The Wake

Sometimes – it all feels like a dream. You can never wake up. You can never sleep.

“It’s really not that big of a deal.”

“Then, why don’t you just drop it.”

“Why don’t YOU just stop being ridiculous.”

They both stared at each other – Beth’s eyes grew bigger as she turned her head sideways, giving Laura her best puppy dog plea. 

Laura looked away. She closed her eyes and Beth’s puppy dog face was replaced with the image of her dead grandmother. White fluffy curls floating on her head with thick black threads sewn through her eyelids…

“You really aren’t going to go inside?” 

“I can’t…” Laura looked up at the sun and back down at her feet. She felt sick, dizzy. She could normally just close her eyes, take some deep breaths, count to…


Laura decided it was her turn to pout and gave her best wimper. “I don’t want to go in just yet okay?”

Beth shook her head and stood up. “It’s kinda fucked up that you came all this way and won’t go in. Don’t you think?” Beth paced back and forth in silence for a moment before lighting a cigarette and sitting back down. She adjusted the cigarette box in her pocket and gave Laura a big grin. “It’s not like he’s gonna..” Beth paused, her eyes widened, grin still barred, “wake up and get’cha.” Still smiling, Beth quickly tickled Laura. It was such a brief moment, Beth’s fingers barely skimmed Laura’s sweater. 

Both girls were there to see Ben, who was hit by a drunk driver while out jogging. His wake would be over soon…

Ben’s smile flashed in Laura’s mind. The way his eyes wrinkled when he laughed. How it was kind of crooked, in a charming kind of way. The color of his skin, his hair…she thought of her father’s hair…how it always layed just right on his head, even when he was dead…Dammit. Tears blurred her vision as she looked to the sky once more. 

“I know this is hard for you, it’s hard for me too.” Beth said softly. She stopped speaking and gave Laura a quick pat on the back. She remained quiet, dipping them back into the safer serenity of silence. 

After a long while, Laura spoke again. “Have you ever seen a dead body before?”

“No….have you?”

Laura closed her eyes and stepped back in time. 

Memories quickly flashed through her mind. Memories of her grandmother, moments with her father….

 “When I was a little girl – I saw my grandmother’s body. And my dad passed away last year…I saw both of them…” Laura tried to swallow the big lump hardening in her throat. On the way down, the heaviness turned in a dizzying weightlessness in the pit of her stomach. 

Laura eyed Beth’s cigarette. She focused on the white paper, running from the burning cherry. Zeroing in on the smoke, she watched it dance in the air, floating up towards the fluffy white clouds like a dream. It looked like release and smelled like childhood. It smelled like her father. She could see him smoking in his chair with a book curled in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He and Beth shared the same brand of cigarette. Meekly, Laura reached out for the rolled tube of memories. “Do you mind if I take a puff?”

Beth looked down at the dwindling cigarette and pulled it up for another long drag before passing it to Laura. “You can have it.” she said, smoke billowing from her mouth. 

“Thanks,” Laura held the cigarette between her fingers for a moment. These things ‘ell kill ya  she heard her Dad say from beyond the grave. “Anyway….when my Grandma died,” Laura figited uncomfortably. “I remember walking into the parlor, not really knowing what to expect. It was bright and sunny outside, but inside the building, it was cold, dim, and uninviting. It felt like there were souls trapped that didn’t want us there. Like we were disturbing their bodies’ death preparation pit stop.” Another drag, “The room she was in wasn’t very large. The tile was a dark dijon yellow. The walls were a musky white. And on the far side of the windowless room was a steel table.” Laura swallowed more harshly and tugged at her blue sleeves, stretching them over her knuckles.  “My dad stood behind me as the attendant walked to the table without us. When he got to her body, he slowly pulled down the sheet and uncovered the gurney. Uncovering my Grandma.” Laura’s head felt dizzy and full of air.  Laura paused again, continuing the thought only in her head. I saw her lifeless skin, I saw her sewn up eyes…her perfectly curled white hair….

Memories of her grandmother’s lifelessness morphed into memories of her father’s corpse. His body was dead and displayed in the same funeral parlor, with the same mustard tile, the same dreary walls, the same steel gurneys. Laura remembered his face was devoid of the cherry cheerfulness that one lived his cheeks. She remembered her mother, long estranged from her parents’ marriage, crying and kissing his cold face, repeatingly apologizing for leaving and declaring love upon deaf ears. 

Beth looked at Laura and let her hand rest on Laura’s right shoulder. “Look – I don’t know what to say. I’m really sorry you had to see your dead grandmother. Your dead dad…Some people only pray they will get to see their loved ones, one more time after death. Consider yourself lucky.  Besides, Ben isn’t your grandma.” Beth looked at the cigarette in Laura’s hand – it was burned down to the filter now. She took it back and snuffed it out on the ground beneath her feet. Without looking at Laura she asked, “You good now, cause I’m heading in?”


“Going once, going twice…” Beth stood up and readjusted her pants. 


“Don’t be lame.”


“Am coming? Great, let’s go!” Beth held out her hands to pull Laura up. 

“Do you think Ben’s eyes will be missing?”


“Well not missing, sewn shut.” 

“Laura, what the fuck?”

“It’s nothing – I’m sorry. I just didn’t like seeing my grandmother’s face after she died….and I didn’t like seeing my father’s face after he died….They weren’t the same and now I have these memories of them…I am not sure I want to see Ben…” His smile flashed in her head once more. His canines were slightly pointy, cute, charming. Everything about him was attractive. Looking at him almost hurt. Or it used too…how would he look now, she wondered, presented in that box. “It would still hurt,” she whispered. 

“Okay – I get it – you’re anxious. But everything is going to be fine, you’ll see.” Beth pulled Laura in for a quick stiff hug and patted her on the back. 

“People live, people die – it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, how rich you are….death always comes for you…” Beth seemed to disappear for a moment, but popped back in as quickly as she left. “We just keep going til it is our turn. That’s why you can’t waste your life sitting outside the party, too afraid to go in.” Beth stood up and held her hand out again.

Laura took her hand and smiled politely, nodding as they walked together into the church for Ben’s service.