Familiar strangers, they gathered to make small talk. Where've you been? What degree did you get? Oh, you've published how many papers? Congrats. A surprise four and a half year high school reunion in the back of a church most never saw before.
We all talked about moving this to a bar after the visitation.
One friend, a broad shouldered man so perfectly born for the army that a recruiter likely contacted him before he could say "Hooah," refused eye contact with the group. He spoke to the stained glass windows. "I don't know if I can go. The drive back home will kill me."
Chatter broke, crumbled into dust.
The floor yanked everyone's eyes as if they were on strings.
"That's not funny." A meek voice spoke.
Red in the face, the broad shouldered man opened his mouth to speak. A line now crossed, he grappled for a lifeline to get back within social graces. How a mere figure of speech betrayed him! Broached a topic we all avoided. He spoke the unspeakable word: dead. Shh, the sleeping man in the wooden bed up front might hear the forbidden word.
With the tension at peak, someone broke it. It shattered like glass thrown in anger at a tiled floor. Crystalline fragments of our mortality laid scattered about to the sound of everyone laughing. At first, we laughed cautiously. Would everyone find this funny too? As we shed the weight of the word, we laughed harder. Some eyed the sleeping young man as if he might overhear, get up and join us. No one would be surprised if he did.
The broad shouldered man returned to human color. He decided to risk a second impromptu high school reunion by going to the bar.