They’re standing opposite each other, and he marvels at the way the sleek black fabric of her dress drapes across her skin, the contrast bringing her delicate features mysterious beauty, dark hair falling on her shoulders, eyes cast downwards. Feels lustful, the pricks of invisible needles, and he admonishes himself, guilty feeling, it’s her sister’s funeral for Christ’s sake. Looks instead at her family standing beside her, handsome older cousins in their tailored, expensive suits, and he suddenly wonders if they’ll look down on him in his simple black button–down shirt, cheap dress pants. Focuses instead on the flowers lining the room, the rhythmic, almost Gregorian chanting of the minister, a foreign language to him, as foreign as the pungent smell of the burning incense which tickles the inside of his nose so he has to fight the urge to sneeze.
The service finishes, and he makes his way over to her, a tentative hand against the small of her back as she places a single, blood–red rose in her sister’s casket, kisses the cold forehead of her corpse, and he can’t believe how strong she is, he hasn’t seen her falter, she hasn’t shed a tear, a tight, strained smile the only indication of her internal unrest. She turns from the casket, only open halfway to hide the mangled mess of her sister’s legs, ripped and torn from the transport truck that crushes their car in the newspaper photographs, the glass piercing her sister’s skin, her back breaking as the tiny vehicle squishes, an aluminum pop can.
He follows her into the brightly lit hallway, she reaches back, weaves her fingers through his, intertwining, cold, clammy hands, and he knows for certain now that she’s not alright, stands behind her as the throngs of friends and family embrace her, kiss both her cheeks, sometimes three kisses in old Middle Eastern tradition. Family murmuring guttural alien words of condolences he cannot understand, friends not quite knowing what to say, speechlessness caused by the lack of set traditions in North American culture, no specific words of sorrow in the English language that aren’t from a Hallmark card, that make sense and don’t sound hollow, “I’m so sorry.”
The lobby lights are playing tricks on him now, or maybe it’s emotional exhaustion, he turns to her, “Let’s get away from here,” and she follows, holding his hand, distant as a leashed puppy, she can’t keep up as the well–meaning continue to remind her of why she is there. Takes her to the small front room, spots a seat in the shadows, it’s quieter here, pushes the door partially closed and they sit. She looks so sad, controlling her breathing, eyes darting back and forth, uncertainty now written clearly on her face. He wraps an arm around her, then “Is everything okay?” but what an imprudent thing to say, of course it isn’t, and he feels stupid, cursing himself, his foolish words hanging heavy in the thick air.