Madonna-Mania – Lily Sanders
November 12, 2023
Jane walked the aisles of the fancy-bullshit liquor store in Park Slope and carried a basket boastfully full of mid-range vodkas. In one aisle, she stared longingly at the row of white Malibu bottles, remembering how, at sixteen, she’d dip her pinky into the bottle, almost certainly already drunk, and use the drink as sticky perfume. She remembered frat boys in their fifth or sixth year of state college asking her if she was wearing sunscreen.
In the next aisle, she let the impish employee, clothed in a sickly shade of teal, lecture her on expensive Rosé. The best, the driest, the one with the highest alcohol content by volume. She only ever got flirted with in liquor stores, and she knew that. In fact, she’d considered keeping a Moleskine in her glove box for the sole purpose of tracking which liquor store’s employees wanted her the most. She let him take two bottles to the cash register. She continued to pace.
In the third aisle, she put a bottle of cherry Schnapps in her tote bag (free with a subscription to the New Yorker). Standing at a Fireball themed endcap, she dropped a generous handful of shooters into her bag, and on her way toward the register, she circled back to the Malibu shelf and shoved a bottle into her bag next to the Schnapps with the small, plastic Fireball bottles as a buffer between them.
“Would you ever want to get coffee sometime?” asked the cashier, the same employee who’d been lecturing her in aisle two, scanning the third bottle of sensible vodka.
“Oh,” she laughed. The register beeped. “I’m quite busy.”
“Well,” he replied, laughing along. She hadn’t meant to be friendly; she’d only laughed because he’d been funny. The notion of coffee was absurd. “What’s your number, then?”
“I don’t have a phone,” she said, dropping a handful of crumpled bills onto the counter. Her bag clinked ominously.
“Really?” He didn’t believe her.
Outside the liquor store, she set both bags on the sidewalk between her feet. Leaning on the store’s brick exterior, she scrawled on the back of the receipt, Bottle King sucks!!!
In her apartment, she separated the contents of her liquor cabinet (the one above the stove) into two sides: bottles that were paid for and bottles that were not. She understood, then, why hunters often took photos with their kills. She imagined the Grey Goose as a grey goose, shot and posed in her arms. If she were a hunter, she’d need a dog, so she conjured the pet in her imagination, too, sitting gracefully at her heels. The camera of her mind panned down to reveal a pile of similar grey geese piled at her feet.
She shut the cabinet and checked the time. It was still only early afternoon. She had seven hours until Dot and Henry were set to come over.
The house was clean—she’d spent most of the previous night cleaning it whilst a Kubrick movie played on the television—and she was glad that, when her friends did arrive, they would not be greeted with her usual, I-Spy-esque clutter. She’d compiled a box—which was, by then, already stowed under her bed—full of things she’d forgotten she owned: a faux fur Ushanka from a pop up Halloween store, several used up prepaid phones, a NuvaRing covered in carpet lint (unusable?), and an assortment of dark lipsticks (a phase she’d mostly grown out of). Other things she’d found whilst cleaning her room: a ten dollar bill, an empty condom box, a poorly knitted scarf from a friend, two lone shoes, some library books due back over a year ago, and a ceramic unicorn statuette, which she placed neatly on her bedside table.
She decided that, while there was still light in the day, she wanted to visit RJ. She took a pair of orange sunglasses from the pile near the front door, put on her coat, and left.
The walk to the convenience store, RJ’s place of work and respite, was short and mostly pleasant. She had to walk past a construction site—there was no way around it, she had tried to find one—full of workers who loved to cat call her as she walked by. But she couldn’t be mad. Male construction workers had the highest suicide rate out of any profession. Any encyclopedia could tell you that.
So, knowing that every man on that site was nearly four times more likely to kill himself—statistically—than every other man in the city, she hurried past the bulldozed plot of land and pretended not to hear when one of them called her baby, yelling over the intermittent shouts of a nail gun.
Besides that, though, the walk was perfect.
She found RJ sitting on a black milk crate, smoking a cigarette, behind the store. The back door, which he was sitting against, opened into a daylit alley; he was haloed with garbage cans.
“Jane!” he exclaimed. “You should’ve told me you were coming.”
“I wanted to see you,” she said. They’d had sex only four times since they’d met in college. Less, probably, than he’d wanted. “Dot and Henry are staying with me tonight. Do you want to see them?”
“Hm,” he said, offering her his cigarette. She finished it in three drags, he kicked the crate away from the door, and they went inside.
The back door opened directly into the space behind the counter. Every time she sat back there she felt special, even with the thin film of grime, the gray dust on the tile floor. She was not supposed to be back there (how exciting!). She looked down the aisles, each adorned with shiny plastic chip bags, Little Debbies, and boner pills.
“I don’t think I want to see them,” said RJ. She leaned against the counter. “I like your sunglasses.”
“Thanks. They were my mother’s.” Not true, they were stolen from a vintage store in Brooklyn. She coveted those who were open with their shoplifting habits, but the only stealing that her friends looked upon with favor was theft out of necessity, and Jane did not need to steal. “And I think you should see them. You’ll all be sleeping in the living room. It might be nice,” she said.
“They don’t want to see me,” he said, shaking his head and—quite obviously—trying not to laugh. A customer walked in and filled a styrofoam cup with coffee. RJ didn’t have a problem with Dot, in fact, they’d dated quite seriously toward the end of college. It was Henry he didn’t want to see, and Henry who didn’t want to see him. She thought that, maybe, they’d stopped being friends because Henry had become quite wealthy in the financial district and RJ still worked in a convenience store.
“Please!” she laughed. “Please come.”
The customer came to the counter and paid for his coffee in quarters. RJ, in his ugly work polo, took the quarters and wasted two minutes—the customer already out of the store and down the street—counting them.
“Maybe I’ll make an appearance,” he decided, throwing the quarters in the drawer. “We don’t have very much to lose.”
“No, we don’t,” she said, though she didn’t really agree. They had plenty more to lose: their jobs, their apartments, their remaining friends. Perhaps the death of a pet (she didn’t have any, but RJ did), or a terror threat at work. She could get caught jumping the turnstiles or caught with several hundred dollars worth of vintage clothes in her bag or caught stealing office supplies from work or caught making fun of a stranger or caught admiring another woman’s body or caught pouring another drink in secret or caught cheating. And none of those things had happened yet.
“When are they coming over?”
“Later tonight,” she said, reaching over the counter for a magazine and beginning to flip through it. “Eight or something.”
“I don’t get off work until ten.”
“They won’t mind.”
“Will you?” he asked, hesitantly. She only shook her head.
“I’ve been thinking about Heaven lately, Jane,” he continued, a minute later. His voice was so low, she thought he might be afraid of being heard. It had been several minutes since the man left with his coffee and she was unsure when another was going to come in. Not for a while, she decided. She did think, however, that it might be terribly funny if someone came in—a business man, or homeless man, or delivery man—whilst she and RJ were discussing God.
“What’s the verdict, then?” she asked. “If you’ve been thinking.”
“I think Heaven is real, but Hell isn’t,” he sighed. “I think Satan might be real, but I think God isn’t.”
“Do you mean pearly gates Heaven, or more of a simple, pleasant afterlife?”
“Well, not Catholic Heaven,” he said. “Maybe Episcopalian Heaven or Unitarian Heaven.”
“Aren’t they the same?” she asked. A woman poked her head into the store, looked around, and left.
“I don’t know,” he said, crumpling up an old receipt and throwing it away. “I don’t think so.”
He didn’t have to argue with her over the existence of Satan; they both knew well enough that evil existed in the world. And it didn’t matter to her, at least, whether the evil was caused by a red devil, white-winged angels, or no one at all.
“I have a big issue with God,” he announced. “And religion.” It was like a credential: Has a Big Issue With God. He stood, for a moment, looking forlornly at the cash register. “If Mary saw all of these paintings and statues of Jesus, she wouldn’t see her son. She wouldn’t recognize him at all.”
The convenience store became quiet, only their breathing above the humming of the drink coolers and the buzzing of the fluorescents. Maybe he needed some cash. There was something she wanted to say to him, as she stood to leave, something like I’m sorry that this is happening to us. Grief is so hard. And, if she didn’t think he would take it as a come on, she would’ve liked to include something like, you are important to me and I love you. Instead, as she left, again, through the back door, she said, “You should re-read Hamlet. We are grieving so much better than him.”
Jane first met Connor on the same day she met Dot. RJ and Henry came later, maybe October or November of their Sophomore year. It was a difficult notion for her to realize, the idea that—if one was looking only at seniority—Connor and Dot would’ve had to be her dearest friends. She had known them for almost a year longer than she knew RJ and Henry, but to view them on anything other than equal standing felt like a betrayal. Besides, RJ and Henry had been close friends all through their Freshman year, too; they could say the exact same thing about her.
She, Dot, and Connor had all lived on the same dorm floor. RJ and Henry, if she could recall correctly, met in a class. It wasn’t until Connor introduced her and Dot to RJ and Henry at a party that they all became one large, amorphous group of friends. She was—and always would be—eternally grateful to have spent her college years around people who were so tangible; intelligent but not pretentious or standoffish, people with good taste. She remembered a handful of startling vignettes: all five of them laying in one twin bed, drunk and giggling, Henry, in tears, because she’d walked in on him and Connor kissing (I like girls, too, Jane, I swear it), doing cocaine in Dot’s waifish, alcoholic dorm room as she only watched, three people in the back of the car.
She was only able to stop remembering when one of the construction workers shouted, Hey baby! God says you’re beautiful! She looked up at him—she wanted to know who God had given the gift of divine revelation—and startled him with the tears running down her face. She wanted to go back so badly.
“My friend RJ hates God!” she shouted, jabbing a finger through the chain link fence. She wiped her face hastily as the man turned and fled like a scared deer. “God is not fucking talking to you! Fuck you!”
In her apartment, she pinched her forearm until she stopped crying. Afterward, she washed her face and put two sets of sheets on a chair in the “living room” section of her apartment (not a living room at all, just a chair, couch, and coffee table in front of the TV). Even if it was only a facade, she needed her friends to think she was composed. Her apartment was always clean, thank you for asking. Yes, the coffee table is Pottery Barn. She perused a stack of cookbooks for a dinner recipe, but decided that, in all likelihood, no one would be eating much. There was a good Indian takeout place on 72nd Street, if they needed it.
Once, when she was younger, eleven or twelve, she spent an entire summer with her maternal grandparents at their house in Louisiana after the sudden suicide of her father’s younger brother. Then, she had no friends and was quite fond of it. She’d bike into town and walk the aisles of the local family owned general store, being alluring for the older (fourteen, probably) boys addicted to some sort of powdered drug, with her flat, child’s body, oversized khaki shorts, and mousy bangs.She didn’t realize the severity of the incident, even when she returned home in August to find she was short an uncle.
She wished, then, that she could disappear for a summer, that her parents would send her away again. If she went again, though, she’d want to take someone (for fucking). She’d thought since she was nineteen that she’d marry either RJ or Henry. She’d grown unsure.
She took a Valium and slept on the couch.
When she awoke, the sky was inky and black. It was raining (loud enough for her to hear it, despite the two floors above her) and water ran down the window in sheets. The time blinked on the cable box, and she decided that she would sit there, on the couch, until they arrived.
She was still in a slight stupor, the Valium haze fading as she woke gradually, and it was only when Henry called up asking to be buzzed in that she felt completely awake again. When he knocked on her apartment door, she had to take some deep breaths. She felt like a teenager.
Henry was there, as brooding as ever. Everyone had always acknowledged his perverse little way of being so attractive, not model hot and thus not being so frightening to talk to. They hugged and she realized that she had not felt physical affection outside of sex in a very long time. Months at least. And Dot was crying. She was trying to hide it, but it wasn’t working (she had dainty, pretty tears, at least). Jane had always known that Dot was prettier than her. She was a tiny blonde thing with tits small enough to fit in a man’s hand. They were both quite skinny, but Jane was nearly seven inches taller than Dot, who stood at a measly five foot two, and felt that her slenderness presented in a way that was gangly and monstrous rather than sought-after or feminine.
She pressed Dot against her chest as she continued to cry. Henry shut the door.
“I’m so happy to see you,” Dot cried. “I wish it was for a better reason.”
“She held it together the entire ride here,” said Henry.
“It was hard!” she laughed, removing herself from Jane’s chest. She didn’t quite know what to say. That she’d been trying not to think about it at all? Not even the good parts? No.
Henry worked in the city, but lived in a Jersey suburb because there he could afford an entire house. Dot lived in a rural area upstate, in a writer’s cabin that Jane had only ever seen photos of. The fact that they’d driven in together made her wonder if they were sleeping together again. But she could never say that; he’d accuse her of being jealous.
Given the fact that he worked in Manhattan and did not live there, there was at least one work week every month (if not a week, then a few days at least) where he would live out of her apartment. He would come one day after work for a visit, they would drink or fuck, and in the morning, he would not find it worthwhile to leave the city again, if only to shower and change his clothes. It had been a while, because, at the time, he was really into the princess he was dating, and before that, because he was nervously trying to court the boy, fresh out of college, that he was mentoring. She had suspected, lately, that they all were beginning to outgrow that stage of their lives, but he still had a work suit hanging in her closet.
Dot sat primly on the edge of the couch, wiping her face repeatedly (like a record skipping, stuck in one groove). There were no more tears, but she continued to drag her sleeve across her face. She lit a cigarette.
“You don’t mind if I smoke in here, do you?” she asked, throwing her book of matches onto the coffee table. Jane was worried about the couch getting burnt, but said she didn’t mind.
When Dot moved to her cabin, she didn’t install a telephone for months. Jane, at least, had a landline. She’d lived with RJ for a short time and fled the city after their breakup. She wrote a handful of novels destined for the trashcan and got very serious about reading lesbian gender theory from the eighties (despite not being a lesbian).
Henry suggested that the three of them watch a movie, so Jane picked out the most lighthearted DVD from her collection—which happened to be Miracle on 34th Street, even though it was horribly out of season—and Dot almost immediately fell asleep on her lap. Henry got up and locked himself in the bathroom, and then she was effectively alone, watching a Christmas movie in March. Dot had thrown her cigarette, only half finished, in an old cup of coffee.
Jane went alone into the kitchen and feverishly drank tap water from her cupped hand. She could see Dot, still sleeping, from where she stood, hunched over the sink with water dripping from her chin. She knew that Henry was either in the bathroom doing lines or sitting silently on the tile floor, so she knocked.
He opened the door. Melancholic man.
“I don’t feel well,” she said, pushing into the bathroom and leaning—again—on the sink.
“Are you going to vomit?” he asked.
He said nothing, but she heard him lock the door. There was no coke residue on the sink—at least that she could see—so she decided that he had just been moping.
“Can we talk about it?” he asked.
“I don’t want to,” she answered.
His relationship with Connor was always going to be different. They were all friends, sure, but even Jane could recognize that once two people had sex (even if only once or twice) the way they perceived each other was changed forever. She would never know Dot in the way that RJ did, and she would never know Connor in the way Henry did.
“Where is Dot sleeping?” he asked. She pushed herself off the sink and turned to face him.
“One of you guys on the couch, and one of you guys on the floor. Or one of the chairs, if you’d prefer that,” she said.
“Can’t I sleep in your bed?” he asked. “Can’t I sleep with you?”
She’d known he was going to say that.
“No,” she said.
“I won’t even touch you. I mean it,” he pleaded. “I understand if it feels inappropriate, but I can’t sleep alone. I don’t want to sleep on the floor.”
He hugged her again, and she realized, quickly, that it was only because he was crying and didn’t want her to see. His entire body shook as he sobbed; she could feel his hot tears on her shoulder—soaking through her shirt—almost as soon as he’d come to lay upon it.
“I sent his mother money,” he said, after a moment. “I didn’t know what else to do. A few hundred dollars in an unmarked envelope. It’s not like I could’ve brought a casserole to her house, but I would’ve if I could.”
“I’m sure she appreciates it,” she said, cautiously—she’d never really done anything like it before—rubbing his back with her open hand. But five-hundred dollars, she knew, did nothing close to bring your son back.
“We should’ve been talking to him more,” he lamented, muffled by her shirt. “Dot’s the only one who really lives far away,” he continued. “We had no excuse to be speaking to him as little as we were.”
“Henry,” she said, resting one hand softly on the back of his head, “I took a Valium earlier and slept for a while. Do you want to take a Valium?”
“Yeah,” he said, resignedly. “I do.”
When they left the bathroom, Dot was still sleeping and Henry was still crying. The orange Valium bottle was still sitting on the kitchen counter, exactly where she’d left it—she checked her watch—seven hours ago. She shook one of the little yellow pills out of the bottle and dropped it into his open hand.
“Now, we can go back to watching TV,” she said, after he’d swallowed the pill.
“Not yet,” he said. Standing in the center of the empty kitchen, he pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. She’d never seen a grown man tremble so badly; she watched a bundle of tears run down his neck and onto his t-shirt.
“Let’s go sit down,” she said, again. “You’ll feel better.”
“You’re making me feel fucking crazy!” he laughed, pulling his hands away from his face and wiping them raggedly on his pants. “I wish you’d just cry about it, too, instead of becoming my fucking shrink. Cry about it! Please!”
She paused. She had not expected, that day, to be angry.
“One of us has to try and keep everyone else together,” she said. “We can’t all fall apart, that wouldn’t work at all.”
“Well, fucking stop it,” he said.
At that, she went back to the couch and sat at Dot’s feet. Henry still stood in the kitchen.
“Stop fighting,” said Dot, feebly.
“Go back to sleep,” Jane replied. Dot complied, letting her head drop back onto the couch cushion. Jane got up, ejected the Miracle on 34th Street DVD, and put it away. In its absence, she surfed channels with Dot’s foot in her lap, for close to an hour.
RJ called up and she threw Dot’s legs off her lap in order to get up and buzz him in. Henry, still in the kitchen, had a distinct pharmaceutical murmur about him and had taken to leaning against the counter.
“I’m sorry for shouting at you,” he said, staring fixedly at the tile floor.
“It’s okay,” she said, still standing near the intercom.
“Was that RJ?”
“Fuck,” he said, simply. Then, without a word, he finally left the kitchen and sat next to Dot on the couch.
It was only a minute later that RJ stood in the front door. He was still in his work uniform, but he had a duffel bag thrown over his shoulder—more clothes, she presumed—and carried a box of pizza. No one moved.
“I gave Henry some Valium,” she explained. RJ was hurt, quite obviously, that no one had jumped from the couch to greet him.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, setting the pizza box gingerly on the coffee table. “Of course. I get it.”
“You were working?” asked Dot, still half asleep.
“I just got off.”
“Hm,” she said. “You should sit, then.”
RJ did sit, in one of the chairs, and Jane sat on the floor. Henry’s head was in his hands.
“It’s nice to see you,” he said. It was clear, then, that the issue was one sided at best. Henry was only addressing him as he would any other person he hadn’t seen in many years—it’s been a while, circumstances aren’t great, it’s nice to see you.
It looked as if RJ wanted to say something—something like, you’d think, by now, he could abuse pharmaceuticals more proficiently, or, because he wasn’t there and hadn’t seen, what the fuck is going on?
“It’s nice to see you, too, man,” he said.
“I’m glad to get that out of the way, then,” said Henry. At that, he slapped his hands against his knees, stood, and walked into Jane’s bedroom. She could see RJ gawking at her out of the corner of her eye.
“I’m making myself a drink,” she announced, marching toward her liquor store bounty cabinet. There was no way that she was going to wait around and answer RJ’s questions. No way.
She took a new bottle of vodka from the cabinet, seltzer and lime from the fridge. And when she turned to get a glass, Dot was there. Jane reached over her shoulder and got the glass.
“Do you want a drink, too?” she asked.
“I thought he was gay,” said Dot. “And yes.”
“He’s not gay.” Jane took another glass. “All the best people I know swing both ways.”
“Well, then,” Dot laughed, swiping the bottle from the counter and pouring her own glass. No mixer.
“It’s not like that at all,” Jane continued. “We’re not married. I invite you two to keep fucking, actually. He has a girlfriend.” Dot took a long swallow of vodka—it looked like water; it was in a regular class—and winced.
“I don’t believe that,” she said. “And we’re not sleeping together. If we were sleeping together, I wouldn’t have thought he was gay. So.”
The more Jane thought about it, though, the more certain she became that Henry and the princess had broken up. He’d called off their attempt at a group dinner a handful of months ago, but she’d only assumed that the princess might’ve had jealous tendencies and that he would not want her, the occasional lover and longtime friend, to be in the same room as his real, rich girlfriend. Being not poor enough to identify with RJ’s plight but too poor to hang out with Henry and his white collar co-workers was awful. Purgatorial. Besides, she knew that he was beginning to lose interest because he’d resumed slight interest in her, but knew, also, that most men could go a long time in a relationship without being interested at all.
“He’s not as confident with men,” she said, finally. “It’s probably a respect thing.”
“Like, he respects them more?” asked Dot. Jane mixed her own strong drink, after a minute of silence. She sucked the rest of the juice from a slice of lime. It didn’t seem like Dot would press it more.
Jane stepped out of the kitchen with her drink and Dot. Henry was standing in the “living room” again, looking solemnly at the floor. Jane just thought that he might be angry because Dot called him gay.
“Did any of you go to the wake?” he asked. RJ was turned to look at him. “I couldn’t go,” Henry continued, “I had work.”
They had not gone. They hadn’t really even discussed it. The wake was held at his mother’s house, a few days ago, in some suburb in Jersey. Jane could only imagine it: the house full of grieving family members, cheap hors d’oeuvres, and children who did not want to be there running rampant. It was no wonder that she did not want to go.
“It was too long of a drive,” said Dot, soft and defensive. “Henry, I told you that.”
“I had work, too, man,” said RJ.
“It’s not the same,” Henry retorted, brushing a tear away from his eye. RJ was visibly taken aback. “None of you went because you were all bad friends. I was a good friend.”
“That’s not fair,” said Dot, reaching over and dumping the rest of her vodka down the sink.
“We were all bad friends,” said Jane, at last. Henry turned to look at her, an accusatory finger already raised. And she could see it, his soft spot for her.
“No,” he said, crying again. RJ had already turned away, done with the conversation. “I wanted to go to the wake and I couldn’t. None of you even tried.”
“We have schedules to keep, too,” said Jane.
“Oh, yeah, Jane?” he said. “Tell us about your schedule.”
She only stared at him. They both knew about her schedule; the shoplifting, the sinful casual sex, the barely there magazine job. He was about to call her a hedonist.
“Go back to bed,” said RJ, watching the TV. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
Henry, his anger spent, listened and shuffled back into the bedroom.
The night ended with Dot on the couch and RJ on the floor. Jane hated it and she hated Henry for ruining the night. In her bed, his Valium had finally kicked in; he was sleeping like a brick. Mostly, she was relieved that she would not have to deal with him crying anymore, but part of her—however nominal—did want him to roll over and apologize. And then, maybe, she’d cry for him.
Henry wore his stashed work suit to the funeral. RJ and Dot had both brought their somber black clothes with them in their overnight bags, and Jane wore a dress she’d bought for job interviews after graduating high school.
On the way out of the apartment building, toward Henry’s parked car, she found a phone sex business card stuck to the bespeckled pavement and tucked it into her bag. In the car, three Madonna songs played in a row before someone finally had the initiative to shut it, in an event the radio DJ called Madonna-Mania. The cathedral was nice and Catholic; the street was clean.
They stood outside, in a group, and spoke to several people they had not seen since graduation. A few fair weather friends, a professor or two. They offered condolences and white lies (Connor was a good man and a hard worker, when, really, he barely graduated and only wrote poetry). It should’ve been expected that they would not be able to separate themselves, be only able to move in a pack, but the four of them took up nearly the entire entryway.
His face was everywhere, shrouded in flowers. Two poster board photos on easels right inside the door, drowning in lilies and orchids; it was a professional headshot, at least a year old. His casket was set near the altar, more flowers, with a larger version of the same LinkedIn photo. It was a terrible place. A waste of beautiful architecture.
As they began toward the pews, Connor’s mother appeared from behind another stranger and invited Henry to sit with the family.
“That’s very kind of you,” he said. Jane was halted; Dot and RJ brushed past her into the pew they’d already selected. “But I can’t.”
She sat down rigidly next to Dot and watched Henry as he spoke. Connor’s mother seemed fairly determined not to cause a scene, but Jane could see, only a few rows in front of them, his father, bent over, crying, and being consoled by another man in another suit. His mother whispered something to Henry, placed a hand gingerly on his cheek, and walked away.
“Can’t replace the son,” he said, as he sat. “There’s nothing I can do to replace the son.”
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that,” said Dot. RJ was flipping through a Bible.
“Well, I’m not fucking going to—” he sighed. “I don’t want to sit with his family. I want to sit here.”
Jane could hear, a few rows back, two adult men discussing politics. Politics! And she knew that RJ heard it, too, because he was turned, looking over the back of the pew and staring. One of the guys really hated Bush.
The service started. Connor’s mother spoke, and then his father, and then a priest. One of his sisters, a professor that Connor was apparently very close to but Jane had never seen, and an (extremely elderly) grandparent. And then they sang a hymn.
Toward the end, during another speech by the priest, RJ leaned over and showed her and Dot a quote printed on the back of the prayer card. The journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.
“It’s Tolkien,” he whispered. “If they’re quoting Tolkien at my funeral, fucking kill me again.”
“Don’t even say that,” Dot scolded.
“He might’ve been young, but he was twenty-four, not thirteen,” he continued. “He didn’t like Tolkien.”
“You’re right,” said Jane. “You should say it louder.”
“When they do the viewing,” asked Henry, leaning over, too, so that the four of them were enclosed in a tight semi-circle, “are you going to look?”
“I don’t know,” said Dot. “They say it’s a good sense of closure.”
“No, I don’t think I’m going to,” said Jane, looking quickly over her shoulder. “Actually, I think I might just step out, now.”
She stood and shuffled down the center aisle just as they started another hymn.
There was only one other person outside the church. Bobbi Collins, whom Jane had partied with semi-frequently in her junior and senior years, sat on the granite steps smoking a cigarette. She’d briefly forayed into acting, but modeled for a major agency in the city, last Jane had heard.
She stood on the steps for a minute, watching Bobbi smoke her cigarette, until she looked up and asked, “What, do you want one?”
“No, I’ve got my own,” said Jane. “But I wanted to see what you were up to.”
“Hm,” Bobbi said. “I’m not dead, which I’m happy about. Do you want to, like, do a line with me?”
“I’m going to go for a walk.”
“Well, okay,” she laughed. “The bathrooms are nice.”
It bothered her a little that Bobbi was going around Connor’s funeral and offering people coke, but she was proud, in a perverse way, that she’d asked her in the first place. She crossed the street and began to walk.
A block and a half away, just after the church was obstructed from view, she stopped in a corner store. They were advertising two for one dollar hot dogs.
The man at the counter was well past retirement age, sitting behind the counter and watching soccer on a portable TV. He waved at Jane as she entered, but said nothing. He was clearly not paying attention to her, her outfit was too depressing for him to want to, so she rounded quickly to the back of the store.
She stuffed a bag of Doritos noisily into her bag, paraded to the drink cooler, and placed a plastic bottle of water gingerly on top.
At the counter, she took a hot pink Bic lighter out of the display and pushed it toward the cashier. He turned away from the game.
“I just came from a funeral,” she said. “I walked here.”
“My condolences,” said the clerk, reaching for the lighter and scanning it.
“One of my best friends killed himself.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Two dollars.”
She reached into her bag—crunching cellophane—and paid with a handful of quarters.
“I understand, now.”
“You want a bag?”
She took the lighter from the counter and started walking back toward the church. As soon as she’d cleared the convenience store’s windows, she opened the bag of Doritos. She spent the entire walk back to the cathedral slowly eating chips and thinking. Do funerals get any better? Was he scared? Probably not.
By the time she was reapproaching the cathedral, everyone had spilled outside onto the steps and the street. Her friends were talking to Bobbi. Her fingers were orange.
“How’d he look?” Jane asked, once they were walking back toward Henry’s car.
“His hair was wrong,” said RJ.