Beth and I are drinking martinis at Cafe American, one of our friendly competitors, after a hard Saturday night. We’re both tired and in need of post shift medication.
“So did you hear about the guy who died?” Beth asks.
“Who died?” I reply.
“You know the bartender over at Flannery’s?”
“No. I’ve never been in there.”
“He was killed in a car accident a few days ago.”
“That’s awful,” I say, “How old was he?”
“He wasn’t even thirty.”
I have a sinking feeling in my gut. People younger than me aren’t supposed to die. But it happens every day.
“Did you know him?” I ask.
I take a sip of my drink and remember my friend Kevin who died of pancreatic cancer at 32 – one day after his first wedding anniversary.
“It’s tragic when someone dies so young,” I say, “All their possibilities become impossible.”
“Yeah,” Beth murmurs.
“They have the funeral yet?” I ask.
“Couple of days ago.” Beth says.
“Did you go?”
“No,” Beth says, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Like I said, I didn’t know him that well.”
Suddenly silence seems like the best reply.
Beth takes a thoughtful sip from her drink.
“But you know what really sucks?” she says.
“The guy who died?”
“His brother was killed on 9/11.”
“Jesus” I mutter.
“Can you imagine their poor parents?”
“I can’t imagine,” I say, shaking my head.
“Their parents have other children,” Beth says, “They had a big family but…..”
“It’s a disaster no matter how many kids they had,” I say. “In my family there’s only me and my brother. If this had happened to us…”
“Yeah,” I say, knocking on the wooden table.
“And,” Beth says slowly, “The guy who died? His best friend was away on his honeymoon.”
Suddenly I’m transported to the day Kevin died. It’s a glorious spring afternoon. Just as I’m pulling up to his house the funeral guys are taking his body away. When the somber men carrying the gurney reach the foot of the stairs they see me and stop. I reach out and place my hand on Kevin’s shrouded corpse.
I cannot believe Kevin’s dead. Not my friend. Not the guy I played poker with. Skied in Vail with. Not the fun loving guy who tried to hook me up at parties. It can’t be.
But what I feel under the shroud doesn’t move. It’s stiff and cold. I pull my hand back, suddenly frightened.
The funeral guys say nothing. I nod. They continue down the stairs, slide what was once Kevin into the hearse, and drive away. In the back of my mind I remember he’s going to be cremated.
I go inside the house. It’s filled with people. Everybody’s crying. I hear Kevin’s wife screaming.
“This time last year we were on our honeymoon. It’s not fair. It’s not fair!” she wails.
I head towards the sound of her voice. Kevin’s widow’s curled up in her bed. Her mother’s holding her close, gently stroking her hair. The hospice people are preparing a sedative.
I go over to the side of the bed. I stroke her hair too. I mumble my condolences. She doesn’t hear me. She doesn’t hear anyone.
I walk over to the hospital bed the hospice people set up in the living room. This is where my friend ended his days. I place my hand on the bed and look out the window.
Outside it really is a beautiful spring day. The trees are just beginning to show the promise of new life. The sun is warm.
I stand there and contemplate the fact that anybody I ever loved who died, died on a spring day. With a start I remember its Holy Thursday. Easter’s around the corner. But I’m not thinking theological thoughts. No musing about death and resurrection. There’s only grief. Context will come later.
Keith’s widow lets out another piercing wail. It’s a sound I’ll remember till the day I die. I walk outside before I fall apart…………
I snap back to the present. That was nine years ago. Has it been that long? As I take another sip of my drink, a quote from the Bard floats into my head.
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions,” I murmur.
But Beth doesn’t hear me. She sips her drink in silence. I’m silent with her.
I stare into my martini and remember……
And pray for better days.