I think there’s something about a funeral at midday, in the dead heat of summer. Something cruel and primal about the way the big glass windows of the chapel look out onto the grass lawn, where children at day camp are playing stickball and laughing and calling each other names.
They’ve hung up David’s little league jerseys, around the rafters of the chapel. He was my brother Tom’s best friend. Always number twenty-five, when they both played ball. Before they moved south, together, to a town on the central coast where nobody would recognize them and ask them why they weren’t graduated.
I’m sitting in the middle of the orderly block of folding chairs, next to one of Tom’s other childhood friends. Erik, I think is his name. A year older than me, a year younger than my brother. Blond. His parents are Scandinavian, of some sort. Maybe Norwegian, maybe Danish.
But it doesn’t matter, now. It doesn’t matter. He’s here like I’m here. Like we’re all here.
They’ve hung up his jerseys, and all his hats. David collected hats. All thirty Major League teams. Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Triple-A teams that no one has heard of, much less bought a hat from. But David did. The only person I’ve ever known who loved baseball more than Tom.
My brother. Up there, by the podium. Next to guys who’d laughed at him for slamming his helmet on the dugout floor after a strikeout. Who called him a faggot when he grew his hair out in eighth grade. Men now. All crying. All crying for David, the lone link between these broken boys and me.
What am I even doing here? My sister couldn’t come down from Oregon. Can’t drive, scared of planes. My parents are here, though. In the back, where my dad can hold my mom as she cries quietly into his shoulder. My mom doesn’t cry a lot, but she did when she told me about David.
I had to be here too, of course. For my brother. For David, even though I hadn’t seen him since all of them were eighteen and I was sixteen and they came to the softball game to cheer me on. All of them just shouting “hey number twenty-two” or “high and up, here comes the chin music” and David telling them what our names actually were. Them not listening.
Those same boys up there. The microphone feedback pinging off the walls of the chapel and leaking out onto the lawn. The kids out there probably annoyed at it. Annoyed at the grief, encroaching on the periphery of their perfect afternoon.
Not that they’d think that. They’re kids playing stickball in July. I’m projecting. I want to throw my glass of lukewarm red wine over the heads of these people I used to know, and run around those bases with the kids, outside. Just plastic bags held down with rocks.
Next to me, Erik coughs. It’s a wet sound. Like a spoon through a bowl of cheap mac-and-cheese. A fleshy sound.
David’s picture is on the white screen behind the stage. The projector light is illuminating the dust kicked up by the hanging of the jerseys, hours before.
In the picture, David is young. Maybe eleven, or twelve. In the dugout. Crowded around him are boys I recognize, boys I don’t. My brother isn’t in this picture. He wasn’t in the one before, either, and now I’m mad, no, furious at the stupid men up there sharing that stupid mic in this stupid chapel. When they didn’t do anything to help David, to help Tom help David. They didn’t say anything when he started using, in high school. They didn’t say anything when he started taking more after, in community college. The one Tom failed out of. The one the others all moved on from, or thought they were too good for in the first place.
But David used to let me play on his Playstation 2. Games rated M, too old for me. He’d let me watch old VHS horror movies with him and Tom. He never laughed when I shut my eyes.
Or maybe he did. I plugged my ears too.
But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t fucking matter.
There’s a picture on the fridge, in my parents’ house. David and Tom. Their first tee ball game. Matching Giants hats and white-toothed smiles. No baby teeth lost yet. This picture isn’t in the slideshow. This picture only exists on the fridge.
And when I think about it, when I think about him, I think of this David. This instant camera David, printed at Walgreens on 9th Avenue in 1999.
And now Tom is at the microphone, and he opens his mouth, and he says things, but I don’t hear them, because I’m looking out the windows, past the kids playing ball, past the cul-de-sac where David’s parents still live, past the on-ramp onto the freeway going south, to the little town they stayed in (Tom and him) the little house he died in, the awful ocean at its doorstep. And I stand up, and I push past Erik and his Scandinavian parents, past my own parents by the door, my mom dry-eyed now.
I can see the projector still running through the windows, but I’m on the outside now, on the dead lawn, where I can’t hear my brother eulogize the boy he loved and let go.
“The Smell of Dirt” by Elodie Townsend appeared in Issue 40 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Elodie Townsend is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, she studied at Smith College for two years and was awarded the Elizabeth Drew Prize for Fiction. Other than writing, her passions include sports, punk music, and playing with her two chihuahuas.