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By Zach Murphy

Content Warnings: Death.

I didn’t reply to Jacob’s last text message, but I do show up to his funeral. I spend the entire morning deciding what to wear; a lot of the clothes I once wore don’t quite fit me the way they used to in high school. 

Is wearing black to a funeral mandatory? If funerals are meant to be a celebration of life, why can’t people wear something bright? I think about wearing my orange polo but worry I’ll stand out too much. Maybe the key is to wear something somewhere in-between. I go with grey. 

A funeral is a little bit different from a high school reunion. At high school reunions, you get to see who has their life together and who doesn’t. At funerals, you get to see who shows up at all. I don’t see anyone from high school here.

I blend in at the burial ceremony. A putrid stench wafts off the marshy pond in the background of the cemetery. People pretend not to notice. But the more people pretend not to notice, the more you notice them pretending not to notice. This is when I realise that sunglasses weren’t invented to keep the sun out of your eyes. They were invented to wear at funerals, where a split second of eye contact can send you into a dizzying spiral. 

I watch Jacob’s mother go through three entire boxes of tissues. Jacob’s stepfather, who used to step all over him, half-heartedly attempts to comfort her. He rolls his eyes. I can’t help but grind my teeth.

Jacob was a bit strange. And even a little irksome sometimes. But he didn’t deserve to be stepped on. He just wanted some company, maybe an ever-so-brief escape from his home. I regret the time he knocked on my door and I told my mom to say I wasn’t home. I regret the time I didn’t invite him to my birthday get-together. It’s amazing how get-togethers can push people apart. I really wish I had answered that last text message, even if it was about a movie I had no intention of ever seeing.

My grinding teeth come to a halt, like a train stopping when the conductor sees a problem on the tracks. I duck out of the burial and head to my rusted Subaru. I break down inside of the car whose own breakdowns I’ve often witnessed. 

Someday, our bones, our brains and our hearts won’t feel a thing. But right now, I need to go home and change.

Zach Murphy

Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, Still Point Arts Quarterly, The Coachella Review, Maudlin House, B O D Y, Litro Magazine, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. His chapbook Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press, 2021) is available in paperback and ebook. He lives with his wonderful wife, Kelly, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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