He kept thinking how funny it was that it was raining out that day, of course it was raining the day of the funeral. How fitting, how like a movie. If he were Helena he'd collapse his umbrella and let heaven's water cover his face in order make him a better actor, make his tears more ambiguous. But he wasn't like Helena and he didn't need to act, his face was always honest. A pretty good looking face, exception of his nose. Or that's what most of his friends told him. His nose was pretty bad, Helena was always quick to point out, it just seemed to get ridiculously wide towards the nostrils, while appearing to not extend away from the face as much as most noses should, or seem to. The worthwhile ones, anyway.
As the latter part of the funeral continued the tarps came out and in a haze of graveyard activity draped themselves over the heads of the bereaved. Albert would've preferred they just left the attendees with their umbrellas, especially as it became obvious that the harsh rat-tat-tat of the water against the chilly personality of the tarps became more distracting from the ceremony than the wetness and soggy shoes would have been. Oh well. The pastor tried to speak over the noise as best he could, but Albert could tell that at least the children were of the same mind he was, trying to mentally configure the pattern of rain against this diversion braced above their curly heads. And they did have curly heads, most of them, most of the children had curly hair like Helena. Well, most of them were related, duh. He felt sorry for them because they had to be there. They shared that bond, Helena's cute little cousins and Albert Mayr. Albert had gotten over Helena a long time ago, though he sure went about it in strange ways, as she would coldly tell him every time she got the chance (not too often, but at parties and over impromptu coffees that she wasn't supposed to have, things like that), but he wasn't the same person who had waved an optimistic greeting in place of hello way back in the day. Too much water under the bridge. He even wondered, if he had just met Helena now if he'd be at all attracted to her, or like her at all. When HAD he liked her, anyway? When HAD he told himself there was potential with someone that empty?
Albert studied his ill-fitting shoes which he had borrowed, just for this occasion. Funerals are such silly things, he thought, really just a demonstration for everyone associated with the deceased to prove to each other just how much their dead kin mattered- but only to each other. The goddamn kid was dead, and not like a tribute was out of line, but did her corpse really give a fuck how comfortable her coffin was or how nice her ex-boyfriend's- whom SHE broke up with four years ago- SHOES were? Actually, she might, come to think of it, Albert admitted, penitently to himself. Albert knew nothing about the afterlife, why mutter to himself that he did. It just seemed lame. It seemed lame because the last exchange- the last REAL exchange, back when they both had sentiments- that Albert shared with Helena, when it all came out- Albert had said for once everything he had in his mind at that moment. And that was, verbatim: "You might as well be a goddamn stranger at a bus stop. You might as well be someone spitting at me from a bridge, even! No, not that, that's too much commitment. You want to leave an impression on me without giving me a goddam thing. Well I don't WANT a goddam thing anymore, so take your shit and leave!"
Actually that's not verbatim at all. Albert didn't cuss very much, and when he did he tended to favor "fuck". To be frank, actually, Albert didn't really say anything when Helena left. There was just a flip of her scarf, a self-righteous verbal rampage, and Albert left to wonder if the linoleum in the kitchen had started peeling before or after they moved in. But Helena's tricks didn't work, Albert knew that. He knew what she was before he really "lost" her… still…
Carl's. Carl's Jr. They started going there on the Thursdays and Fridays after they got out of whatevermovie happened to be showing for cheap that night. Before they found an apartment, before they learned what microwaves and a can-openers were for. They'd sit at the booths as far away from the kitchen employees as they could, as if they were spies in a conspiracy thriller, even though the place was empty. And through mysterious, sketchy glances and exchanges they DID feel like co-conspirators. Or Albert did, even when he grew comfortable enough to read while Helena mused (it was always her book, too, she took books everywhere but only read them at home) or when she'd be silent for minutes at a time while she filled out comment cards (which both of them agreed were ridiculous in and of themselves- comment cards for a fast food place with JR. in the title just seemed… dumb?). She liked to write in obscene sayings, read them to herself, then fold the cards into little pieces and either abandon them at the table or, embarrassed, rip them to shreds and play with the confetti. And then again, sometimes she'd just muse. Albert semi-grinned at the memory, even though it didn't mean too much to him now, he did reflect on the irony of one of Helena's original musings- death.
He had brought it up.
"Well, you're just a ray of sunshine, aren't you? I can just see it now-" Helena dropped her voice in that way she usually did as she prepared to foray into her dithered, humorously imagined scenarios. Albert was never sure how Helena adopted that as her sense of humor, or why it always amused him so much, but it was certainly strange and original when examined. Anyway, Helena dropped her voice in order to verbally portray a newsperson in the next life: "I can just see it now—'And tell us, Ms. Vance, what drove you to commit suicide?" Helena sighed dramatically and cleared her throat, continuing as Albert took on a passive audience member's role, to Helena's predictable glee; it was always like this. "Well, you see, my BOYFRIEND-" Albert grinned as he continued to skim his book, trying to find his place again. "You're prepared to be interviewed after death?" He asked. Helena nodded enthusiastically, swiping a french fry. She liked them well-done, Albert liked them limp, which he thought secured him a decent meal, and yet she continued to steal his lifeless potatoes. At the moment her weight was probably rivaling his own, something he never thought of until she pointed it out sullenly. "If there's one certainty I'm certain of, dear Al, it is that in the afterlife there will be a line of interviewers anxious to hear my opinions. Yes, yes, once dead…" Helena was always at her best when mocking her own comical narcissism, she was smiling dreamily and brandishing her medium-sized coke (free refills, otherwise it would have been a large), hoping that she could go on forever and still stop while she was ahead. "Once dead, I'm positive I'll have fans, in fact. I'll be a celebrity in heaven. Or hell, I guess. That's right, Albert. I'll be on Entertainment Eternity. Access Afterlife…" Albert closed his book. "Do go on, just keep going and going and when the lightning bolt strikes…" Helena almost giggled, except that she never giggled at anything Albert said. Albert, unlike she, tried too damn hard. With great hutzpah she peeled at the edges of a napkin which, thanks to the condensation, had become stuck to her beverage, and twisted it with one finger, idly. "Mark my words, Albert, there's no way I'm leaving this earth unless I get to be a heavenly VIP. HA!" She made herself laugh.
Helena never cared. Helena smiled and gave her affection but she had nothing below the surface but sex, nothing to talk about giddily but anaylsises (anaylsi?), and nothing to smile about but the moment someone entertained her. She threw away rechargeable batteries, she didn't take pictures, she refused reunions- highschool, family, and otherwise. Albert gave up trying to "own" her in the way that most men would like to have, he came to the point where he expected her to dance with other men, to talk to everyone in a room excluding him, to chose to take the bus instead of letting him drop her off at the pseudo-scene restaurant where she worked. But as he slowly grew to give up each of these things he seemed to make a deal with himself to give up his adoration or understanding of one of her qualities. Not an official deal he made with himself, but a sort of subconscious, under-the-table arrangement that would occasionally pop into his imagination when he was feeling particularly needy or self-pitying. When she'd refuse to cry in front of him even though they'd lived together for 4 months, for god's sake, he'd suddenly find her taste in clothes contrived, especially her obsessive care for her "trademark" army jacket. It made her look like a lesbian, he concluded. When she'd brush away his enthusiasms on the days when his writer's block became conquered, when he wanted her to want to hear about his ideas (one of the few things he took pride and confidence in were his ideas and she knew it), on the days she'd meet his fresh heroes with a disinterested, sour, my-problems-exceed-your-love expression, he'd realize he no longer cared for her heartfelt guffaw or her formerly endearing insistence that the two of them talk about a different book each, every night that they could. With Helena, he'd think as he watched her furiously making scrambled eggs or playing solitaire on the computer, nothing was heartfelt, and The Brothers Karamazov and Dstoyevsky would always oust "feelings" and Albert Mayr.
Finally, it was when they were watching an old movie together, an Ernest Borgnine underdog flick called Marty, that Albert looked at Helena against the flicker and lights of the screen and somehow in his not-quite-conscious mind decided that if Helena was moved at all by the time Ernie threw his friend's opinion of his devoted girl to the wind and declared that he was gonna get down on his knees and BEG that girl to marry him, if Helena smiled, or laughed with delight or sniffled or even looked at Albert with any sign of appreciation on her mysterious face, she was capable. She maybe even loved him. Not as much or in the way that he loved her, no, but there'd be a chance. Maybe this all wasn't such a mistake and JUST MAYBE he'd find a trapdoor into a compromise somewhere where they could both operate on their own terms. He could be content like that, just so long as she gave Ernie a hint of softness.
Marty is a very short movie, quite possibly the shortest movie to ever win an Oscar for best picture, and the beautiful comfy ending always comes too soon.
The ending always comes too soon.
Part II of the breakup occurred in a much more predictable, TV movie when it rains it pours kind of way, with Albert coming home after work and an amble around the neighborhood to find Helena throwing her "trademarks" into three medium-sized boxes. He stood, stunned but understanding in their tiny, Mary-Tyler-Moore-esque kitchen, watching her body and her voice tell him about himself and their non-life and the apparent surprise life that seemed to be growing in Helena but which did not belong to him. It didn't hurt like it was supposed to, even though she spat it out with as much venom as she could muster. Albert recalled to mind Cruella De Ville, as he watched his about-to-be-ex frantically box her claims and rage against Albert's insecurities. His needs. What needs? I stopped needing you a long time ago, he wanted to tell her, you changed me. "And I stopped loving you when I knew you couldn't give a shit about anybody." Had he said that part? Funny. He couldn't really remember that. The linoleum, yes, he remembered that inch for inch.
Funerals bring out funny memories, Albert thought. And, well, sure, at this moment he felt sorry for Greg, or Dylan, or Eddie or whoever the guy was, staring, crushed, as the beautiful box enclosed the body. This guy obviously never had the release Albert did, the realization that the only game Helena knew how to play was solitaire. Albert also gave pause to scan the group of kids to make sure Helena hadn't lied about the abortions. Not that she'd ever manage to support anything for nine months, of course, but she was pretty good at lying. As her box disappeared into the ground, Albert decided to allow a little room for kindness, but just a pinch. The jacket didn't make you look like a lesbian. And I hope you are a VIP someplace. Seemed like the nice thing to do, you know, for the person that had changed him from emotionally healthy to just about as cold as the corpse herself.
One night, about five months after the funeral to be more on the money, Albert's nerves were at him about his big presentation the next morning, and it was raining again, and as he sat propped up in bed his mind began to wander as his eyes did, both entities finally settling on a pile of hodge-podge books he'd had forever. Maybe, as he gently tugged out Catcher in the Rye, a book he'd read a comfortably three times before, he realized that it was one of her books, one from the bookshelf they shared back when a one-room apartment was good enough for them and a couple yards was enough distance. He had taken his things in one fail swoop, and thrown in anything that she had left that escaped claim- who really cared about a newish, generic publishing of Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Rings, In Cold Blood, or a VHS copy of a Bruce Willis movie they never watched? Maybe he vaguely realized that when he decided to distract himself from promotion anxieties, but he certainly didn't think too much on the matter.
Not until he lost himself and thumbed to the middle of the book, where a Carl's Jr. comment card found him.
Comments or Questions?my boyfriend likes his goddamn fries droopy, any suggestions on what to do about THAT?
Anything we can do to improve?no thanks. right now everything is perfect.
It was when Albert felt his own face falling apart that he knew he hadn't changed that much after all.