“We can’t have a funeral until we put on a pot of beans,” I mutter while carrying a handful of fresh green beans from the strainer in the sink to the pot with caramelizing onions and bacon pieces sizzling away in the bottom. I let the beans fall from my hands and a few droplets of rinse water pop and sizzle when they hit the hot bacon grease. I turn back to the sink gathering another handful of beans and Vivian looks back at me with her seven-year-old look that says,” don’t bullshit me right now.”
“What?” I stop and say, a little more animated now, standing still as drops of rinse water fall from the beans to the floor, “people will be hungry after the funeral. At Dad Dad’s we had ham sandwiches and chicken wings in the back of the church. I had beer on ice in the trunk of the car. People get hungry. And thirsty. You feed them.”
She relents from her constant questioning about
‘when is this funeral going to happen?”, then tells me she is going upstairs to work on the casket.
“Besides,” she adds clumping her feet heavily on each stair as she ascends, “it’s only us going to be here.”
“But you never know who might stop by,” I say loudly, my voice chasing her up the stairs, “You have to be prepared when you are having a funeral. It’s just how it is.”
It’s not that I didn’t want to get Mr. Bluefin into the ground but more to the point dinner needs to be cooking so we can eat before we have to be back at school for Lynn’s kindergarten open house.
I am not heartless. I do feel for her but Mr. Blue fin is not the first fish to die at our house. There have been others and they all had burials at sea but then I admit to myself Mr. Blue fin is different. He has been here longer then any other animal with the exception of Maddie Dog. He has been through thick and thin.
Vivian comes back down stairs, walks by with a little yellow plastic box in her hands and as she passes she says, “Dad, can you open the garage? I want to get the shovel out,” she pauses, “I need to dig the grave.”
“Sure honey, I can do that,” I say gently and with a lot less sarcasm. I pick up a dish towel and wipe my hands as I walk to the back door. “Can I help you dig?”
“No, this is something I’ve got to do myself.” she answers with resignation.
“Where you going to put the grave?” I could just see the dog digging it up which would be far worse then the fish dying.
“Under the apple tree,” she says.
“Oh, thats a good spot in the shade and all. That will make a good resting place,” I say in a soft voice and with the realization the dogs can’t get to the apple tree. I open the garage then reach up for the shovel and slip it out of its holder. I hand her the shovel and watch with my hands on my hips with the dish towel still in hand as she walks off.
As I walk up the few steps to the back door, I am glad I decided to make meatloaf this morning, it’s her one of her favorites. I go back inside to turn the beans, turn the heat down and put a lid on it. I start work on the rest of dinner.
It occurs to me as I am peeling baby carrots Vivian has never experienced a funeral, and then as I am standing there with my mind wondering, I couldn’t remember the first funeral of which I was aware. I am sure I went to a few funerals but I didn’t really know the person, a great uncle or aunt or something. People so distant their death didn’t really arouse any emotion. It had to be Grandma’s or Ken’s. Ken was my dad’s best friend growing up. I was as close to Ken as any uncle. We vacationed every year with his family and got together at Christmas. He died young.
I hadn’t had much history with death. I could only emulate what I knew or had seen, and by seen I mean on TV. All these years later I can’t tell you how I felt at my grandma’s funeral but I can remember Ken’s. I was supposed to feel sad so I tried my damnedest to be so. My dad is sad. It might be the first time he truly feels mortal. In the back seat of my dad’s car I lean my head against the cool window and blankly star out. It is winter and there is a cold rain. In my head I wonder if this is how sad feels. My button-up shirt and necktie were scratchy against my neck.
The back door slams shut. Vivian walks into the kitchen carrying a small brightly colored bouquet of flowers. It is a hodgepodge of different blooms from around the yard. She sets them gently on the counter and asks to use the permative marker, she has always mispronounced permanent.
She climbs up on a bar stool at the counter. On the little yellow box she has been carrying she writes, Mr. Blue fin, in her best handwriting. She sorts through the flowers looking for the best ones for her bouquet.
“Hey Viv,” I start in, “I think we should go to the open house then have the funeral. That way Mommy will be home. I think she’ll want to be here.”
“OK. Can you help me get Mr. blue fin out of the tank and into the casket?” she replies with a note of serenity. I nod and answer, “Sure, whenever your ready”.