You were old, which I suppose is supposed to make dying more acceptable. There is always a time, you used to say when we stood out by the lake, for everything. A time to be born, a time to die. Yes, I want to say, but the time did not have to be now.
The only other acceptable part of this is that the cemetery is by the lake. That at least seems right, that you are laid to rest in this quiet, familiar place. We came here to the lake a lot, starting out when I was barely toddling along beside you, back when you didn’t need a cane yet. I remember when you first began to show me how to skip stones across the water. We stood on the shore where the pebbles were smooth and round and flat, and you told me how to stand and how to throw and which way to shift my weight. Then you would go through the whole motion, fluid and graceful, and all of a sudden the rock would be jumping lightly across the water’s surface, leaving rings of ripples in its wake. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight skips, and then with a plop the stone would sink into the lake.
I could never learn just how to do it the way you did. I could get three or four skips when I got lucky, but never as many as you. But we could spend an hour or two out by the lake, just skipping stones with one another. Not even talking much. In the winter, the stones were cold in our hands; in summer, they were warmed by the sun. I remember pressing them to my cheeks as a child and letting their warmth bleed into my skin.
I’m here alone now, the October wind cool against my skin. I walked out in the middle of your funeral service, so I suppose I ought to apologize, except I’m not really sorry, so I won’t. Everyone else is still back there, small now in the distance, all black dots like miniature storm clouds milling about, or maybe like splinters of the night sky. There are splashes of color against the gray tombstones where visitors have left flowers, and the grass is still lush and green.
I’m sure people are talking about how rude it was for me to leave so abruptly like that, right in the middle of someone talking about how kind and funny you were. I don’t actually know exactly what they were saying. I was thinking about you myself. Thinking about skipping stones with you. Everyone else was talking about you in the past tense, but in my head you were still part of the world of is and are and will be.
There were people crying next to me, a kind of quiet, repressed sobbing, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I don’t know why. I almost wish I could, because right now, standing here by the lake without you, I feel like something is stopped up inside of me. Like an artery or something has gotten blocked and my heart isn’t working the way it should.
The wind is blowing little ripples across the water, and I wish I hadn’t left my jacket hanging over the back of my chair. Autumn leaves float on the lake as flecks of gold and ruby, and I can see the reflections of bare trees rippling on the water’s surface. Hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye, they wave gently. In the shallows, the shadows shift and melt into one another, and minnows dart here and there.
I pick up a rock and hurl it. It makes an ugly but satisfying splash far out there, water spraying out in a thousand droplets, and I can imagine all the startled fish scattering away. I hurl another rock. Another. Another. This is the kind of throwing you shook your head at. Ugly throwing, loud throwing, nothing graceful or nice about it, you used to say. Don’t disturb the poor fish.
Well, alright. I choose a smooth, flat stone, feeling the weight of it in my hand. It’s cold in my fingers and gray like the heavy, overcast sky above me. There’s a hint of rain in the air. I turn a little and pull my arm back the way you used to, and then the stone is flying through the air. I count the jumps it makes. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. A quiet plop, and then it’s gone.
I blink in surprise. The tree branches rattle their applause.
It’s good enough that I am tempted to turn around and see if you are there, leaning on your cane and smiling, your usual hat pulled low over your face. Tempted to see if maybe, somehow, it was your throw and not mine.
It’s almost enough to make me look over my shoulder. Almost enough to make me wonder if the funeral was a dream and you didn’t die after all, that instead you were standing by the lake’s shore this whole time, just waiting for me to come over here. That you are still present tense. It’s almost enough, but not quite. I’m not young enough, naïve enough, for it to be enough.
The lake blurs before my eyes, the ripples and reflections smearing together, and as though something has been uncorked inside of me, the tears come at last.
(Written 22 Jan 2017©CKim/ScribbleScrawler)