When the boy was young his father wrote the family eulogies. For the boy’s great aunt, his cousin, his grandmother, his mother. His father had a soft laugh and had a way with eye contact and so he was loved. People like the blankness of a good listener. His father knew every family member well. He kept old secrets neatly folded into squares and stored safely in his mind. He had a skill of balancing sadness with humor, which worked well at funerals.
His father’s last eulogy was for the boy’s older brother. My son is not dead, for he will always be remembered in our hearts, his father said. Then, in a rare moment of losing face, he said: The fact of the matter is he left me here alone. And that is something I am most sorry for. This was, very likely, the only time his father cried in public. Standing at the front of the funeral crowd, the boy thought about his dead brother and living father and he sounded out the word with a child’s tongue. A lone.
He did not like it once he learned the word. He associated it with tugging at his father’s pant leg, asking questions. Wondering where he was going. If he could come too. He wanted to know her father’s days and nights and his highs and lows and to maybe, pretty please, wear his dead brother’s favorite hat. His brother who left them both. A lone. To geth er.
When his father died the boy wrote the eulogy. He was an adult then, and a father, too. Perhaps he had said, My father is dead and I am grateful, for now I can forget what it is to be alone. He could not remember. Nobody was listening. They stared at their feet, sad that the man holding their secrets took them to the grave, sad that he will never stand at the podium near their own caskets.
April Ehrlich is a journalist in southern Oregon. She grew up in Whittier, California, and studied English Literature at California State University, Fullerton. Her fiction has also appeared in the Conium Review and the Portland Review.