NOTE: Even tho this says Chapter 79, this is the first chapter.
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CHAPTER SEVENTY-NINE - OHIO
*Rose White*. I turned away from the body to listen to my name being whispered on an ill wind. He died only two days ago, but his ghost already remembered me.
“Maybe we should leave,” Grandma Andersen whispered. “Nobody seems to want us here.”
“We have to be here.” I stared at the roses that covered his bronze coffin.
It didn’t take long for him to die. One breath. That’s what they all said.
The cemetery was at the end of a quiet dirt road where the speed limit was set too high. I kept catching glimpses of a red truck across the street. It reminded me of a firebrand: something vibrant in the middle of the brown government facility and gray high-voltage fences. Something that just wouldn’t die.
I turned and saw tract suburban housing sprawling ever closer. Matching families watered their matching lush green lawns and purple tiger lilies. I imagined them all squinting their eyes against the perfect glowing sun, its light bouncing off their gleaming white siding and baking their black roofs. It made me cry that much harder. He would be buried so close to a world that should have been his. The gravestones stood far away from the road. A long expanse at the front was covered in grass and yellow sunflowers that seemed nearly three miles high, broken only by the new white gate.
I smeared on cherry lip-gloss, wondering when the preacher would shut up so we could all go home and cry.
I couldn’t stop staring at the old minister who looked like a crumbling artifact with cracked skin and sagging eyes. His black robes hung loosely around his skeletal frame. I expected him to point his bony finger at me and make some accusation that was undeniable. Those small black eyes seemed transfixed on me. Maybe he knew the truth.
The cool, November air was still for a moment. Crinkling the tissue-paper like pages with his frail fingers, the priest opened his Bible. *Shouldn’t he have this stuff memorized by now?* I couldn’t stand to look at him anymore. I couldn’t stand to look in the coffin either. The preacher read all the psalms about youth. I didn’t even know this man, and he was speaking for someone irreparably tied to me. In my mind, his words snapped every bone in my thorax. Dad always taught me: never let ‘em see you cry.
I looked in the coffin one last time. He looked smooth, as if the funeral home had shellacked his body. He didn’t seem that young. If he would have given it time, I might have loved him.
I wore a gray dress-suit with understated shoes and make-up, attempting to blend in with the weather. It was important to me not to stand out. I didn’t want to upset his family more than they already were.
An icy breeze kicked up and blew my skirt horizontally. Maybe it was a sign from God. I glanced at the sky, hoping for a sign of forgiveness. But He didn’t care about me. A yellow streak of lightning painted the slate-gray sky. *I can only say it so many times. God, I am sorry*.
The family sat on lawn chairs under a green tent. I should have been there with them, consoling them and begging for forgiveness. It wasn’t my fault. I would have done anything to bring him back. I was hurting too, more than they could ever understand. Instead, I stood a little behind them: close enough to smell their hair and cheap perfume, but far enough away to remain detached and independently mournful.
His mother turned to look at me and pursed her lips. I saw her eyes frosted in a shimmering brown and outlined in black. She scowled.
The preacher closed the casket, and then crisscrossed it with heavy ropes that unknown, distant family members held. Slowly, carefully, they nudged it nearer to the chasm in the dirt. We leaned over and gazed into this large hole, this bit of abyss where we will all be one day, but just as quickly, we looked away. It was too much.
The wind picked up, screaming through the emerald tent and nearly pulling its plastic posts out of the ground. The rain came like God decided to drop a bucket of water all at once, not letting up. It ricocheted off my nice little outfit over and over, smacking my pale skin. Somehow, it made me feel small compared to the rest of the world.
We all scrambled and made mad dashes for our cars. I followed his mother, shivering as I knocked on the car window. I heard the electric hum of the window coming down. “What?” Her face was like a bowl of angry mashed potatoes, lumpy and without any definite shape.
“I never meant for this to happen,” I said. My arms crossed over my chest and my hands squeezed in my armpits, I jumped up and down only slightly to keep myself warm in this downpour. My long blonde hair was dripping and crushed flat against my head.
“You’re too late for apologies.” Quickly, she hit the button to buzz the window to a close.
I didn’t make a dash for my car. The aching cold in my bones didn’t matter, only the fact that he was dead and maybe I could have prevented it. I thought of his eyes, so big and much warmer than hers. I thought of his strong arms and shoulders, the lips that could curl into such a loving smile, and his fine-boned but muscular hands that only someone like me might notice. Gone. All gone for no other reason but obsession.