches out one hand; the kid tries to stop her, but is himself stopped by the older man. She reaches out one hand and takes the hand of her son, my friend. I imagine how cold it must feel. Then in an instant, I almost miss the movement, she is down there on top of him. She’s kissing his face and neck, stroking his hair, crying again. Nobody tries to stop her, but the spell is broken and we all look away from the body. I can hear her wet sobs and the kisses hitting cold flesh. In the silence of the empty building, there isn’t much else to hear.
I walk out the front door several minutes later. I snuck away when they started moving the casket outside again. The parade, the motorcade is starting. Everyone in line has the little flags on their hoods and they all follow the two hearses. Mrs. and Mr. Warner must be in the first car behind the second hearse, bringing the boys to their resting place. Jackie is gone, thank God, I think if I saw her I would have pushed her over and ruined her nice dress.