The funeral was over.
The crowds of well-dressed people dispersed. Yan, a sparse, lanky teenage boy, stood over his father’s grave for a few moments with his mother Abigail. It was a cold day, overcast, windy. The sky blunted the colors of the graveyard and made the tombstones appear a darker grey and the grass a muted green.
The way back to the house matched the somber quiet of the graveyard. Benchshire was a small town, even for Upstate New York, but as Yan drove through the neighborhoods he grew up in, they took on a ghostly, haunted quality.
They arrived home. Yan helped his mother out, and together they walked inside and sat at the kitchen table. It was an old-fashioned house, with two floors and a basement, decorated in the browns, blues, and reds of small-town Americana. There wasn’t so much an intent silence as there was an absence of sound, as if something should have been making noise, but wasn’t.
“The wake was really nice,” said Yan, staring down at the plain wooden table.
“It was,” Abigail nodded.
“The speeches were beautiful too.”
Yan looked up at this mother. “What?”
“They’re called eulogies when they’re for dead people.”
Yan nodded and looked down at the table again.
“Did you get in touch with Tim?”
Yan nodded again. “He couldn’t catch a flight on time. He’ll be here tomorrow.”
Abigail sighed. “That’s nice of him to do that.”
Yan was silent. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, twiddled his thumbs, rested them on the table. Abigail sat still, looking down.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Yan.
Abigail scoffed. “Don’t say that. You know he’s gone.”
“Can I…” Yan stuttered. “Can’t I say that and be sad about it? Do I not get to be sad?”
“You get to be sad, but don’t run through the clichés,” Abigail said without looking up from the table. “I can’t believe he’s gone, what will I do without him, I wish I had more time –”
“They’re clichés for a good – Mom, your husband just died. I think clichés are fine.”
“I can’t – we can’t…” Yan sighed. “You know what? Never mind. Let’s just…”
Yan was silent again.
Yan shifted in his seat. The creaking of the wooden chair created a sudden burst of noise before all was silent.
“Maybe I should go,” said Yan. “I’m tired, and…”
Abigail nodded, reached across the table, and took Yan’s hand.
Yan looked up from the table and into her eyes. She wasn’t crying, he noticed, but she was in pain. Her cheeks were flushed, her brow was wrinkled, and she couldn’t keep eye contact with him for more than one or two seconds at a time. Her eyes kept shifting to different parts of the room. Eventually, they rested on his, and that time, they held.
“I miss him too, Yan,” she said.
Yan took both her hands into his and settled into his seat. They stared down at the plain wooden table together as the silence set in again.
The sky darkened as Yan drove to the airport to pick up his brother. The smell of rain lingered on the air. The airport wasn’t very far out of town, but it was a long enough drive in bad enough weather so that Yan grew restless not long after he pulled out of his mother’s driveway. He couldn’t find any music that interested him, and the threatening overcast skies made him shift between aggressive and defensive driving depending on whether he felt like trying to outpace the rain or anticipate it.
Yan gripped the steering wheel tightly, arms stiff at ten and two, a snarl on his face. He thought he heard thunder, which made him slow down, but it didn’t start raining. He continued at a slow pace until he got to the airport.
Tim was already waiting outside the terminal. He was wearing a black suit and had a black suitcase leaning on his leg. He was texting and didn’t notice Yan park next to him.
“Bigshot!” said Yan. “Get in. I don’t want to circle around.”
Tim put his luggage in the trunk and got in the passenger seat.
“What’s up, kid,” Tim said, not looking up from his phone.
“Oh, not much. Who are we texting?”
“Some girl…” Tim put his phone in his pocket. “How was the funeral?”
“Good,” Yan nodded. “Good, really good. The food at the wake was great too. You would have loved it.”
“I’m barely in the car and we’re starting with the attitude, huh?”
“Nah…” said Yan, waving his hand. “No attitude.”
The brothers were silent for a moment.
“Because you know I don’t need this now, right?” said Tim. “There’s too much going on.”
“I know,” said Yan. “No attitude. Not the time.”
The cars on the freeway moved faster on the way back, but the clouds grew darker, their shapes shifting from the flat sheet of gray into a constantly morphing mélange of different shapes and sizes, each more threatening than the last.
“Mind if I put some music on?” said Tim.
“I’d prefer if you didn’t,” said Yan.
The only noise that could be heard was that of the car itself. Yan kept his hands on the wheel and minded the road, while Tim leaned his head back and stared out the window at the muted colors of the forests which lined the freeway on either side.
Tim coughed. “How much longer until –”
“How the fuck could you miss the funeral?” said Yan.
“Excuse me?” Tim sat up and turned toward his brother.
“You’re in the city year-round, you never visit, you barely even talk to mom, and now you miss the fucking funeral?”
“I’m here though, aren’t I?” Tim pulled out his phone. “Hold on one second…”
“You can’t put your goddamn phone away while we’re talking?”
“It’s a work text—look, are you going to chastise me for everything I do while I’m here?”
“You don’t get to take the high road,” said Yan, shaking his head. “You do not get to take the high road.”
“High road? Do you think I wanted to miss the funeral?”
“I don’t think you wanted to—”
“Answer the question—”
“I don’t think you wanted to. I just think you didn’t care.”
Tim faced the road again, nodded, put his phone away.
“And you’re not doing much to prove me wrong,” said Yan, slowly switching lanes so that he could take the exit to Benchshire.
More silence. The brothers stared out at the empty streets. Yan followed the GPS, making all the correct turns to get them home. He pulled into the driveway, parked, and turned off the car.
“Are you coming in?” said Yan.
Tim nodded. “You know,” he said, wagging a finger at his brother. “One day I hope you’ll realize that nothing stops just because you’ve lost someone. You don’t get to leave and have everything waiting for you when you get back—”
“Hopefully when I get to that point, I’ll still remember what’s important to me.”
“What’s—you…” Tim stuttered, opened his door, got out of the car. “Fucking child.”
Yan popped the trunk and removed Tim’s bag.
Tim stopped Yan just before he knocked on the door. “Look, mom’s probably having a rough time, so can we leave this for now? Help her deal with it, and then—”
“Oh,” said Yan. “You do remember mom?”
“You little…” Tim sighed. “Fucking child…”
The brothers knocked on the door and Abigail let them in.
The rest of the evening was quiet. They talked around the dining table while picking at a light dinner. Shortly afterwards, Yan went upstairs to his room. From his bed he could hear Tim and Abigail talking. They sounded mostly like incoherent murmurs, but every now and then somebody would raise their voice and it would become a babble.
Yan set his headphones over his ears. Through his open window, he could smell the night air with a hint of rain wafting in. He searched through his phone for some music, but once again he couldn’t find any that appealed to him, so he removed his headphones and drifted to sleep.
“You could stand to call more, honey.”
It wasn’t often that Abigail interjected when Yan and Tim argued, so when she did speak, the boys listened. When she said this, Yan stood up from his armchair, raised his eyebrows and pointed at her, as if her agreeing with him was enough to win him the argument.
“Mom, listen,” said Tim, his hands and fingers bunched together as he hunched over Abigail’s armchair. “I’m at work from seven to seven almost every day. I’d love to have an extra hour where I can press pause, sit down, and talk to everyone for the full hour, but I don’t have that, and I can’t just press—”
“How…where…” said Yan. “Why do you keep bringing up this ‘pause button’? Where did this come from? Is this from another one of your little self-help courses? One of your audio books on the five ways to pull success out of your ass?”
“Podcast. My point is, I’m a busy person. I love you both, but I can’t always be—”
“But, but bullshit,” said Yan, sitting back down.
“Don’t…” Tim clenched his fist. “Please don’t interrupt me.”
“Boys,” said Abigail.
“It’s OK, Tim,” said Yan. “As long as you’re doing well in the big city, who cares if the only thing that’ll bring you home is someone dying?”
“You’re changing the subject and using extremes,” said Tim, slowly lowering his fist. “You know full well that that’s not what’s going on. You know I have a demanding job, you know I’m busy often, but you’re choosing to ignore it, because it serves –”
“Well, at least I was there for my dad’s funeral!”
“That’s because you never fucking left—” Tim caught himself, stopped, sighed. “There, see? I said something I didn’t mean because you provoked me—”
“Boys?” said mother.
“That’s how you feel, huh?” said Yan, standing up from his seat again. “We didn’t all get the same opportunities as you did.”
“We didn’t all get the same GPA is more like it,” said Tim, slowly approaching Yan’s spot in the living room.
“Whatever makes you feel better about yourself, big man.” Yan approached Tim until they were face to face.
“Boys!” Abigail stood up.
Yan and Tim both backed away from each other and turned to Abigail, who was looking up at them both.
“You’re going to argue now?” she said, shaking her head. “You’re going to pick now to hash this all out? In the goddamn living room of my goddamn house after I just buried your goddamn father?”
Yan sat back down in his chair while Tim leaned against the back wall of the living room. They both dropped their gaze to the floor.
“This garbage has been going on for years,” Abigail continued. “Years. Do you think you’re going to solve it this one time that you’re in the same room together?”
Yan coughed. “It’s worth talking about—”
“No, it’s not,” said Abigail. “You could talk about it literally any other time. Any time. But you choose now.”
She shook her head again, eyes downcast. Neither of her sons dared to look at her. She sighed and walked upstairs. “I’m going to bed,” she said.
The boys stayed silent.
There was a patter outside, and then drizzling. Within a few minutes, rain was hammering against the windows, the sound of it filling the silence left in the living room. Yan went up to his room. Tim slumped onto the couch and fell asleep.
The afternoon continued slowly. Yan forced himself to listen to sad music, but all that did was make him even more sick of all his playlists. Tim slept on the couch until the early evening, and then tried to watch TV while rain was pouring outside. He eventually fell asleep again. Abigail stayed in her room for the rest of the day.
Yan didn’t leave his room until noon the next day. He tried listening to music again and got the same result as the night before. When music failed, he started combing the room for anything that caught his interest. He searched through all his old books, videogames, memorabilia he had set aside and forgotten about. He didn’t stick with anything for long. Finally, he walked downstairs to see that Tim was still on the couch watching TV. He looked like he hadn’t moved much since the day before. He was still wearing the clothes he arrived in except that his shoes were set next to the couch and his jacket was strewn across the armchair next to him.
Yan said nothing at first. He went to the kitchen, pulled some cereal down from the cupboard and dispensed it into two bowls, pouring some milk into both afterwards. He carried the bowls into the living room.
“Hope those suits are wrinkle-resistant,” Yan said as he sat in the armchair. “Don’t think the only dry-cleaning place in town is open today.”
“Wrinkle-resistant?” Tim chuckled as he sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes and his neck. “You really don’t get out much, do you?”
Yan handed Tim the bowl. “What have you been watching?”
“Whatever’s on,” said Tim. “I’m not even sure where the remote ended up. I haven’t had cereal in a while.”
“They don’t have cereal in the big city?”
“Not in the places I shop at.”
“Might want to be careful then,” Yan said as he combed the living room for the remote. “That organic diet of yours might have killed your resistance to our all-sugar cuisine.”
“I think I’ll live,” said Tim, joining Yan in his search.
Yan found the remote under one of the armchair cushions. They sat down, ate their cereal, and flipped through the channels.
“Is this the part where we have a heartfelt talk?” said Tim. “Hash out our differences?”
Yan shook his head. “Nah. That’s movie garbage.”
Tim nodded between mouthfuls of cereal.
“This is the part movies usually skip over,” said Yan. “Where everyone’s sad but it’s OK.”
“Not terribly exciting.”
Yan shook his head. “Nope.”
They skipped through more channels, occasionally staying on one for a while before moving on. The rain was still pouring outside, hammering at the windows with no sign of letting up, but the TV was drowning out most of the noise. The overcast sky didn’t let in any sunlight, but the light from the screen gave the living room a faint, lively glow. Later in the afternoon, Abigail came downstairs and sat in one of the armchairs. They skipped channels together until the end of the day. Occasionally, someone would even laugh.
The next day Yan, Tim, and Abigail visited dad’s tombstone. It was a windy day and still overcast, but the rain had stopped. The drive to the graveyard was difficult because the roads were still wet, and every now and then Yan’s car would slip on a slick street or get caught up in a muddy ditch somewhere, but they made it out every time.
The group didn’t say much. Yan and Abigail left Tim alone to talk to his father, and then they stood over his tombstone together.
“I’m never sure what to say in situations like this,” said Tim, looking down at his father’s resting place.
“They haven’t covered this in ‘Seize the Day 101’?” said Yan.
“Nah, I slept through that chapter.” Tim smiled.
Yan smiled too.
“You kids are too much,” said Abigail, shaking her head.
“Did you guys ever consider that I don’t come back here often because it’s always raining when I do?” said Tim. “Look around. It’s April, and it’s been pouring.”
“That’s not a coincidence,” said Yan. “That’s just Benchshire politely asking you to leave.”
“That’s asking politely?” said Tim. “Shit.”
“Or!” said Abigail. “Maybe Benchshire’s just happy to see you.”
“So she gets all wet?” said Tim, sharing a look with Yan.
“Oh, hush,” said Abigail, prodding Tim’s shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“Sure,” said Tim. “I know what you mean.” He looked back at Yan again, who was looking down at the tombstone. “Well, if that’s what gets Benchshire off—”
“Timothy!” Abigail said.
“—If that’s what gets Benchshire off,” Tim continued, “I guess I could stand to visit more often.”
Yan faked a gasp. “You mean not just on Christmas and New Year’s?”
“As long as I get the king’s treatment I deserve,” said Tim. “I suppose I could be more generous with my time.”
“Hear that, mom?” said Yan. “Such a gracious son you’ve raised. Let’s head home. I’d rather not get caught in another rainstorm.”
They returned to the car and drove back to town. While they were sitting at a red light, Yan got tired of the silence, thought of a song he might enjoy, and put it on. It was a sad song, but a good one, and the whole family nodded along.
The sky didn’t clear up for the rest of the day, but at least it was no longer raining.