Fannie felt beside the point. The funeral home was just across the parking lot and she could still see the staff milling about. She, the last remaining attendee, was not feeling any particular need to push the boundaries of grief and happenstance. The funeral of Mrs. Simmons was intentional, but the adjacent ceremony was an accident: a friend of similar origin. Fannie had, at first, used the ceremonies, the eulogies, encounters, and overall despondent nature as a diving board into her own sense of despair. She had the story ready to go. She was done with the assignment, but the ground had shifted and now she was not sure. Should she send it as is or take the grade reduction? Dr. Whitaker would most assuredly give her a break, but did she want it? Was this new development gonna keep or wither away? She had been so sure, but now was not. Hence, indecision. Hence, despair.
Mrs. Simmons had always been her favorite. She never put her on the spot or made her feel less than worthy. Fannie always felt “student” enough for Mrs. Simmons. Even the noun inappropriately morphed into adjective would have made Mrs. Simmons chuckle, or at the very least place a smiley face next to the red-inked “-2.” -Fannie remembered her fondly and the spoken words had done nothing to refute her memory:
Mrs. Simmons always did her best to tend to every student
Mrs. Simmons brought me school supplies one semester
Mrs. Simmons stayed with me after school until my mom got off work and could come and get me . . .
The words at Hal’s funeral were not as laudatory, but possessed every bit the emotion. There was the regret and the sadness as well as the weeping family members as each person stood up to speak. With Hal, however, it was different. No one spoke to his character directly, but rather uttered somberly . . .
Hal always tried to make people laugh
Hal tried to turn things around
Hal tried . . .
These pithy efforts, typically reserved for advertisements did little in the way of solace. The eulogizers, however, did their best to remind his family of the potential, the other route not taken, and the person Hal used to be. It was not until she heard another discussing his fate that she figured out why the sense of failure. Hal’d shot himself. “Gruesomely,” someone added.
Fannie didn’t know anyone at either service and wasn’t too keen on starting up conversations. She remembered Mrs. Simmons’ husband, and she supposed those could be her children, but no names came to her and it was her intent to avoid any awkwardness. And, in the case of Hal’s, forget that. She had no interest in forcing some encounter that wasn’t meant to be. She had known him once, but that was a while ago. She didn’t fit into any predestined attendee roles so it was pointless.
Mrs. Simmons’ husband had been the last to stand up and it was obvious from the muffled hurrump that folks weren’t all that pleased that he had chosen to speak. It wasn’t hers to say why, but just that’s the way it was. The next few moments clued her in.
Mr. Simmons began several times. His halting speech revealed an intense grief as well as an individual unable to formulate sentences. The grief was present, but the stilted articulation of it indicated something else. Fannie assumed. Looking around, the family members’ drooping, lamenting heads echoed as much. None seemed to be disapproving outright, after all, but there was a waiting-on-the-other-shoe-to-drop vibe about it.
And, it did. Mr. Simmons leaned to the left, hand on the casket of his late wife, and moved closer to the ground, but not before his daughter was by his side, ushering him to the front pew. Condition indeed. Speech impediment? Heart troubles? Yes. It wasn’t hard to see from her expression that the emergency had taken her out of the moment for a moment, but just for a moment, moments being what they are. Now, she was back. The grief settled back into her posture.
Her sunken shoulders were strange to see in light of the other service, a juxtaposition of the two forms of grieving; one for loss and the other for what could’ve been. It pained Fannie a smidge that her final assignment would not reflect some of the latest developments in her never-ending quest for the Final Categorization. In all of her work, there was a nuance –– a finality to the process of human thought. It was an idea she had formulated a while ago. It was a brilliant one and it found a comfortable home in the fleshing out of her characters and within certain contexts, it made perfect sense; when she had control; when she managed the expectations, realizations, and outcomes. That was what she enjoyed so much about fiction, the way the universe bent to her will. It had served her well. The real world evolved, however, unfolded, and reacted differently.
Examining this, recent memories surfaced: Young ladies – Mrs. Simmons’ daughter and the unknown at Hal’s – who seemed to carry larger portions of the burden of grief. They had not sulked more than the rest. They just appeared to live it more, to soak it in, with a possibility of enduring. It stood out. The resignation and the odd sense of equanimity distinguished them. Resigned to what though? Fannie had her ideas. There were plenty of circumstances to be resigned to: death happens, organs and people fail, and the rest are left to pick up the pieces.
Fannie considered her current assignment: Throngs of individuals forming lines in front of labeled monoliths. They were all destined to coalesce into one monolith or another, forever. Each deciding her fate, with control of her label. In life, each person had her own ideas about who she was and what she was and how she wanted to be seen. But was it eternal? An opposing concept appeared, neither categorical nor finite. It, a temporal flexibility, challenged her thesis. How wise would an entity have to be before making the correct designation? It’d be completely different when it was your own eternity. Her thesis seemed less viable now as she remembered the two young ladies.
Would those two want to remain the forever grieving? –the existentially jilted lover? –the motherless daughter? They were justified, but was it just? She remembered the impetus for her rigid school of thought: her frizzy hair juxtaposed against her gothic attire, her chromatic uniqueness in the whitewashed arena of the prep school, and how once those labels were divvied out, that was it. Although she never thought it bothered her too much, she now considered the labels and how they rendered her socially immobile. Was she or was it possible to move on, or possess more than one label, or not be labeled at all?
Her concern lingered around a couple of the funereal moments, dispersed evenly over both services. There were elegiac things said, which elucidated denser currents of thought and emotions related to the labels administered. She couldn’t have asked either of the two ladies about it, but there were her condolences. She might have gleaned some response emotions, results, as it were. That would have been selfish, inquiring merely to settle an internal philosophic dispute. To figure out if they were rendered immobile.
Still, what was said elucidated a lot, but nowhere during the services were each lady’s roles clearly defined. Well, when the daughter of the husband jumped up to care for him, she saw the familiarity. There was a reaching out by the husband/father –an expectation of care. And the other lady appeared to hover around, not quite knowing what to do with herself, perhaps not belonging completely. –with the deceased, or with the family of, harder to say. In short, both appeared to be lost, but not due specifically to their grief, but rather as in relationship to others.
It had been hard to watch. Grief is one thing and solitude another, but a solitary grief is a category all on its own. And there she goes again, Fannie thought . . . attempting to place personalities – ever growing and evolving organisms – into monoliths; nothing but trouble there, but it did help. It was giving her understanding? She could see how it helped her now and in her writing, but is it stagnant? Permanent? Was she panicking for nothing? She chuckled at her realization. Was she being a jerk or merely returning an old favor?
Fannie remembered the eulogies at each service, their differences as stark as the similarities. The age-old obligation to have a religious officiant was as common as it was old. She didn’t know the family, but from the looks of it, and the sound of it, and the vibe of it, the family members weren’t all that interested. They sat listless as each monolith’s prophet delivered a version of the afterlife. She might have seen a few eyes roll, but couldn’t be sure.
She had her own diatribes to offer, but they were of little use now. She was a stranger in a sea of grieving strangers in which no one was challenging protocol. She did consider how the figure’s words left both the deceased survivors in front of monoliths not of their choosing. Mrs. Simmons and Hal were left in front of the BELIEVER or NON monolith.
It was always tough to discern where the speaker placed them. They were smart enough not to be too sure. It was always left up to the audience. The spouses, children, and mothers and fathers knew “their hearts.” They knew the decisions they had made, which put the audience into myriad monoliths: believer, skeptic, friend, foe, saved, not saved, etc. This all left Fannie where? Nowhere? Was she responsible – as someone who didn’t know (really know) either of the deceased – for choosing which monolith to place them in? Surely not. She didn’t want to be. But if she was confused by all of this, what of the ladies, the daughter, the lover? Could they be both grieving others and exist within these other monoliths?
And then it hit her. They couldn’t care less. They weren’t worried about epistemological deconstruction, monolithic civilizations, or whatever it was that Fannie was doing. But it did have practical applications, no? The ladies were not oblivious to their grief any less than to where it left them. They had lost someone important to them. From all appearances, it was more than important . . . necessary. They had lost someone necessary to them, integral to their lives, and/or inherent. They had lost an anchor of sorts and at any time may be left to drift out of sight, nowhere to be found. Yet, they hadn’t. They remained, at least externally. Only time would reveal the interior dimensions of their true selves, but for now, they appeared steadfast. Buoys bound to the ocean floor instead of the mobile and driftwood.
If Fannie had to place them in front of a monolith, it would have been rock. Her guess, however, was that it wouldn’t always be that way. They were strong for now, but surely as time went on, and the others drifted away, their own creaks and crevices would begin to sound and show. Even the tethered buoy came loose. Too. Much. Metaphor.
Fannie’s internal monologue careened on, curious. She didn’t know anymore of what was going on than she could conjure in some fictive delusion, which was always hampered by her own philosophical underpinnings. There was something of a veracity slant, however, to her musings. She knew. She felt. And in any event, aren’t we all hemmed in by a narrative informed by our own philosophies, which we construct? Did she just admit that all of life is subjective? Ha.
The buzzing in Fannie’s pants brought her out of her reverie and back to the real world in which she was due in class soon. She turned the alarm off, but not before noticing the piece of fuzz from the pew. She stared at it for a few seconds before flicking it off her pants. Half expecting it to catch a gust of wind, she was disappointed when it merely fell to the ground and became lodged in the brittle grass.
She couldn’t imagine it staying there for long. It would eventually get sucked up into a lawn mower or some bird would come along and use it for part of its nest. It could be offal or foundational, or both. Nowhere or somewhere. Who knew? Either way, at some point, it would cease being a piece of lint. It would become other things, beyond its designated monolith. All things and people have potential to move beyond, but for now, Fannie just had to move. She wanted to eat before class. It was taco Tuesdays, her favorite.