Noel basked in the phenomenon of eight minute old light, eyes closed tightly. Tears brushed down his cheeks and chin and neck, moisture lingering in cracks age had brought to his skin. All things that lived eventually died; a truth so stark, it could be neither ugly nor beautiful. Many of his friends had gone before him, and he missed their laughs and smiles, their sorrow and anger, but as time passed he became grateful just to have known them. Yet, as a harsh sob broke from his lungs, he wished he was a man of more faith, someone who could imagine angels in Heaven, but Noel was bound to Earth, and when he opened his gaze to the sun, he blinded himself in a star.
It was better than looking at the scene before him, even though his daughter grasped his hand and whispered that the funeral was on its precipice; the casket would be lowered into the ground and no priest would say a prayer. Noel wasn't religious, and Jamal hadn't been, either, but he found himself wishing for a sermon.
His mother used to bring him to church, and the great stained glass windows had peered down at him, reading his soul before he knew it well. It was only after his mother's death, in his subsequent youth spent under his father's watch, that Noel had lost his beliefs. To a child, God was wondrous, and to an illegitimate young man, God was terrifying. Still, he clung to His expectations until he was nineteen, when he announced in an unsure voice that he was an atheist. It hurt to think his father had only looked stern then, but had cried when Nole admitted he was gay the year before.
In truth, he never could renounce God entirely, and it was in times of need he found himself wanting Him the most. He didn't believe; he just became desperate. Logic was cold and inelegant, reality little more than harsh events strung together by bearable days. He remembered when he was first told Jamal was having heart problems. He remembered trying to brush it off, helping his partner to be as healthy as he could. He remembered finding him on the floor, in cardiac arrest. He remembered the phone call, the paramedics, the ambulance, all in vain.
Jamal died before they reached the hospital, and there was no merciful God.
Noel stopped crying, but he felt weak in his stomach, hardly able to return the consoling hugs from his grandchildren. They cried, too; the youngest was only six, and she clutched at the hem of his jacket, asking, "Will you be okay?"
He told her yes and stroked her hair and let her wander off to the table that had been decorated with desserts, while he walked away from graveyard. In the parking lot he located his car and sat on the driver's side, forehead against the steering wheel. He breathed shakily and brushed his fingers into the center console to feel ashes from a cigarette Jamal had smoked not too long ago, despite Noel's request to no longer do so in the car. It was there, new tears warming his face, he realized that there was nothing more stellar than a human life-
When night came and stars far more ancient than the sun displayed a visage worn thousands of years ago, he saw that Jamal's effect couldn't be stolen. It was too vast, too bright, to be taken by something so trivial as death, and Noel knew that as the universe remembered its ephemeral occupants in splendor, the mind held tight its beloveds and let their existence affect every aspect, long after a body had rotted and dust was scattered into infinity. Even if God's comfort never caressed his conscious, he could sleep when he returned home that night and lay alone.