When he arrived at the funeral home, he avoided the body. He couldn’t stand the thought of seeing her in a box. Putting it off, he sat with his eyes on the floor for the whole service, telling himself that he would wait until it was over, until everyone was gone, before looking. It would hold up the meal, but he couldn’t say his final goodbyes in front of others. He was a proud and private man, and theirs had been a private marriage. A private farewell was fitting.
The last hymn was sung, the guests filed out, offering their condolences and hugging Arthur far more than he was comfortable. He didn’t want their hugs; he wanted hers. Through it all he kept his back to the casket, waiting for a quiet moment.
The service had been simple and beautiful. A person or two on the way out had commented to him that they were sorry that Pastor Wallis had let the ceremony get morose and tearful instead of offering a celebration of Becky’s life. Upon hearing this, Arthur had nearly rushed over and hugged Bev himself. His heart was broken. He didn’t want to celebrate anything. Bev had reflected on Becky’s life, the humorous and the tragic alike; she had recognized the room for grief, gratitude for the time given, and the space to say goodbye. The overflowing room had laughed and cried with abandon, and hearing so many people miss his wife, audibly and publicly, had made Arthur sit taller, breathe deeper, and even allow himself a smile or two. He could throw a wake another time, he reflected; Becky had wanted a funeral. Those wanting a celebration could take their party hats elsewhere.
The last guest, thankfully, delivered only a handshake, and Bev told him to take his time. She collected her plain and worn Bible, stuffed a few crumpled tissues into a pocket, and faced the body for a moment before giving Arthur a tight-lipped nod and leaving the room. The doors shut to leave him alone with her for the last time. He gulped in air, the pathway to his lungs was on fire. He looked around the room, wondering what he was supposed to do with all those blasted flowers and who the hell would give concrete angels and babies to a grieving person? They were everywhere. Bev had been tripping over them all morning. Arthur halfheartedly resolved to deposit each tacky statue in the gardens of those who had sent them. He considered for a moment before amending his actions to take place in the middle of the night. The smile that came to his face was small but wouldn’t be contained. Becky would have laughed at his idea. And then she would have driven the getaway car.
Arthur desperately wanted to share his impish plan with her, and the memory of her laugh, the mischievous glint of her eyes lightened his heart and bolstered his confidence. A sense of calm soothed his emotions long enough to contemplate facing Becky for the last time. He began to turn, but one of the offending statues, a pair of flightless doves, caught on his trouser hem. Already unstable from having eaten no breakfast and bone tired from the endless emptiness that ate at his nerves, Arthur felt his balance tear away and pitch him forward. Knees hit the floor first with a loud pop. The momentum of his pivot threw him sideways, and a blow to the hip was next as he continued his descent right on top of the concrete doves. It felt as if his hip and side would be bruised for years. But worst of all, as he contracted in pain on the floor, his hands couldn’t reach the edge of Becky’s coffin. His eyes hadn’t seen her face for even a moment.
The defeat and loss he felt in his stomach pushed itself up his throat and out of his mouth in a sob. He lifted his arms to his wife, but the distance was too large. His crying grew louder and louder, until the doors of the room cracked open. Bev poked her head in before throwing the door the rest of the way. Calling out for assistance, she ran to Arthur, and a younger man Arthur vaguely noticed hurried in after her. The funeral director was the first to see the blood and instantly pulled a phone from his pocket.
Arthur attempted to pull himself to his knees, just far enough to see his wife, but his legs wouldn’t hold his weight. Before he had fully collapsed again, Bev grabbed at a lap rug that had been hung on an easel towards the outer side of the floral display. She stuffed it under his side, staining the stitched prayer instantly. A soft lump was placed under his head, and as he turned to face Becky, he saw the black of Bev’s jacket out of the corner of his eye crumpled beneath him. He called to his wife, yelled at her, but neither she nor the others in the room seemed to understand that he needed to see her. He continued to shout when the paramedics arrived to lift him on a gurney, when they wheeled him out of the building, and when the ambulance arrived at the hospital.