Only the melodious voice of the Irish priest could be heard before the small gathering as even his form was enveloped in the early morning fog. “Thus does the Father’s mercy carry us through all our blemished moments in this life to prepare us for the next.” Sitting on the front row a young man stared at the bronze casket which lay just beyond the speaker as the black shades about him were equally hazed as himself. Yet, as if on cue with the Catholic minister’s ‘Amen’ the mist began to lift.
Slowly the lifting fog revealed the surrounding cemetery and the bustling world of the living beyond its hedged and high spiked fence. Still unmoving, his statued glare peered through those shadowed mourners who leaned in toward him offering their trite and mumbling platitudes of self-absorbed kindness. He knew most of them could have cared less when she was alive, and now he only sighed with a smirk of disinterest as his only reply. He felt sickened by the whole experience. He felt his thoughts spiraling away from a good place that had been her. He’d give anything to throw back the lid on that box and perform CPR on her one last try just to see her revive and disappoint all of their self-righteous acting. He struggled against edging into bitterness. If only he could shut up their “it’s for the best” and “we’ll never understand why God takes loved ones from us, Kyle.” Kyle didn’t know what was best about taking the best part of his life away from him even meant, and any mention of God was fastly becoming a cigarette burn on his thoughts. Kyle wanted to scream them all away, so he just sat there and let their shadows fade with the morning fog.
Finally his stiff legs allowed him stand to his feet. The moment was as awkward as feeling the uneven ground beneath the carpeted astro-turf. The grass was as fake as the smiles around him. He tired walking over to where the priest had been standing only moments before during the graveside service. But from out of nowhere an obese woman approached Kyle. Her black Easter hat’s brim was as large as her, and she reeked with the scent of moth balls. After planting a hard-pressed, wet kiss on his cheek the woman’s garlic breath pronounced up close, “I’m so sorry for your loss Kyle. Now you can move on and get back in the Church and find a good girl before it’s too late for you. She was a sweet thing, but eternally lost without God. Come Harold!” She motioned with her arthritic cane-in-hand for the thin gentleman behind her to hurry along and say his peace.
A tall ancient man with spotted paper-thin skin gave Kyle a warm and surprisingly firm handshake with, “Truly sorry son, she was a beautiful child. She’s with the Angels now.”
“Thank you uncle Harold,” came Kyle’s unfamiliar whisper as the man’s arched back turned dismissively in following the barking woman’s command. Tears traced Kyle’s cheek wishing for the experience and his life to be over with.
A moment later and Kyle’s unobstructive view of the fogless casket lay before him still resting on its tight straps. The sight made him whisper to himself, “They didn’t even know she was claustrophobic.” He remembered when she first confided in him of being afraid of cramped spaces. When she was a young girl she crawled underneath the porch of her childhood home to retrieve a kitten that had wandered off. Then, being utterly horrified she scrambled to crawl out backward in the dark upon finding the kitten suckling its stiff dead-mother. Kyle also knew something else the rest of them were clueless about, that as an adult she still slept with a night light on because of that incident. Kyle knew in the depths of his heart that everything was changed without her. He knew nothing would be the same again.
He took another step closer to the huge container as the blue skies were struggling to show Kyle that life did go on as another beautiful day was ahead of him. On the opposite side of her casket a blonde haired man smiled and then rounded to Kyle’s side, “I’m so sorry little brother. Wish I could say or do something that would undo everything, I loved Debbie too.”
“I know you and Barbara both did Anthony. It means the world to me that you came, you’ll never know how much so.”
“Yeah well, she made you look good,” Anthony embraced Kyle and forced a quivering smile back at him.
“Debbie had a way of lighting up any place,” Kyle's eyes shot about the now sunlit cemetery.
“Dad, the plane,” an eight year old little girl reminded Anthony of their schedule, then hugged Kyle’s waist, “I’m so very sorry about aunt Debbie, she was my favorite aunt.”
“Thanks squirrel, she loved you very much,” it was the briefest Kyle smiled that day. “Go. I’m good okay, don’t miss your flight, and tell Barbara and that new baby hello for me too.”
“Sorry little brother, I’ll give you a call once we touch down at O’Hare.” They turned for their car leaving Kyle alone in the graveyard. He found his focus was again back on the bronze casket that hadn’t moved. His grief-stricken face allowed a warming smile to emerge as his thoughts turned toward meeting her.
Looking out beyond the green field to the treeline of the park Kyle felt something brushing up against his leg. Looking down he saw the entire body of a wavy-haired Brittany Spaniel was a continual wag as it was sniffing his shoes. His smile broadened upon seeing its owner.
To his left a young woman in her twenties with a high ponytail and running tights approached him out of breath, “Oh my gosh, really Jasmine? I’m so sorry for bothering you.”
“Oh, she’s fine. No bother, it’s what days off are made for,” Kyle squatted down petting the gleeful face of the dog as her owner reclaimed the leash, adding as they stood up together, “she’s beautiful.”
“Thanks. She won best in show last year. Didn’t mean to interrupt your walk.” She blushed adding, “You’re cute too.” Jasmine resumed her body wag in agreement. They both laughed.
“Days off were made for such meetings,” he blushed back.
“Debbie. Debbie Wesco.”
“Kyle Minster,” enjoying the warmth of Debbie’s extended handshake in return.
“It’s my day off, too. Teller. Texas First, the one just off Main and Fisk?”
“Ah, I thought I recognized you,” Kyle exuberantly laughed.
“Really? You’re a customer; I’m sorry, I see so many people I didn't --”
“Messing with ya. No, I’m over at the Credit Union. Substitute teacher at Willhelm High School.”
“Ah, a teacher that’s cool,” she eased at his humor.
Kyle was jarred back to his present reality at the graveside.
“Sir,” a man in overalls tried getting his attention. “I’m sorry for your loss sir, but we do have to finish up here.” Kyle nodded his permission. Three others had already folded and put away chairs, moved the Family Canopy to another open grave and now wanted to lower Debbie into her final resting place. The men worked silently lowering the bronze chest with its treasure, and removing the green carpet as the new widower could only look on with renewed numbness. Again his tears hazed thoughts of her ice-blue eyes back to him.
Kyle watched the mechanic throw his car’s tire and rim into a vat of filthy water, splashing its rotation about while his expert eyes searched for the source of its flat. “Yep, there it is Mister, two holes like ya said. You want a patch or a plug?”
“Which is better, I mean without having to buy a whole new tire altogether,” Kyle shook his head?
“Go with the patch, it’s cheaper with better results,” came a sultry female voice from behind him.
She smiled at his remembrance.
“Lady’s right. A patch will cover better and a plug might start to leak in time,” the mechanic agreed.
“Well - do like the lady said then,” Kyle replied without facing the repairman. “Stalking me now are you?”
“Yes, of course, which is why I decided to find a way of getting two of my own tires flat just to see you again.”
Catching sight of both driver side tires slowly going down in front of him, “You win.”
She sighed, “Construction at my apartment, picked up roofing nails.” Her frustration softened with getting to see him again as he could tell when her grimace blushed a grin back at his returning eyes.
The smile made him pay it forward, “Samuel, I’ll get the lady’s tab too.”
“You got it boss,” the repairman acknowledged.
“Ooo and he’s generous too, thank you,” Debbie grinned at the payment.
The afternoon found Kyle realizing the gaping hole had been sealed with a fresh mound of dirt and wreaths of flowers, bears and several pink ballerina shoes. His memories of her had overlooked the burial process altogether. Everything had been a blur to him. He didn’t even know who had should up at the cathedral much less to the graveside service. Things didn’t seem to matter anymore. He felt empty like he’d never eaten or like he never cared to again. He wanted nothing but to be dead himself. The loss was a sinking hole and nothing would ever take her place to fill it. Kyle even wondered how his feet managed the ability to turn aside on their own will and head for his blue Optima, which was the only vehicle on the broken asphalt one laner that encircled the island cemetery. Debbie’s great grandfather, a Moran Padgett was buried here as well; after having been a one time sheriff who died at the ripe old age of 104! She had fallen in love with the County’s historic preservation of the family plot that was only a few blocks away from the city of Envision’s Courthouse. Kyle liked how Debbie saw beauty in everything. He missed her tremendously. His eyes blinked wildly as he tried to find the car’s door handle through renewed tears. As he opened the driver’s door Kyle caught a slight trace of Debbie’s lingering perfume, “I can still smell you, sweetie.”
Sliding behind the steering wheel and shutting the car door Kyle caught Debbie’s huge eyes beaming with anticipation, “So, where ya taking me for our first date, you never told me?”
Moment of truth, “Red Lobster, too much?”
“It’s perfect! Love their cheesy biscuits,” her smile and giddy laughter were both genuine and rewarding.
Turning the ignition, “Any ideas afterward,” he asked, “Take in a movie or a walk at the Lakeside park?”
“Ooo - how about something really off the beaten path? I would love to show you my family’s burial plot, a great piece of history!”
He loved her excitement, “Yeah well that’s not creepy for a first night out. Sure, if it makes you happy, I’m in.”
Still sitting there, fourteen years later, found Kyle gripping the same steering wheel but now without her in his empty car. The place had taken on a different meaning than where they had their first romantic kiss under a pale moonlight. Now, he never would again. Whispering aloud, “I’ll never taste your lips again.” His hand turned the car on by itself and his foot allowed the vehicle to slowly pull itself along the newly-patched lane curving toward the main gate. Kyle’s chin stopped quivering and his expressionless face went cold as new thoughts entered upon his efforts to maneuver his way into traffic. He really couldn’t live without Deborah Lynn Wesco-Minster. He let out a weary exhale. Yep, that’s what he would do, he thought to himself, “Those two Cops at the Seven-eleven can do it too.” Somehow the car traveled on autopilot crossing lanes and turns heading for the other side of the small town. All the while Kyle’s thoughts grew darker with the details of his suicide by Seven-eleven Cop. Seemed every time he stopped there for gas or Debbie’s Red Bull energy drink there was always the same two cops chatting about something as a way of buying time in hopes of getting a free coffee or donut; seldom did it work. But they were always there bored for some kind of action in their one-horse town.
Somehow his fingers had found Maroon 5 playing on the radio. It was that song that always melted him into singing along about how Debbie “will be loved” and how he had had her “so many times but somehow I want more.” He clicked it off refusing to cry or think of her. The loss ate away as his focused thoughts resumed the details of entering the store and how best to steal one officer’s revolver in order to have his half-wit partner overreact with a center mass kill shot like they always did in those stupid TV show’s Debbie loved watching.
Debbie loved how Kyle never tired of her. How even on her sickest days he found her attractive with no make-up on. She was, “Perfect and you couldn’t be anything but, even if you tried honey,” Kyle said against the background of Law and Order playing on the television when he came in the front door of their apartment with a large whining box.
She chuckled, grabbing another kleenex to blow her already puffy red-nose, “You’re sweet but I know I look like something out of a horror flick.”
Sitting the scratching box on the couch by her covered feet, “Never. Happy Birthday.”
“What’s in the box, and my birthday is tomorrow?”
“I know, I couldn’t wait. “Get Well Soon’ gift then. Open it up and see.”
Carefully removing the top of the box she was greeted by an excited to be revealed puppy.
“I know it's been six weeks since Jasmine passed away - I just hope it’s not too soon?”
“She knew she was loved. Awww, thank you so much Kyle. I really have always wanted an apricot poodle.”
“What ya going to name him,” he was thrilled she loved him already.
Holding the fluffy pup up in the air out in front of her she declared to the universe, “Jereith!”
“Jereith? Where did you come up with that one,” Kyle’s expression crunched?
“Labyrinth! Remember the Goblin King?”
“Ah, the David Bowie movie from the ‘80s,” he felt silly he didn’t recall at first.
She laughed at him as the puppy licked his new mother’s face, “Yeah, it’s better than Hogel!”
“I’m glad you love him.”
“- And you! Best birthday present ever, thank you very much, Kyle.”
The drive home, that’s where he was headed? Then coming to the intersection where the 7-11 was Kyle stopped at the red light. He needed to think for a minute. His heart pounded in his chest like it was about to burst its way out. He depressed the Hazard switch telling the drivers behind him to go around him. He didn’t want a wreck to delay killing himself, but he needed to - and right on time there drove up a second squad car alongside the first. Predictable.
Kyle sat there in the right-hand lane as his heart pounded to the hazard’s clicking rhythm. Looking out his passenger window he noticed a man sitting on the raised concrete base where the streetlight was mounted. He was slightly rocking back and forth, his shaking head was trimmering no. He was mouthing something and crying. Kyle’s own thoughts gave way as to what-in-the-world the man was so distraught over. He looked like a middle-class man with the weight of the world dumped on his shoulders. Did he lose millions on the stock market or his family in a house fire? Kyle’s empathy for the man grew in noticing the pedestrian passerby’s absolute dismissiveness of him. Kyle watched the man get up and pace a few steps about the pole while slapping both sides of his own head muttering something violently at himself. Homeless people. People in general. Kyle glanced back at his mirrors and saw the cars continuing to pass him up. His eyes darted over to the Seven-Eleven noticing a third police car pull up. “Really, a convention or what?”
He sat there for a moment watching the three Police officers talking among themselves and laughing. Suddenly the name Anderson came into Kyle’s mind. Anderson, Anderson - what? His eyes looked under the visor at the street sign, “Anderson? No, it’s Rodgers Avenue.” Suddenly Kyle’s eyes went huge. An icepick feeling shot through his chest evaporating his ‘suicidal thoughts’ with a memory that flashed at him. This was the very intersection that had been burned into Kyle’s memory from all of the newscasts on TV. They played it over and over again on every channel. That looping closed-circuit video of the white Ford Tundra slamming into the tiny, yellow VW bug where Debbie had been instantly killed in; played over again in his thoughts. This was that very spot where his wife died. This - this is where that DWI driver, Terry Marcus Anderson had stolen every precious thing that ever meant anything to Kyle Walker Minster.
Kyle’s chin fell.
Expressionless in a soundless world.
His head slowly turned to the right watching the homeless man pause and in that very moment, both men looked into one another’s eyes and knew each other.
It lasted forever.
Without looking, Kyle took off his flashing hazard lights, just as the traffic ones turned green. Engaging his car, he crossed through the intersection with, “I think Debbie would rather want me to go home and take care of her dog instead.”