Mourning: A True Story

In a huge and winter-wracked cemetery of the northern suburbs, brothers Patrick and Sean stand in their family’s plot, peering into one freshly dug grave. They wear overcoats. Sean’s is a dark blue mohair, its collar up and his silver hair breaking over the back in waves. Patrick’s is a herringbone grey, open at the throat beneath his beard, and his thin hair is wispy in the chilling breeze. They are laughing.

“What?” asks Jackie, wanting to know why they’re laughing. He pulls at his father’s sleeve and tries to see into the hole.

So Patrick lifts him and says, “Here’s where they’re going to put Katy, Jack.”

“Gonna drop her right in,” says Sean. “But look how the backhoe fucked up. Digging Katie’s spot next to his, they tore up the side of Mack’s own peaceful rest.” Sean points, and Jackie’s brother Robert and Patrick’s old friend Mary move in, as Alice eases over to Patrick’s side.

“They knocked the shit out of Mack’s coffin,” Patrick tells his wife. “You can see his arm. Look,” he points. “It fell out the side.”

Jackie says, “Grandpa’s arm?”

“Yeah,” Patrick answers, and they all gaze down. In shadows six feet deep, among the shards of the coffin’s side shattered by the teeth of the backhoe’s bucket, juts the dim arm they strain to see – a tremendously pale and bony wrist thrust from the sleeve of a tattered suit. “Grandpa’s arm,” Robert whispers.

“Maybe he’s waving hello to Grandma,” Jackie says, and Alice smiles down at her younger son.

But Sean says, “No way. If Mack knew Katy was on the way down, he’d of been out of that hole and over the next hillside before we even got here.”

Patrick glances up the hill, snow spotty on its slope, its trees shaking leafless with the wind. “And yet Katy insists on her spot beside him for eternity,” he says, and looks back at Sean, smiling. “I imagine he’s reaching out in hopes a bottle’s been dropped.”

Now Sean’s laugh rises and Patrick’s joins in, warm and round, and Alice, even while rolling her eyes, turns her smile towards her husband.

Mary tosses back her thick red hair, wraps the collar of her long coat tighter, and still looks into the grave’s shadows. “Can you believe it? Sheesh…what incompetents. You gonna sue or something?”

“I think not,” Patrick says.

“Why the fuck do that?” Sean adds. “I don’t think Mack minds the fresh air. Once they shove the dirt back in, no one’ll be the wiser. And sue for what anyway? Mack wouldn’t want any goddam lawyers involved. Besides, just look at those sorry assholes.” He thrusts his chin towards the two gravediggers leaning against the lowered shovel of the backhoe eight or nine graves away. Patrick puts Jackie down and Alice takes the boy’s hand. They join Sean in checking out the two workers, trying not to stare too obviously.

But these two are oblivious anyway. In smudged jeans and muddy boots, they lean and smoke and don’t talk. The shorter wears a snap-brim and his colleague a Yankees’ cap. Both faces are creased and tanned and chapped, and they squint into the wind and their cigarette smoke. Sean and Patrick, Alice and Mary, with Katy’s coffin on sawhorses behind them, silently agree that each of these guys looks just like the kind of bored and inattentive clod who, at a mother’s funeral, could bulldoze a father’s coffin and never say he’s sorry.

And they laugh.

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