I wrote this in 2017 after the Writers of the Future workshop. Our group had formed a bit of a bond and, before we parted ways, someone casually mentioned how neat it would be if we had some sort of a reunion in the future. The unpleasant fact of modern adult life is that schedules rarely line up to allow much of a reunion for any group–unless someone dies.
When the first raindrops pelted my hand and nose, I opened the black umbrella. I always bring an umbrella to funerals, especially to those of Andy Shulnar.
A woman standing to my right sniffled into a lace handkerchief as someone opened an umbrella over the minister. I shifted mine to shelter the sniffling damsel.
“First one?” I asked.
She sniffed again and dabbed her eyes before speaking.
“I haven’t been to a funeral since my grandfather died,” she said. “Andy was such a dear friend, though, and to take his own life…”
“Yeah–that Andy. He’s always over-the-top.”
She looked up at me, a look of disbelief in her eyes.
“I’m Steve,” I said.
“Heather,” she replied, attempting a smile under running mascara.
“His wife sent out the invitations in advance this time,” I said, “what with everybody’s schedules being so hectic lately. Larry Somers from fourth grade actually missed the last one. Larry was only here for a year, but he hung out with us in gym class. Mindy didn’t put anything in the invitation about how he’d killed himself, though. Do you know? You seem to be a more recent acquaintance.”
“He–” she stammered, “he drank a bottle of drain cleaner–it was basically straight sulfuric acid. The thought of…”
She didn’t sob again though. The pure horror of thinking about Andy guzzling acid that burned his flesh from the inside out had simply shocked her into silence.
“Listen,” I said, “since you’re new at this, I’ll let you in on a secret.”
“Look at everyone else here. Do you see anyone else crying? Look especially at his wife.”
Heather studied her across the sea of faces.
“She looks, almost–”
“Yeah,” she said. Then she looked around at the others, the crowd of about a hundred people.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“Andy does this every five years or so,” I said. “He said the worst thing about being an adult is that the only time you’ll see all your friends in one place is at your funeral. People get so busy that they never stop by anymore. Scheduling something like this is impossible unless you’re really committed to getting their attention.”
“The acid thing’s not so bad, honestly,” I said. “He made a bologna shirt one time and jumped into the tiger enclosure at the zoo. That one was pretty brutal. Funny, though. We all had a good laugh at the wake. I’m sad there wasn’t one this time. I don’t think Mindy wanted people tromping through the house with a newborn.”
“I don’t think that–”
“It’ll be fine. I guess you’ll just have to see it though. You know Marley’s Pie Shop on third street?”
“Meet me there tomorrow at noon.”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“Unless they’ve changed the local customs since Andy and I were in Kindergarten here, I think we can safely meet for pie and coffee with our clothes on.”
She laughed, despite herself, and we listened as the minister finally got around to delivering his eulogy.
“It’s good pie, right?” I asked, cutting off another chunk of apple and crust with my fork.
“Yeah,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been missing out.”
She eyed the steaming cup of coffee and plate of rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream that was just starting to melt. They sat next to her and across from me, untouched.
The bell on the door jingled, and I looked up to see a familiar figure walk in. He smiled when our eyes met.
“Oh, good,” Andy said, then looked at Heather. “Last time he ordered early and the ice cream melted before I got here. It’s hard to answer texts when you’re dead.”
Heather stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief, but nonetheless stuffed another forkful of cherry pie into her mouth.
“What? You told her didn’t you?” Andy said. He twisted a finger in his ear and pulled out a small clod of dirt. “Sorry, Mindy actually made them bury me. I had to dig my own way out. She said she’s tired of my ‘attention-seeking behavior.'”
He sipped the coffee.
“Ooh,” he said, “that burns. ”