“Henceforth when mourners grieve, their grief to share,
Emblem of woe, the cypress shall be there.”
It rains the morning of Eddie Foster’s funeral.
The rain starts slowly and softly, creeping in with a slow darkening of the sky and the heavy, wet smell of an oncoming storm. At first, it is a misty cloud swirling and clinging to the grass, hanging in thin tendrils from tree branches like spider webs. Soon enough, though, the rain becomes sheets billowing in the wind, blinding drops swimming in a sea of black umbrellas outside of the church.
Amy Peters-Foster is painfully aware of the cliché as she sits in the front pew, hands folded neatly in her lap. She is a small, delicately pretty young woman who barely looks older than twenty-one. She is lost among eulogizers and readers, though she herself won’t speak. Her black boatneck dress brushes the tops of her calves, and the small wedding band on her finger glitters in the weak light filtering into the chapel. She is sitting only a few feet from the coffin, which is sleek and long and matches Amy’s dress, her hair, the thick coat of lacquer on her fingernails. She picks a stray line of polish off of her cuticle, keeping her eyes down.
She plays the role of the dejected, mourning wife all too well. She ignores the knowing, pitying stares from across the aisle, where his family sits. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the like– all watching her, poised like they’re waiting for her to do something. Half of them she’s never even met.
His family had opted not to have a wake or viewing of his body. The lid of the coffin is closed, sealed shut forever. She will never see his face again.
Amy goes home that night to an empty, uninviting bed and too many words left unsaid. She strips off her dress, tosses it on the floor with disgust, kicks off her shoes, and collapses onto the bed dressed in only her underwear. Pitch-blackness has fallen over the city now, and the soft light drifting in through the window makes the rain droplets still splattered across the foggy glass glow like watery stars.
She thinks, they don’t understand. God, they just don’t understand. She heard too many words that day, at the reception luncheon and in the parking lot outside the church, inky umbrellas blocking the torrential rain pouring on them. Distant cousins she’d never met threw themselves into her arms, weeping over him, stoic aunts and uncles simply nodded and apologized to Amy, as if they had been the ones that killed her Eddie. Heh. What a thought.
The ones who said I know how you feel were the worst. His great-aunt had put her hand on Amy’s shoulder and whispered those words, dabbing her eyes with a black handkerchief. His stepmother said it, too, staring past her with a faraway look in her grey eyes.
Empty apologies, that’s all they were. No one told her anything more than an empty apology. They were nothing but words of comfort that rang hollow, rattling around in Amy’s ribcage where her heart should have been. But when they said I know how you feel, it made her fantasize, just for a moment, that she could reach out and punch them square in the nose.
They didn’t know. They didn’t know a thing. They didn’t know that when Eddie kissed her, he always kept his eyes open just a little bit, as if he was making sure her eyes closed. They didn’t know that the first time he spent the night at her apartment, they sat cross-legged on her bed dressed in pajamas, reading to each other from her book collection until four in the morning. They didn’t know that he played Top 40 radio as they drove down the highway and sang along (badly) to every word; that when he was eight, he wanted to be a pilot, but settled for a middle-school math teacher instead; that when he asked Amy to marry him, he phrased it like he expected her answer to be “no.”
They might have seen it. But they didn’t understand it. Not at all.
Amy isn’t sure why she cut out, much less kept, that scrap of newspaper. She was there. She knows what happened. She doesn’t need his obituary to remind her.
Edward Andrew Foster died the night of December 2nd. He was killed in a car crash on the night of his fourth wedding anniversary. He was the passenger in a car turning off of Clearview Drive and onto Route 39 when a van full of drunk teenagers smashed into the driver’s side. This sent the car spiraling thirty feet off of the road and into a tree. Edward, not wearing a seatbelt, crashed headfirst through the windshield. He was dead instantly, the only fatality. The driver of his car (his wife) suffered only minor injuries. The passengers in the van escaped without even a scratch.
Edward Andrew Foster was thirty-one years old. He is survived by his parents, stepmother, and wife, Amy Peters-Foster, now a widow at twenty-six.
The actual obituary was worded more politely, of course, but it didn’t matter to her. Every time she falls asleep, she hears bits and pieces of their last conversation– a petty argument. Lovers’ quarrel. They could never stand to be wrong, a character flaw they shared, and when Amy took her eyes off the road for a split second to make a point– the lights came up too fast and before she knew it the car was spinning and her wrists were broken and bleeding and there was a hole through the windshield in front of where Eddie should have been, the rest of the glass filled with spidery cracks.
It was ruled an accident, but Amy knows exactly how guilty she is.
Amy had only been to her husband’s grave once, at his funeral. She dropped a red rose on his casket and walked away wordlessly. She could feel the accusing stares of his family burning into her back– her family, technically, as well, at least for four years, but their looks didn’t make her turn around. Six months later –six months to the day– she feels fit to return.
The cemetery is almost entirely deserted, an eerie silence falling over the rows of stones. One elderly man leans over a small, plain gravestone. He is close enough that Amy can see his mouth moving, but far enough away that she can’t hear what he’s saying. The sun is warm on her back, evidence of summer finally creeping in, and Amy has tossed on an old baggy tank top with thick red and blue stripes and grey shorts, with black ballet flats on her feet. (She wears it without realizing that it was his favorite outfit of hers.)
She carries a bright yellow plastic bag in her hand, weighed down by heavy contents. Her fingers keep moving around and crinkling the plastic, as if she’s developed a nervous tic within the past three minutes.
Some part of her heart rises up into her throat, while the rest of it plunges down into her stomach, when she reaches his grave. It’s simple and small, with barely enough space for his information. His name and birthday, followed by his death date, are inscribed. There is no epitaph for him.
She’d wanted her name on the stone as well. His family had protested: you’re so young, you might remarry, you’d be too close to the rest of his family, it’s better off this way. She wonders if she’ll regret giving in to their demands.
She lets out a strangled gasp as she collapses to her knees in front of the headstone, reaching out to rub his name with her fingers, to pretend that, for a fleeting moment, he’s still here. The plastic bag falls onto the ground next to her with a loud crunch, but its contents don’t spill out. Amy realizes this after a moment and pulls on the bottom of the bag, upending the bouquet of flowers onto the grass. She gazes at it for a moment before propping it up in front of his name, heliotrope and roses brushing against E’s and A’s.
She sits there silently in front of his grave for a long time. Her eyes dart from the bouquet to the gravestone to the stubborn dried mud on the toes of her boots. A cool breeze blows through the cemetery, pushing Amy’s hair to the side and tickling her back and upper arms in the process.
Wherever Eddie is, looking down on her or not, she knows that he won’t know what the bouquet means. Amy’s not even completely sure herself, but the woman at the flower shop told her what some of the flowers meant. It doesn’t matter, though. Amy does know, that the bouquet is an apology, a testament to their love, and a goodbye rolled into a combination of a few flowers.
All Eddie will see is his wife, sitting in front of his grave. And, Amy thinks, that is all he needs to know.
(Copyright Sadie Britton 2015)