My father's hands were like dead frogs. I stood in front of the mahogany casket we couldn't afford and felt the breath in my lungs like the fluttering of wings. I stood for several seconds. He looked out of place in a dark grey suit. Like someone had dressed him up for Halloween as the 'corpse prom date'. I tried to dredge some feeling of remorse or sadness from the hurricane of emotions in my brain. I tried to focus on one thought. It was like Bob Barker spinning the big wheel. When it came to rest, it came to rest on this:
I was ten years old. The stream we were standing by was small. Impossible that there could be fish in so little water, but there were and we knew it. We squatted, our toes squelching into the mud, forming tiny lakes where our feet floated like pale canoes. Like dead fish. They rocked on their white bellies and kept us from falling over. You have to be quiet, he said. Very quiet. I held my breath. It was summer. Morning. You could feel the heat in the air. It was like a stern glance, a warning of what was to come. I don't remember anything about the rest of the morning. I recall no fish. What I remember is the subtle play of the sunlight on the ripples. A fallen tree branch. Sky that was one color when you looked at it and another when you turned away. I remember feeling that something important was happening. The whole trip had been so sudden. We had never gone anywhere without Mom. She was angry and didn't want to come.
An old lady behind me cleared her throat and I stepped forward. I saw a smudge on his shoe and wanted to rub it off, but didn't. It was the only part of the whole thing that had any legitimacy. It was more real than the dark suit. More real than the pews of relatives I didn't even know. People I had never seen without a plate of cole slaw and fried fish in their hands. My brother and I had made a bet about whether or not Mom would show up. I was glad to see that I had won. She would have hated it.