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“I’m taking your drugs away, mom. You passed out.” He crossed his arms, looking down his nose at her. “You could really hurt yourself, you know. Dad told me once that if we supress our feelings, it’s not good for us. He told me that after the last funeral I went to.”
Basically everyone was gone. They were taking down the platform, packing up the instruments and sound equipment. That was it. They were closing the lid on the funeral, and moving on to the next part of their day.
“Let’s get you home, Lanie.” Jennifer clicked the locks on the wheelchair, but Lanie squeezed the hand break.
“No. Leave me here.”
Jennifer and Dre exchanged a look.
“Listen to me. I need some time alone with him. Can you give me that?” She was so hot, and tired. “Please. Please, just let me have some time to talk to him with no one else around. Go to the car. Go home, even. I’ll text you when I’m ready.” She laughed bitterly. “It’s not like I can go anywhere by myself.
Finally, they left. Lanie sat, and watched, as the last few people trailed away, offering her sad, parting looks and short words of condolence. She ignored them pointedly, and kept staring at the dirt.
After fifteen minutes, there was no one as far as she could see. A half-kilometre away were the faint sounds of cars starting and pulling away. And then there was silence.
She wheeled herself the six feet to his grave. It was nearly impossible, but she did it. Painfully, she twisted and reached behind her for the guitar case hanging on the handles of the wheelchair. She unstrapped her legs and her seatbelt. Then she tossed the case down as gently as she could. It landed with a thump and a twang in the dirt. Leaning forward, she dipped down until she, too, fell to the ground, her legs twisting underneath her. Panting, she flipped unto her side, then lifted on one elbow to rearrange the useless limbs in a more logical way. Then she curled on her side, digging her fingers into the warm, dark soil.
“Ben,” she whispered. She sank her fingers deeper, closing her eyes, imagining the feel of his thick, black hair, his impossibly warm arms. She pressed her ear to the ground near the head of the grave, where she thought his heart might be. She listened, and she waited, but just like in the garden when he’d had that white guitar, she heard nothing. It was just one of a million quiet summer days.
“Ben,” she moaned, clutching herself, trying to hold herself together. “Ben.”
She sobbed silently, hitching gasps, barely able to move or breathe. The earth drank her tears. Maybe he would grow back. She had once believed she had magic tears, like Rapunzel, and that somehow, her feelings could bring back the people she cared about.
“Don’t leave me,” she wailed. “Take me with you. Come back, baby. I have a song for you.”
For a few minutes, she didn’t get the guitar, though. She gathered the dirt in her arms and pressed her face into it. It smelled like him. Earthy, and woodsy, and warm. A little like when he came in from mowing the lawn.
At last, she rolled over onto her back, and pulled the guitar onto her. The bun Jennifer had made for her was bugging the back of her head, so she loosed her hair, just the way he liked it.
“I’m not as good as you are. Don’t make fun of me, okay?” she sniffed. Her fingers were covered in dirt, and she wiped them off as best as she could. She tuned it the way Pastor Bob had shown her when she’d asked him to help her prepare this anniversary song. The song she was supposed to play at their vow renewal.
“Aren’t you something to admire? Cause your shine is something like a mirror.” She stifled her tears, determined to do this for him. She was five days late. It was the least she could do for their belated third wedding anniversary.
“And I can’t help but notice
You reflect in this heart of mine.
If you ever feel alone
And the glare makes me hard to find
Just know that I’m always
Parallel on the other side.”
She could picture him pressing back against her from under the ground, crooning to her like nothing had happened. Agony shook through her, and she was almost unable to breathe past her grief.
“’Cause with your hand in my hand
And a pocket full of soul
I can tell you there’s no place we couldn’t go
Just put your hand on the glass,”
Sobbing, she pressed her hands back into the dirt, clawing desperately.
I’ll be tryin’ to pull you through
She tried. She tried so hard, but she couldn’t stop crying. “You just gotta be strong,” she whimpered, clutching her hair and curling into the ground.
You just gotta be strong
‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now
Her heart tore itself apart, piece by piece. She heaved for breath, desperate for control. Something snapped. She wasn’t sure what it was. But she started screaming. And screaming. And she couldn’t stop. Not until her voice was nearly shredded, the song garbled, even in her head.
I’m lookin’ right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Her hands were shaking too badly to play the guitar anymore. She curled on her side, cradling the guitar against her stomach, scared she might crack it as she thought of how close she was to him. She could feel his hands over hers on the instrument. The memory of him playing it, touching it, was palpable. He was right there. And yet nowhere she could reach him.
Show me how to fight for now
And I’ll tell you, baby, it was easy
Comin’ back here to you once I figured it out
She wished she had said yes. That first time that she had met him. She would have said yes when he’d playfully asked to marry her. She would have shed the weight of all her trauma and worry and pain, and just let him have her. She would go back. She would do it right. She just wanted another chance to take a different route. One that would give them more time. Or maybe she would go back even farther, to that first day in church after her sisters had been killed. She would have seized the spirit of Melanie, and snuck away while her father was trying to leave, and she would have sought that boy out, and clung to him, and never let him go. Don’t leave me. Take me with you. Never mind that she wouldn’t have been even close to an appropriate age for him. Just to be near him would have been enough.
Just to be here, now, had to be enough. But she hoped he knew she had tried. He was the one she’d been waiting for, hoping for, when she had dreamed of her life. Not the Melanie life of pampered bliss. Not the Lanie life of cloak and daggers. Not even the Fiona life of half a dozen children and a dog. Just Lexie. Alexandra Mira Ferami de la Torre had dreamed of an endless stretch of simple, harmonic, metronomic days on a beach where it never snowed. And yet, it had taken an explosion on the other side of the world to bring the two of them back here, to their home. To each other, where they had both previously lived in parallel oblivion for years.
For all that time, not knowing that her heart had been searching for his song.
You were right here all along.
Closing her eyes, she let the exhaustion take her, only managing one more line. She just couldn’t finish.
“You were my dream come true.”
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13