A Sober Mourning
by Louis Sisto
Darryl Roseville was feeling something very, very peculiar. Things were slowly coming into focus, the same way people and furniture transition from blurry, unshapely objects into more rational, recognizable forms as one awakens from a deep sleep.
Darryl was feeling slightly nauseous, which was accompanied by a distant, but unrelenting sensation of dizziness. It took him a few seconds to get accustomed to his surroundings. He felt strange in the sense that he knew who he was, but felt as if he was in an entirely unfamiliar area.
He looked around and noticed that he appeared to be standing in a parking lot. Cars of all sizes and colors grazed the lot like cattle in a field on a warm, sunny day. Looking up he noticed that there was no sun to be found and that the sky was overcast, almost bearing no color at all and appeared more like a faded tablecloth. The atmosphere was quiet, yet unsettling.
He had the feeling that something big was happening right outside his field of vision; he didnt know if he should be scared, excited, or both. His eyes darted down to himself. Much to his surprise he discovered that he was sporting a long white hospital gown with blue polka dots. He noticed that he wasnt wearing any shoes and that his feet were only covered with socks. His mind frantically searched for an explanation. Had he been in the hospital recently? If so, what for? And, for the big question of the day, where in the hell was he now?
He walked over to the drivers window of a nearby Kia Forte and peered into it. His hair was frazzled and dirty, strewn in all different directions, he had a layer of stubble from not shaving and his eyes and cheeks were bruised and swollen to drastic proportions. He looked like someone had been using his head as a soccer ball. As he slowly studied his face his gaze moved down to his neck area where he noticed a long, gaping slash across his throat. Large splotches of dried blood clung around it, adding to the grotesque portrait. He raised a finger to it and found that there was no pain at all. He pressed the tip of his index finger into the gaping hole several times to further experiment and came up with the same result. He was feeling queasy and decided that he needed to lean on the side mirror to keep from falling over. How was he still walking around with an injury like this? How was he still alive at all?
He regained his composure and stepped away from the vehicle, once again taking a long look at his surroundings. About a hundred feet in front of him, past a couple of trees, stood a beige brick building with a large sign hanging above the entrance. He glanced at the sign and read the inscription:
William Talbot & Son Funeral Home
At that moment Darryl felt something whisk by his side and noticed a young man and woman, dressed in black, walking briskly toward the building. He saw that the woman was sobbing lightly, with the man gently rubbing her back to comfort her. She dabbed at her nose with a tissue as they scurried along towards the building. Darryl was surprised that neither of them had acknowledged him as they passed. Its not every day that a grown man stands around in the parking lot of a funeral home, wearing a clumsy-looking hospital gown, looking like he had just been assaulted.
He had no idea where this was coming from but he suddenly had an overpowering urge to walk towards the funeral home. The strangest thing of all was the feeling that he needed to be there. He began to stroll along casually in his socks, as if going out to his front porch to retrieve the mail. As he edged closer to the building other mourners, young and old, trickled into his field of vision, seemingly from all directions, and made their way through the glass doors at the entrance. Yet nobody noticed Darryl, who was certainly not dressed for the occasion.
As he reached the doors an elderly woman with jagged, sharp features, who smelled of horribly outdated perfume, came up on the side of him. He grabbed one of the doors and held it open for her. She hobbled through, seemingly oblivious of his presence. That was odd. No kind of greeting whatsoever. The queasy sensation was returning. Something was drastically wrong here; but what? He pressed on, his legs almost acquiring a life of their own as he let himself in.
The lobby of the funeral home was quite spacious. The overpowering aroma of flowers hit Darryl like a slap in the face. He instantly had that kind of dread that most people experience when attending a visitation; the feeling of wanting to pay your respects and get the hell out of there as soon as possible.
There were people scattered all over the lobby. A middle-aged woman with dark hair stood a few feet away, talking to a short, unassuming man in a dark blue suit, carrying a binder. Mr. Talbot, perhaps? Two young children were fumbling around at her feet, yanking on the bottom of her black dress. She bent over and began scolding one of them about making too much noise. Off to Darryls right sat an elderly man in a white dress shirt and black tie. He had nodded off at some point and was on the verge of dropping his reading glasses on the floor. A frail-looking, bespectacled woman sat next to him, her hands folded on her lap, a distant expression blanketing her face. A young man, twenty-something-ish, was walking swiftly towards Darryl, while fumbling a cigarette out of the pocket of his black suit jacket. He headed out the door and lit up, not giving Darryl any indication that he saw him.
Darryl stared around in bewilderment. Here was a room full of people and nobody was the least bit alarmed at the sight of a half-dressed, bruised and swollen man, with a hole in his neck that you could park a car in. He took a couple of deep breaths and walked to his left a few steps where a small plastic sign was hanging and felt his stomach tighten. The board read:
Roseville: Room A
He tried not to panic. His mind lit up like a ballroom as he tried to remember any relatives who had been sick or dying. Whose visitation was he at? How come he didnt recognize anybody? Why hadnt he been committed by now for walking around half-naked in a hospital gown as if he didnt have a care in the world? Too many questions and oh so little answers! He thought about backtracking outside for a moment to ask the young man from earlier if he could bum a smoke. He thought better of it and decided that he had more important things going on at the moment, such as finding out why his last name was plastered on the wall at the William Talbot & Son Funeral Home. Little worries like that.
He turned away and continued puttering ahead, past the brigade of solemn figures surrounding him, coming to a hallway on his left. He noticed a small sign on the wall with arrows indicating that it lead to the guest cafeteria and Room A. He sure hoped the cafeteria was serving alcohol, because now sure felt like a swell time to calm his nerves. His mind drifted off to a movie he seen on television years ago: Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon. What was it that his character would always say when he wanted a drink? Hit Me Again! Yeah, thats the spirit. Hit Me Again! He smiled slyly to himself as he approached the cafeteria and peered into the doorway. He could see various people sitting around at little wooden tables, nibbling on stale coffee cake and making small talk. In the back of the room Darryl witnessed a tall man in a grey suit, with his hair combed neatly to the side, banging lightly on the coffee machine and frantically pressing buttons. He gave up after a few seconds and took his seat at one of the tables. Once again, nobody even looked in Darryls direction.
He turned away and proceeded down the hallway to Room A, which was the last place in the world he wanted to be. He noticed himself taking smaller steps as he moved, as if that was somehow going to make the outcome of all of this better. He observed that the hallway was strangely quiet. Calm. He could hear muffled, soft voices emanating from the room down at the end of the hall. A purplish hue drifted from the room and shone onto the carpet in the hallway. The aroma of flowers grew just a tad stronger.
Darryl walked. And walked. And walked. Slowly. He felt like the anxiety and dread was going to overtake him before he made it to the end of the hall. It was so strong he could almost reach out and grab it. He glanced at the carpet and focused on the small diamond pattern that seemed to stretch on forever. His eyes drifted to a black leather couch off to his right. He noticed a wrinkled newspaper lying shamelessly in the middle of it, looking as if it had been discarded months ago, left there to die in its own literary fashion. There was something ominous about that newspaper. Something he was supposed to know. He inched his way slowly past the couch, all the while eyeballing the newspaper. It seemed silly, but he had the feeling it was also aware of his presence and was watching him as well. Nothing to worry about, he mused to himself. Its just a damn newspaper, after all. Get a grip, Darryl.
After what seemed like years of moving down the hallway Darryl finally found himself in front of Room A. The first sensation that burst through him was one of all eyes being on him. After all, its quite uncomfortable to walk into a visitation thats already begun, in a cheap hospital nightgown no less. He figured there were maybe forty to fifty people there, all carrying on as if everything was completely normal. The young couple that had brushed past him in the parking lot was sitting in two white leather chairs in the back of the room. The woman was no longer sobbing and was now resting her head back, her eyes still red however from all of the crying she had obviously been doing. The man sat next to her and was quietly reading emails on his cell phone. Darryl noticed a few younger girls talking off to the side, laughing softly at times, seemingly bored with the event at hand. A middle-aged man was sitting in the last row of arranged chairs with his face buried in his hands. He shook slightly, as if attempting to stifle himself from sobbing loudly enough to where the whole room could hear him. A brown-haired woman, probably his wife, sat next to him, trying to take his hands into hers. Darryl noticed tiny streams of tears trickling down her face.
There was a feeling of grief and loss in the room that Darryl never remembered experiencing at a visitation before. Sure, the mood is always a bit depressing, but he had been to some in the past where there was a lot of relief that the deceased person had passed on and that everyone could get closure. He wasnt feeling any of that this time; not even close, actually. The grief that permeated every particle of air in the room was suffocating. He knew that whoever had died had met a very terrible and abrupt end.
He had not looked toward the front of the room yet, where the casket was. He decided that maybe he would start with the memorial photos that were on display on the side of the room and work his way up front. He was no longer worried about being noticed by anyone. He had practically walked past a hundred people since his arrival and not one of them had so much as blinked in his direction. He walked calmly up to the first easel and glanced at the array of photos. The majority of the photos featured a young girl with strawberry-blonde hair who looked to be about eight or nine years old. There was a large one in the top left corner where she was sitting in a kiddie pool with her arm around a big German Shepherd. She looked to be a little younger than eight or nine in that particular photo. She displayed a goofy, wide grin, along with two prominent black spaces where she had lost her baby teeth. Darryl studied the photo more closely. There was something familiar about this little girl. Where had he seen her before? Had he seen her before? He worked his way from photo to photo, witnessing this young girl in everything from birthday parties to posing with a silly overgrown squirrel character at an amusement park. He noticed an attractive blonde lady accompanying the young girl in some of them; most likely her mother. He could tell just from the photos that mother and daughter had a deep, special connection. It hurt him just to imagine what the mother must be going through. She too looked oddly familiar.
What the hell was going on here? He came across one particular photo of the young girl as a newborn. In the photo two monstrous male hands were holding her in the air as she laughed, her eyes as wide as tennis balls amidst all of the exhilaration. Darryls attention was drawn to the watch on the wrist of the left hand of whomever this guy was holding the baby: a gold-plated Citizen with a few scratch marks on its face. He had a watch just like that a long time ago. He had scratched it up during a fight he was involved in with another patron at a bar once. What in the hell ever happened to that watch anyway? He caught himself staring down blankly at his left wrist, as if the answer would suddenly come to him.
The nausea was returning, with a vengeance. He never felt so morbid before at any time in his life. He was at a service for a young girl who had obviously died in some terrible, unexpected fashion. He felt a small lump of vomit creep its way into his throat (despite the gaping hole in it, of course). The worst part was that he had not even made his way to the casket yet. He stood facing the last easel of photos, not wanting to turn around and wishing he could once again be drifting around in the safety of the parking lot, with nothing but his naked ass on display as his biggest worry of the day.
Darryl could hear more voices joining into the general hum of the room as he remained fixated on the easel of photos. He could hear very soft organ music blending subtly into the atmosphere of the room. He had to move on. He turned to his right, leaving the array of photos behind and began the remainder of his journey to the front of the room. He mustered all the courage he could and took his first look at the casket perched ahead. He instantly recognized the young girl from the photos, sleeping peacefully inside, seemingly undisturbed by the agony and sorrow of those around her. He further approached and could see that the she was lying in a beautifully finished wood veneer casket. Her strawberry-blonde hair rested silently on both sides of her, with a small pink pillow sustaining her head from underneath. She was clothed in a small white dress, with various little flowers of different shades covering it. Her lips were pressed tightly together, never again to call out to her mother or her beloved German Shepherd. A light from above provided the scene with a soft purple glaze, as if desperately trying to take away its harsh reality. Darryl was amazed at how life-like this young girl was, looking nothing like the wax figures that most corpses seem to turn into after the embalming and cosmetic process. Even in death, she projected a vibrancy that momentarily blinded Darryl. He put his hand up to his mouth in disbelief; in shock. The world of photos just a few feet behind him portrayed a happy, young girl who seemingly had lived an entire lifetime in her few short years. How did she go from that to this? Beside her in the casket was a small pink teddy bear, an unknowing eternal companion. Darryl wanted to takes his eyes off of this morbid scene as soon as possible and was about to step away when one last photo captured his attention. At that point there was no denying who Roseville was referring to on the sign out in the lobby. The photo pictured the young girl sitting on a bench outdoors, smiling widely and happily. Sitting right next to her, with his arm around her on the bench was none other than a healthy-looking Darryl, who had not been modeling any hospital gowns that day, but was instead dressed in faded blue jeans and a red casual dress shirt. He was giving the young girl bunny ears behind her head with his fingers, a silly scrunched expression on his face. A small caption beneath the photo read:
Mary-Ann and Daddy, Sea Sparrow Park 2013
* * * * *
The next thing Darryl saw was the white ceiling above him. Where was he? His eyes fluttered for a moment, like the desperate wings of a small bird as he tried to bring his surroundings into focus. It took him a moment or two to realize that he was sitting somewhere with his head straight back. He lowered his head and realized that he was back in the hallway, on the black leather couch. His mind played back his last few images as if rewinding through a worn videotape. He remembered looking at the young girl in the casket and then noticing the photo inside of it; with him in it! Mary-Ann and Daddy? Was he Daddy? Was that his young daughter, so devoid of breath and emotion, lying in that casket?! No! None of this made any sense! He felt energy surge through his body as he pulled himself forward to sit up. Something rustled underneath him. He reached under his left leg and retrieved the tattered, wrinkled newspaper from earlier, the one that had stared right back at him as he made his pilgrimage to Room A. There was something in there that he knew he had to see. He glanced around, quickly, guiltily, as if suspecting that everyone else in the place knew he was up to something. Nobody else was in the hallway, but he could hear voices surrounding him on either side, both from the cafeteria and Room A.
Nobody can see you, Dummy! Remember?
Yeah, he remembered alright. He smoothed out the newspaper and read the front of it. It was an issue of the Majestic Times from five days ago. The front page displayed a picture of a charred and mangled helicopter that had crashed somewhere in Europe. He read the first few lines of the story underneath and discovered that there were, surprisingly, no casualties. He leafed through page after page, beginning to lose interest, wondering why this newspaper seemed so damn important to begin with. He was about to toss it over his shoulder when his eyes, as if coerced by some unseen force, were redirected to page 9. There, clear as day, was a photo of Mary-Ann, smiling shyly and innocently. He felt his stomach tighten and then drop as he read the headline and first paragraph of the story:
Horrific Crash Kills Young Girl and Critically Wounds Man
Mary-Ann Roseville, 9, was riding with her father, Darryl, 38, Monday night when their vehicle veered off the road and crashed into a group of trees near the city limits of Gearfield. Mary-Ann died instantly at the scene from severe trauma to her neck and chest. Her father, Darryl, suffered severe head and neck injuries in the incident and is currently in critical condition at Robert Clarence Memorial Hospital. Authorities are speculating that Mr. Roseville may have been under the influence of alcohol at the time the incident occurred. Further details are pending.
Darryl didnt know if he was more nauseous from his confusion or from what he just read. He didnt want to read any further. He lowered the newspaper from his line of vision in utter disgust. As much as he wanted to swim in the river of denial, he could no longer refute the mountain of evidence that had been presented to him. There was a young girl in there (his daughter!) who had died because he had been drinking. He was responsible for all of the pain and sadness going on in this building! Tears welled up in his eyes, turning the outside world into blotches of insignificant, random objects.
He stood up from the couch as if in a daze and began walking blindly back down the hallway towards the lobby. There was a woman standing at the lobbys entrance, with her back to Darryl. She was trim and petite, with long flowing blonde hair. She was clothed entirely in black and seemed to be in mid-conversation with another woman as Darryl approached. He noticed right away that the woman with her back to him was the same one from the photos with Mary-Ann: the attractive blonde one. Mary-Anns mother? His wife? Mrs. Roseville? He stood completely still in the middle of the hallway, at a loss for words. If she was his wife, why the hell could he not remember her? He was torn between grabbing her forcefully by the shoulders, yelling to her just how sorry he was to have caused all this and not doing anything at all.
She had pretty bright blue eyes, which were now swollen and tainted with a shade of red, no doubt from her grief. Overall, she seemed to be holding it together fairly well, all things considered. Darryl stood there for what seemed like an hour as he continued studying this fragile creature in front of him. He was fatigued, not so much physically, but emotionally. Between the photos, the casket, the newspaper article and everything else, he just felt like melting right into the floor. He had committed the unforgivable. Nothing else mattered anymore. He was still confused about how he was witnessing all of this, but he sure as hell was not dreaming; that would have been a blessing at this point.
He was about to continue walking when a tall man in a black three piece suit emerged through the glass doors at the front of the building and approached Mrs. Roseville. He lightly touched her arm and motioned her over to a private spot off to the side where they could talk. A baby had started crying at this point, completely drowning out everything this man was saying to her. Darryl was no expert at reading body language, but could certainly tell that he was not delivering happy news. Her face twitched as she clamped both hands over her mouth and squatted down. Other mourners in the vicinity took notice of what was happening and walked over to where she was. An older woman bent in close, put her arm around her and began crying also. People whispered to each other as they tried not to make a spectacle of what was occurring.
Darryl felt hopeless. He wanted, in some way, to help, but knew he could not. He had done his part in all of this already. The young man and woman he had first seen in the parking earlier had moseyed onto the scene. The woman exchanged a few words with the group of people surrounding Mrs. Roseville, who was now sitting upright on the floor, visibly crying as she held the hand of an older woman. She retreated back to where her husband (boyfriend?) was standing. She had gone pale and whispered into his ear. Darryl lurched forward to catch what she way saying:
My God. Darryl just passed away in the hospital, she said softly. This just gets worse and worse. Tears rolled slowly down her cheek. She buried her face in the mans shoulder.
* * * * *
There was no funeral home or parking lot. There were no people. Dead silence. Darryl found himself walking again. He had no idea where he was coming from or where he was going. He walked and walked and walked. His feet became heavier as the atmosphere continued to grow darker. He could see nothing around him. Total darkness. He was craving a drink..
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