“He loved you. You know that right?” I ask Ryan.
“Of course. He’s my brother. He was family.” He answers. I hold his hand. They are cold from the soil. Ryan looks like he has not slept for days, if not weeks. His expensive looking-tuxedo cannot hide the pain in his face, which he has kept unshaved for days now, I presume. His sleeves are stained form the soil, and some of it get on my fingers. I brush it off behind my dress.
“You still are, Ryan. You can come home whenever you want.” I say. His eyes widen, and he looks at me like a deer in headlights. It was the same look he used to give me when I would invite him over after having wine with his mother on late afternoons. It was as if I gave him a sliver of hope he had not felt since Anthony died. But he is sucked back into reality. If he did come over, Anthony won’t be there.
It’s just me now.
“Thank you, Ms. H. I promise to visit soon.” He says, forcing a smile.
“How long will you be here?”
“As long as I need to be.”
“He wouldn’t want that. You know that. Go home and get some sleep Ryan. You look tired.”
For a moment, he stares at me coldly. I can feel the ice in his frozen heart. Under his breath, he mutters “no”, before turning around to kneel in front of his best friend’s grave.
“If you want, you can come home with me. Take anything you’d like in his room. It’s all yours if you want.” I offer him. No answer.
“You can sleep there tonight if you want, Ryan. Please. Keep this old woman company.” Still no response. I don’t want Ryan to suffer in the cold. The sun will be setting soon.
“Please,” I beg, “I already lost a son. I don’t want to lose another. Take care of yourself.”
For a moment, it looked like he was going to look back at me. His head moves slightly. But he does not say anything.
I give up. He’s a grown man. He can take care of himself. We all mourn in a different way.
From the car, I can see Ryan slouching over the gravestone, his back jerking up and down. He was crying. This is the first time I’ve seen Ryan cry.
As I drive home, I see the town my son grew up in. There was the ice cream shop where I took him as a kid. Whenever he had an A or anything, I promised him ice cream. This was enough motivation for the little boy I raised. He asked for ice cream every time he came home from college. There was the diner where I picked him up after his junior high dance. It was the same diner that he told me he was to be married to a co-worker he met in Africa. I remember him telling me about this girl; her auburn hair that shined under the harsh Saharan sun, her freckles that he found attractive, and the sense of humor he fell in love with. I knew my son found the right bride.
I did not meet Samantha until her fiancé’s funeral.
The silence in my car is broken by my phone. I shovel it out of my purse, expecting it to be Ryan, accepting my offer to stay in Anthony’s room for the night. But instead, I see my ex-husband’s name on the screen. I slide my finger, then pick up.
“Todd.” I say.
“Did everything go well?” He asks.
“You should have been there to see for yourself.” I say angrily. Without any warning, two pedestrians cross the street as I pass by. I slam my foot on the break, and the car jerks forward, forcing me to drop my phone on the ground.
“Fuck, hold on.” I say to Todd as I frantically look for my phone on the ground.
From outside my car, I can hear the pedestrian cursing me in Spanish. There was a child crying somewhere. I check to see if I hit anyone, but the child was crying because she dropped her ice cream on the street as they ran. Behind me were angry cars, honking for me to go. They swear at me as they drive around my car.
“What was that?” Todd asks frantically, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” I answer. The ear-piercing cry from outside makes me realize something.
I have not shed a single tear since my son died.
“I will be there later this week, I promise.” He says.
Anthony was dead. I knew it as soon as I saw the police at my front door, and I have accepted it since then. Everyone else is busy crying. I had to be strong. It’s what he would want me to do. As everyone poured their tears in front of his grave today, they ask me how I am doing, and why I don’t look sad. ‘How the fuck do you think I’m doing?’ I wanted to ask them. Anthony was my only son. I raised him by myself since he was four. My entire blood, sweat, and tears were dedicated to my son. For the last 34 years, he was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and the last to think about before I fall asleep. Has he eaten? Is he sick? Has he been getting enough sleep?
But I never have to worry again. Anthony’s thoughts will still wake me up. His voice will keep me awake at night. Now I mourn. The core of my entire life has been removed. What do I live for now?
“Diana?” Todd asks. I hang up.
I always lose my keys in my purse. Anthony always inserted my house keys in my car key ring, but I always took it out because it makes it too heavy. Every time I come home, he would run to the door to open it as soon as he hears my keys jingle from outside. I half expected the door to swing open and for him to say ‘I told you, mom. Keep your keys together, for Christ’s sake.’
But no one will ever open this door for me again. When I find my keys, I unlock my door, then attach them to my car key ring before hanging it on the wall.
There is a sound coming from upstairs. It sounds like a faint melody. As I walk up the stairs, the noise gets louder, then it disappears.
It’s coming from Anthony’s room.
I thought it would be his friend Ian who sleeps in his room once in a while. Whenever he comes over, he cleans around the house to say thank you for letting him stay. I notice that the living room is exceedingly tidy, and I assume Ian is in Anthony’s room. I climb up the stairs to check.
By habit, I knock on the door. I sigh to myself. Everything I do now will have no meaning. I will never prepare the table for two. I will never have to facetime Anthony the Walking Dead on Sunday nights from Africa. I will never habitually go into his room to see if he has any laundry every Thursday.
There are a million things I will never do again, and a million reasons for me to wonder why. Why was it him? He was the kindest soul on the planet. He never hurt anyone. He was a hero to all of us. He dedicated his entire life to fucking the world up by making a difference.
As I open the door, I feel a breeze from the window, and the sound comes back. Ian is not there.
Neither is Anthony.
Curiously, his window is open, and the breeze was passing through his flute. It was the stupid flute. I remember nights when I couldn’t sleep because he was practicing the fucking flute to ace his music test for some damn ice cream. The Lord knows how many times I fell asleep to Silent Night. Why is this fucking flute here, right now? He hasn’t, hadn’t played this damn instrument for years, has he? Why the fuck is the window open? How is it just fucking sitting there?
I walk to the damn thing and snap it in half.
I never have to hear it again. The fact is, I will never hear it again. I didn’t have to break it for that to happen. Anthony is dead. I will never have to miss work because of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I will never yell for him to put down the damn thing and go to bed. He was gone.
And so is this stupid flute.
Without realizing it, I finally shed some tears. I can feel the make-up run down my face as I break down on his bed, staining his untouched sheets. They still smell like him. Why did it have to by my Anthony? There is a whole world full of fucked up people out there. It had to be my son. I will never walk him down the aisle with Todd on his wedding. I will never get to hear the laugh of my first grandchild. I will never be there to comfort him if he fought with Samantha.
My phone buzzes from my pocket. I wipe my face on Anthony’s bed sheets, then check my phone. It’s Todd. He’s sent me a picture of Anthony as a kid in his lemonade stand. In the corner, I see Ryan’s foot, peeking to get in the picture. I wipe the tears down my face to read the caption he sent with the picture.
‘LIFE GAVE US LEMONS, AND WE MADE LEMONADE. I STILL LOVE U, MARTHA. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. T.’
Without thinking, I dial a number. The phone rings five times, then clicks. No answer. Straight to voicemail.
Just how I wanted.
“Hey there! It’s Anthony. I’m away right now, but I promise to call you back. I’m busy fighting the mosquito plague. I miss you, America,” the voicemail says to me.
But I’ll be home soon. Leave a message!”