In a valiant effort, Ernie blustered into one last grand final sentence, hoping it would bring some kind of closure to his eulogy.
"And when the loved ones you love leave you behind," he began, "and you don't know where they're going but they're not coming back and you don't know why and nobody tells you nothing -- and your heart is kind of breaking..."
Ernie and Dusty were too distracted to notice. And the entire congregation was too distracted to notice. But Swimming Pool's ears perked at this part of Ernie's eulogy.
She was hearing Ernie loud and clear. And everything Ernie said reminded her of her brother Rick.
It was all true. Rick was gone. And she didn't know where Rick was going. And nobody told her nothing. And her heart was kind of breaking. Despite herself, Swimming Pool let out a "peep."
"Eep!" It was more like that.
She caught herself gaping at the sound. As soon as the peep had popped out of her mouth, Swimming Pool clamped her hands down over her face. Swimming Pool was aghast. "Where did that come from?" she wondered. "Uh-oh. If I start to cry now, I'm never going to stop."
By then, of course, Betty was wailing. She was hysterical. She was inconsolable. With a dramatic sob, Betty lurched forward and cast off the arms of her supportive friends. She staggered toward the grave with outstretched arms.
Tony had made considerable headway on the hole -- but he was still digging in the gravesite. As Betty staggered in his direction, Tony paused to lean on his shovel and cast a questioning look at Ernie. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. "This can't be happening," he thought to himself.
"I miss my bunny!" Betty cried. "I miss my bunny!"
The congregation reacted with shrieks of alarm.
"Somebody grab her!"
Betty teetered on the edge of the hole that Tony had dug for the bunny's grave. Her arms flailed all over the place, like she was losing her balance and about to fall.
Dusty sounded the alarm. "Boss," he shouted. "We got a diver!"
"I miss Chester Playboy!" Betty blubbered with a headlong lunge toward the hole.
"She's going for the grave!" Dusty cried.
Ernie grabbed Betty's arm. Dusty grabbed her ankles. They pulled in opposite direction like it was a Betty tug-of-war.
In the confusion, Ernie automatically blustered through the last thought of his eulogy all over again. "And when the loved ones you love leave you behind!" he shouted.
Swimming Pool's lower lip trembled. Her eyes blinked rapidly, trying to hold back the tears.
"… And you don't know where they're going but they're not coming back," Ernie continued.
Swimming Pool's throat got scratchy and dry. She couldn't open her mouth for fear she would blubber.
"I'm losing it," she thought. "Here goes. I'm losing it."
Dusty sat on top of Betty to keep her from falling into the hole. Ernie hooked his shoulder in her armpit and tried to hoist her feet.
"… And you don't know why and nobody tells you nothing and your heart is kind of breaking..." Ernie shouted.
It was too much for Swimming Pool. She reached her arms out for Betty. Her mouth fell open and her head fell back and she let out the most heart-warming, heart-wrenching, heart-felt wail.
At first it was a wail that felt like it went on for a day. Then it was a wail that went on for a week.
Looking at the wail, you could almost see Swimming Pool's tonsils clanking inside her throat. It was a loud, long, insistent wail. And when it reached the end of its breath, and there was a moment's silence, it was the kind of wail that you expected to start up all over again. Because it was a wail that would go on and on. Many of the mourners later agreed they hadn't heard that kind of wailing since the first week home with their new baby brother.
It was a wail like the first time you touched a hot stove. A wail like the first time you reach for a flower only to get stung by a bee. A wail like the first time somebody took the training wheels off your bike. Or the first time you got spanked. Or the first time the ice cream landed facedown on the floor. It was a wail like the first time you got blamed and it wasn't your fault.
A wail full of trumpets and trombones and tubas. A wail like a parade. Because as it went on, it was the kind of wail that you heard yourself inside and had to join along. And many mourners did. The wailing started with a few and grew and grew -- until there were more than a dozen wails inside the one wail.
And when that happened, it became a wail like when you're swinging from a rope and the rope breaks. A wail to make your hair stand on end. A wail to rattle the windows and drive the cats outside. A wail that ran all the way upstairs, slide down the banister, caught its breath and ran all the way upstairs again.
Even tough old Tony blinked back tears and joined in. Because it had become that kind of wail. A wail that wraps around you and convinces you that you should be wailing too.
Once the wail ended -- because at some point, they always do -- all the kids were sniffing and catching their breath.
Nobody asked Swimming Pool, but if she'd had to admit it, she would have said that it even felt good to cry.
Every yellow tissue in Betty's box had found its way to some kid's nose -- and most of them were strewn across the grass. Betty tossed the empty tissue box aside with a sad little laugh. She grabbed Swimming Pool and hugged her about as close as a stinky aunt at a family reunion.
"Thanks, Swimming Pool," she enthused. "It's what Chester would have wanted."
Ernie and Dusty leapt into a victorious high-five and cried, "Yes!"
© 2003 Doug Cooney|
Last Updated 22 Apr 2011
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