She stood empty-handed by the gravestone and thought that his wife had been unsparingly elegant in the curve of the marker, the marble and carved figures about the border but when it came to his name, his wife had ordered a rough and unadorned print. Like the letters had simply been thrown at the stone and arranged somewhat. Subconsciously, she found herself looking for spelling errors:
"Robert Jason Collier"
Oh that was fine. She had not known his middle name was Jason. Now she did and it was too late to matter much. She thought of him in September. She read on:
"Born: June 29th, 1971."
So he was thirty-one. Or would have been thirty-one. And she knew his birthday now as well. Too late. Too damned late.
On she went. This was painful. This should be the error:
The year and day were missing. She knew why they were both missing, but she supplied them in her mind "Died: September 5th, 2002." She figured they would be carved on later. Faintly, she wondered why they had put the stone up like it was. The damned thing was entirely to loud and hopeful; death open to interpretation. Like it had not happened. She twisted her hands together. September 5th, 2002-
The day, the very day she would have gone without him he had gone without her or without his wife or anyone. And John was standing in the back a bit. John had come and the others had come but they had gone home. She had stayed and she wondered why John had and. Damn. It was just that cold and screamed word. Damn. No errors on the elaborate stone except the crude facing of the words. Robert (Jason) Collier was dead. She was in a black dress. John was in a black suit. They had sweated the hour away in the small wooden church, staring ahead blankly.
Oh blankly. She did not know why, for John, but being blank was easier for her. She didn't know his family (his wife), his friends. She only knew the others, and none of them wanted to cry. There was still a lot of restraints on any feelings they would have, even after the chasm of death had opened its gaping maw towards them. Not towards them. towards him.
And especially: she was sitting behind his wife. The woman would not have seen her, but to cry, to express anything but blankness would have violated the one secret vault she had built through the past years. The woman. The Woman. His Wife. She hated her of course, hated her angrily and with raw hatred, but she had respect enough for anyone who would love him, and she had not cried.
Now, she could not break her blankness. John walked up.
"Remember, the first week he used to call me Philip?" he asked. His voice was blank. She felt a certain camaraderie then, although she had never liked John particularly.
"Because they mixed up your middle name with your first on the attendance sheets." She replied blankly.
"And then-" John stopped. Stuck a hand in his pocket. "Why'd you come back?"
The burial had been a few hours ago. She was staring at the stone. Apparently…oddly, it had been pre ordered. She had heard his wife explain in a wavering voice they both had pre ordered tombstones, so there wouldn't be a wait. She had thought the woman crazy, why the hell would you? But suppose it had been his idea. Damn.
"Needed to be alone." she shrugged.
"Ya. I know." John agreed. And they were alone. Blankly alone and apart.
She fervently hoped John wouldn't say anything, like 'he was such a great man', or 'he taught me so much' because those were blank things. The two of them could stare blankly, but they could not speak blankly. Robert Jason Collier deserved so much more, pages of odes years of adoration, and something more than tears.
"I…when I signed the condolences book. I signed Philip." John whispered. His head was down.
"Ya." there was nothing to say to that, she surmised, but 'ya'.
"God." John shook his head, suddenly not looking blank, but spiteful. "That damned woman."
She turned her head quickly.
"His wife. I hate her. I hate her." John replied bitterly.
"What are you talking about?" She asked, but she was not blank anymore either. She felt a hot swoop of burning behind her eyes. She blinked it back and looked at his name. Robert Jason Collier. She blinked again.
"She killed him. Did you see her? 'oh, we had these pre ordered. And you know it was her idea you just know it. And when he was sick. God, you saw him, she hovered over his bed like a vulture, and people get better all the time, they always do. Not him, oh no, because she was there saying 'he doesn't need all this fancy medication, I'd like him home.' That damned woman. That damned woman." John cried, fisting his hands, his eyes going watery and his cheeks rising red.
She swallowed. She could not comment on John's rage, because she would not be able to stop crying then. Oh she loved him. Oh how she loved him. And if she agreed with John or even nodded then the love and the hate for that woman who had sat in front of her, who had pre ordered tombstones (because now like John she was sure it had been his wife), who had been married to him. Oh God.
"Remember- remember when he helped us with the test? After school? And I slipped and fell because I was wearing those damned boots and my skirt got caught in my shirt. And I was-" she stopped.
"Oh. Oh yes." John nodded, knowingly.
They stood there and stared at the grave.
"Lilly? Can I…?" John started.
"Yes." She nodded because she knew just as John knew. They had always sat near one another and had watched him, she and John and the others, watched him and loved him because they knew, somehow, in the back of their minds they would never find anyone like him ever again.
"You loved him?"
"Oh John." She nodded.
"I know. We did. But not like you. Not like how you and him would argue politics or you would smile at him when he was writing on the blackboard you would sit and copy notes and smile widely and demurely. God Lilly…now what?" John was desperate and shaking.
She laughed ruefully. And her eyes burned horribly, even after she blinked them a few times. John blinked too. She figured his eyes were burning.
"Shouldn't I be asking that question, John?"
"Maybe. But I did. We aren't even crying."
"No. Because there…never again will we ever meet anyone more…"
"Yes. Oh God, yes exactly."
They stood staring at the pre ordered tombstone and she bent down to touch the new earth. The grass was starting to die in small spots, autumn weaving through the september sky, Persephone climbing back down into the Underworld, Demeter stop shading and coloring the vibrant world. She sighed. Metaphors were horrible and they made her ill at this time. Damned myths.
She felt the hem of her dress touch the ground and then she saw John kneel down next to her.
"Lilly…when we go home, will there still be a world?" he asked her softly.
"What do you mean?" She wondered.
"Well…he gave us the past. He really did. If we had been with anyone else these past years, then we would not have the past at all, just a shell of it. He gave us people and faces and names, he gave us war and he gave us great truths, discoveries…everything that makes this world how it is. And in twenty years or whatever, when some kids like us get to our point, no one will be there to give them the world." John explained.
She thought. It was hard, and suddenly, she was crying. The woman was gone, the damned, hated woman was gone and she could cry. John was crying too, and they sat there, kneeling on the new earth as it got colder and the cars from the highway could be heard rushing past and grackles shouted roughly, she and John cried hard and silent.
They did not know how long. Could have been hours. Could have been moments. But it felt like days. Crying takes much out of a person.
She stood first. Her body hurt, her whole body wracked and her hair had come out of its careful bun. John stood next, and she wiped her face, her mascara smeared.
"Is there a world?" she asked softly.
"Well I don't know. We're still here with him, looking for him to give us notes. Help us study." John replied.
"Help me up when I was sprawled across the floor." She laughed sadly.
"That to. Or to call me Philip." John added.
"And he can't." She finished, looking down.
"Let's go. Let's go to the school. Away from this damned pre ordered tombstone, this horrible damned thing. It's making me horribly sad, because there's no death date." John realized.
"Exactly. Damn hope." She sighed.
"I'll drive you, Lilly." John offered.
She nodded, suddenly completely exhausted, and she and John walked out of the cemetery leaving the elaborately deceptively hopeful tombstone to the lengthening evening shadow.