The Funeral

Matthew Fairchild

I stared past Jimmy, looking around his office and towards the graveyard outside his window, waiting while he prepared the paperwork. Mom fiddled in her purse next to me.

Despite being one of the few funeral homes in Hollywood, Jimmy Kern’s office had no celebrity photos. On its plain, white walls were only a few black and white photos of Hollywood in the twenties and thirties. Two photos each hung equidistant on the left and right. Jimmy sat in front of a long window with venetian blinds that looked out onto the cemetery. Granite headstones lay scattered on the grass, in between them oak trees and the occasional marble mausoleum that varied in size.

“I’m sorry for your loss. Your son Ethan was such a kind soul. And still in his twenties. Heart attacks are always so unexpected,” Jimmy said, looking up from the papers on his desk.

“Thank you,” Mom said. I looked straight ahead, keeping my mind as empty as I could. This was not the time for an emotional outburst.

“How do you want to proceed?” Jimmy asked.

Mom tapped my leg, making me look at her. She was always more dressed up than me, in a black dress and matching jacket. The brooch on her jacket was black pearl and opal with a smattering of diamonds on silver: flashy and sad. She had left the hat with a veil in the car. It had been too much last time, she said, not directly referring to the hat. I had come in jeans and a dark navy collared shirt. The funeral was later. I could save true black for then.

“In a coffin, uncremated,” Mother said. “I was hoping to have an open casket.”

Jimmy made some notes. “Where would you like for Ethan to rest?”

Mom teared up, but her mascara held.

“To the right of Tim,” she said. “That way it’s middle son, then…”

Jimmy held out his hand. Mom took it along with a tissue from the box at the edge of the desk. She squeezed his hand, lightly blowing her nose.

“What day were you hoping to have the funeral?” Jimmy said as Mom let go of his hand, leaning back in her chair.

“A week from now, if possible.”

“Of course,” Jimmy said, nodding and writing more notes. “Would you like to see what coffins we have to offer?”

Mom nodded and stood up. We went back into the room to the left of the entryway. It was set up like a small warehouse of coffins, each with some unique design or extra padding to make each death feel special.

I walked in slowly. Entering the room was too familiar. A year before, my brother Ethan and I had stood on opposite sides of the room, silently looking at the padding for Tim’s coffin while Mom talked endlessly with Jimmy about which ones would be most comfortable or stylish because nothing was too expensive or garish for her child. The room was quieter now, Mom having taken Ethan’s role, silently checking padding, now that he was gone, too.

“Could Ethan have the same one as Tim?” she asked in a cracking whisper.

“I actually checked before you arrived, and they don’t make that one anymore. This one, though,” Jimmy said, taking a quick stride to a coffin at the end of the room, “is quite similar.”

It looked somewhat like the one in which they had laid our middle brother Tim. It was a blue casket with gold trim and ample white linen padding, but the blue felt like it was a shade or two darker, and the gold only ran along the edge where it opened, without any stripes along the top as well.

Mom paced around the room, looking over the other coffins. The rest were black, white, or silver with all sorts of other designs and ornamentation, but none like Tim’s.

“Are you sure there’s nothing closer?”

Jimmy shook his head.

“Ok. We’ll get it. Geoff, come look at this,” she said, motioning me over.

I stood next to the coffin, looking in at the detailed stitching on the pillows. The lines of white thread on white linen weaved and looped back onto one another, creating a flowing, flowery design above where his head would be.

“He’ll love it, looking up at you playing next to him, one last time. It’ll be beautiful.”

That had not yet been decided. Mom wanted me to play music at the funeral, like Ethan and I had done at Tim’s, but I didn’t want to. I took a step back from my mother and Jimmy.

After the meeting was over, Mom and I walked back out to the parking lot. Before I got in my car and left, she called me over to her Mercedes SUV. She held a batch of letters out to me.

“Here. I got a bunch of fan condolences for you. I know you like to forget you and your brothers had a band, but these people remember,” she said. “Mom doesn’t get any letters, but you do. Take them.”

I took the letters. They were a jumbled assortment of cards and letters, each sent to her new home. I had never made my address public after I moved out of LA.

“When do you want to meet to plan it?” she asked.

“Tomorrow work?”

“Sure. You know where to find me.”

Mom got into her car and put her head against the steering wheel, which I took as my cue to leave.