Jakob attends Cody's funeral
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The funeral was set for the upcoming Saturday at 130 pm. I decided to spend the week at Uncle Mickey's house, the final week of my school suspension. Mom had surprised me a couple of days ago, telling me that she was going to the States to visit her sisters in Kentucky. A cousin of hers was driving to St. Louis on a business trip and he offered to give her a ride. This seemed odd because mom always carefully planned her trips to Kentucky far prior to her departure date. Also, the Easter holiday, a time when mom and her sisters often visited each other, had passed several weeks ago. My first thought was that my parents had a really bad dust up and mom had either split for good or temporarily. Either way, I knew that there was no way in the furnaces of hell's half acre that I would spend a week alone with the old man. Uncle Mickey told me that he was unaware of the situation at home but I could read him like a book and the pages inside just didn't look kosher!
I did not visit Mrs. Jelinek like I promised. I just didn't have the heart to meet up with an elderly grandmother in the throes of unimaginable grief. Her neighbour Alice called me at the beginning of the week to give me the details of the funeral. Uncle Mickey decided to work the day shift that week so he could have time to hang out with me in the evenings. We caught a couple of movies downtown: "The Graduate" and "The Dirty Dozen." Although I'm sure the flicks were first rate, I was unable to concentrate much. We also caught a couple of sets at the Riverboat coffee house: Richie Havens, a coloured folk singer with a hint of blues and an usual style of guitar playing and the duo of Sonny Terry, a blues harp player and Brownie McGee, a guitarist. Their stage entrance was quite unique: Brownie, a lame guy, limping towards the stage with a blind Sonny, holding on to Brownie's shirt. I absolutely grooved on the music, but again, my efforts at trying to get Cody out of my head, even for an hour or two, was impossible. Uncle Mickey and I did a lot of talking, mostly about mortality. I thought about all the words we use to sidestep and sooth the dreaded word "death." Words like: "deceased," "passed away," "expired," "kicked the bucket" (this one to put a bit of humour into the mix), "croaked," and my favourite: "ride the pale horse" (wasn't that a movie?). Uncle Mickey, the forever Doubting Thomas, had no patience for the fanatic "religious nuts" who believed in the afterlife, fooling themselves silly because they couldn't face the horror of "nothingness" without the prospect of a "better place." But unlike the old man who believed in a "God" (although in a thoroughly negative way: that he was an evil deity who set out through trickery and cunning to destroy mankind, as witnessed by the Holocaust), Uncle Mickey, a man of sceptical persuasion, had no appetite to declare his allegiance to any kind of Supreme Being without first receiving a handwritten invitation to meet Him in person!
We also talked about my upcoming transfer to Collins High School. Aside from the unearthly distance to the school, I felt a terrible anxiety around meeting new students and teachers, but more honestly, I was bummed out at the reality of being put into a "special class." I mean, who wants to be called a "retard" or "dummy." Uncle Mickey was hip enough to know that I was not going to change my rebellious ways, but he gave me some hints on how to keep the truant officers off my ass. My uncle was a talker and an out of sight storyteller, but to his credit, he also listened. My old man? Fuck no, he was no talker and definitely never listened, at least to me. If he had stories to tell, I'm still waiting to hear them!
No, he was neither a talker nor a listener, but more of a serial fault--finding sniper, armed with stupid worn out cliches, blitzing me with his familiar bullshit: "Only hard work will get you places!"...."You made your own bed so lie in it!"...."You are shaming the good name of your family!"....Don't come to me when your bad behaviour bites you in the rear!"....and my favourite: "Cut your hair and put on some decent clothing or people will run after you in the streets!" What the holy fucksicle did the old man mean by that? Was he comparing me to Frankenstein, you know, like in the movie: a lunatic mob carrying lit torches, chasing ME down--the terrible monster who dresses like a freak? Was that supposed to motivate me? A pep talk to puff up my shitty self esteem? Wow! Is there any wonder that I was so goddamn fucked up?
Uncle Mickey told me that his brother was not always so closed off. Until the war, he was a happy, talkative boy who enjoyed practical jokes and had a catchy sense of humour, his much adored sisters being his main targets. He also was a fierce protector of Mickey, especially when the older Jew-baiting bullies acted up. But the war drastically changed him. While exiled in London, survivor guilt started to gnaw away at his soul, believing that if he wasn't so selfish, he and Mickey would not have overstayed their vacation at Uncle Issie's and rushed home in time to be with their family in Amsterdam before the the Nazi occupation of Holland. He always maintained that he would have, by hook or by crook, cajoled or bribed his way into collaring fake visas to a neutral country. For most of the war the brothers had no contact with their family. Letters were written, some returned by the German censors, but most were never responded to.
After the Allies liberated Holland and it was safe to travel, the brothers returned home to find their house ransacked and empty. Upon learning of their families murders in the Nazi death camps, Uncle Mickey told me that his brother took the news extremely hard, as was not unexpected. The boys found themselves unwelcome in their beloved city of birth--homeless orphans, still in their teens. Their Uncle Issie took them in under a British government refugee program. But Nathan never really recovered from the trauma. He became a cold embittered young man and adult, breaking rank with his religion (and all others), and to this day refusing to buy anything made in Germany or to have a conversation, never mind relationship, with anyone who had any kind of German connection. Uncle Mickey reckoned that he was better able to adjust to their tragic loss because he was younger than his brother.
Uncle Mickey came home early on the Wednesday evening before the funeral. He was in a good mood, having picked up some lucrative long distant fares. He brought home fish and chips from a local spot, the steam, smelling of malt vinegar, spouting from the slightly damp newspaper. Uncle Mickey, proudly declared with a self satisfied declaration that the food they were enjoyably devouring was invented by an East Londoner--a Jew no less! After our little feast we shared a joint.
Believe it or not, Uncle Mickey got his dope from an ex-cop turned dealer. Now how fucked up is that! His dealer worked the downtown area and had a reputation for selling good quality shit at fair prices--a refreshing change from all the rip-off artists hawking oregano and tea leaves, or worse, lacing the stuff with scary chemicals which caused bad trips and sometimes an Emergency Room visit. My uncle didn't want me doing a lot of weed, at least for another couple of years when I would turn eighteen. On special occasions though, he let me smoke a little, but only under his watchful eye.
On the Friday afternoon, mom called me from a pay phone at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Buffalo, New York. She gave me a brief lowdown on her exhausting day of travel: a short car ride by her brother-in-law to the airport in Cincinnati, followed by a flight to Pittsburgh, and then another connecting flight to Buffalo, where she now awaited a two hour bus ride back home. She could not repress her anger about the lack of direct flights to Toronto. Uncle Mickey laughed and sarcastically warned her that it's the sacrifice you make when you visit hillbillies in the back roads of Kentucky! Mom asked about everyone but tellingly, did not mention the old man.
We awoke early Saturday morning, the day of Cody's funeral. I took a shower while Uncle Mickey took a walk to to the local convenience store to pick up the morning paper and some cheap cigars. Before driving home, we had a quick breakfast at Fran's Diner. I had my usual: eggs over easy, bacon, and buttered toast; Uncle Mickey: a soft boiled egg, raisin bread, lightly toasted and buttered, with strong black coffee.
Turning on to my street, we saw the old man's truck backing out of the driveway, the once bright red sign: "Okker's TV Repair & Service," now fading with age. "Bloody hell," Uncle snickered: "Why doesn't the stubborn wanker get a new sign? It's not like the bloke doesn't have the money!" I rolled my eyes, aware that I myself was not exactly innocent of his pigheaded nature. The old man worked half a shift on Saturdays, usually spending the rest of the day during the colder months playing indoor soccer at the YMCA. He would get up early to listen to the English Football League matches on his shortwave radio. When he left for work, mom and me could usually tell how his beloved West Ham United team had fared by his mood. It was near the end of the season and his beloved "Hammers" were stuck way down in the league standings. Making matters worse, his hated Manchester teams were sitting in first and second place. Needless to say we did not witness a whole lot of cheerful driveway departures!
Mom was getting dressed when we got inside. Uncle Mickey, an enthusiastic cook, at least whenever he had the itch, scrambled up some eggs, placed two slices of Wonder Bread in the toaster and prepared coffee in the percolator, reckoning that his sister-in-law, probably thoroughly exhausted from her travels, would appreciate a ready made breakfast. I went down to my subterranean bedroom in the finished basement and put "Dylan's Greatest Hits" album onto the record player's worn turntable. The first tune started playing, the lyrics strangely aligned with the events of the past weeks:
The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns
Blow into my face with scorn, but it’s
Not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you
I opened my clothes closet, hoping there was something within its meagre offerings--threads that would be cool but also appropriate to wear to a funeral. I hadn't worn a suit since the last wedding I attended two years ago. I figured my light blue dress
shirt would go with the pair of dark denim Wranglers. I thought that my pea jacket would be a bit too casual. Unable to find anything reasonable, I plucked out the fake black leather bomber jacket hiding meekly in the far side of the closet, the forgotten victim of abandonment, a thirteenth birthday present from mom. It reminded me that I never had a bar mitzvah, although technically I was not even Jewish. The old man told me it was my choice but I would have to find the bread to pay for the celebrations because he had no belief in the custom. Uncle Mickey offered the money but I had no desire to go through all the preparations: learning Hebrew so I could read from the Torah, deciding who to invite, getting fit for a monkey suit, and all the rest. It's funny because I wasn't baptized either--mom never insisted and of course the old man would've gone ape shit. It mattered jack squat to me--like the old man, I had no formal bond with any religion, although I definitely didn't have his totally fucked up Wizard of Oz notion of God.
I recalled the first day of class at Northwood when I took home the usual stupid forms to have signed by my parents, including the sneaky questionnaire asking for my religious affiliation. It created quite a stir at home: mom said I should write down "not yet decided" but the old man insisted on "godless." I broke rank and wrote down my own label: "follower of my own spiritual guidance." Really though, it was none of their fucking business what my personal beliefs were. A few days later my mom received a call from the principal's secretary advising her that my answer did not fit the "benchmark for valid religions." What the fuck! Are they serious? A list of "VALID religions! Who decides what a "valid religion" is? Needless to say, when Uncle Mickey found out, he had a full-blown conniption. Minutes later, he called the principal, threatening him, the school, the school board, and the city, with legal action for denying his nephew "religious freedom." The next day a superintendent at the school board called mom and told her they would still not accept my description of religious belief but instead, would leave the question of religion blank. It appeased my folks and though my uncle was still pissed, I convinced him to let it go. I figured that I was in deep enough shit as it was. No use in leaving Northwood with more bad feelings, particularly when I was just a hare's breath away from being sent to juvie.
Downer! The jacket still fit, a depressing reminder that I still hadn't grown all that much in almost three years. Uncle Mickey insured me that my greatly anticipated growth spurt would come soon. He told me that I had good "vertical" genes, seeing as my old man was over six feet and mom was taller than average. Still, I had this continuous nightmare of getting to my new school and having to watch all the taller girls literally looking down on me. I chose my dark brown zip-up Beatle boots with the Cuban heels. They needed a good polish but would do.
The funeral service was held at the Green Valley Cemetery and Mausoleum, located just a short distance from Cody's apartment. It occupied a large swath of land between a fire station and small strip plaza. I had passed by there many times at lunch break and after school, on my way to the convenience store in the plaza. From the cemetery's entrance, if you looked towards the south, you could make out the top of the goal post on the east side of the school's football stadium. On occasion I would ride my bike along the cemetery's main paved road, gazing at the different shaped monuments, unaware that one day I would be visiting again, only this time on foot and for a very different and sad occasion.
I walked to the entrance, stopping momentarily to allow a small procession of cars to make their way into the cemetery. They must have been the slower stragglers separated from the main group. A man of indeterminate age was standing at the edge of the wide open black iron gate. He was wearing a dark wide-brimmed fedora sitting well below his forehead, reminding me of a gangster in one of those old 40's movie. Oddly, even with rain threatening through thick clouds, he was sporting a pair of dark shades. He asked me which service I was attending and offered me a choice of two directions for finding the site: the easier but longer route involved following the main road to a hilltop cul-de-sac; the other choice, was much quicker but more physically demanding. I noticed that as he talked he did not move his head, but rather, seemed to stare straight ahead. But a glance at a white cane leaning against the open gate explained it all--the cat was blind! I thanked him, deciding to take the quicker route and walked along the side of the paved road until I came to a narrow footpath. I heard a voice behind me calling out: "Young man, take caution on the footpath. It's really slippery!" It was the blind man. How weird--a guy who couldn't see warning ME to be careful!
He was right! The footpath was narrow and couched between the naked branches of thick winter-scathed underbrush. The footing was challenging, especially in the muddy spots that were hidden by scattered leaves and greasy, partially exposed rocks. I came to a clearing which revealed a steep stone-floored staircase with a single wooden railing to the side. I did a double-step up the incline, reaching the crown of the hill out of breath. To my left, a short distance away, a long black hearse was parked against the paved road's shoulder, several more cars behind it. To my right, a fair distance away, I saw a group of mourners gathered in a semicircle beneath the naked canopy of a large still naked willow tree. A man was standing erect in the centre of the group just a few feet in front of them.
I reached the edge of the group and stood aside an elderly gentleman leaning on a strange shaped wooden cane in the undulating shape of a snake with a dragon's head. The man at the centre was the minister, dressed in a dark knee length woollen overcoat, his white clerical collar in sharp contrast with his dark clothing. In front of him, Cody's nana was hunched over in her wheelchair, an elderly woman with white hair straddling the grieving grandmother's trembling shoulders with her arms. I noticed that Mrs. Jelinek was holding something that looked like a flower.
Although there were intermittent scatterings of modest looking grave stones, most of the grounds in the area was empty. A few monuments surrounded Cody's grave. Some were close enough to read . I noticed a pink granite double headstone. I could just barely make out a few lines of the epitaph:
ROMAN JELINEK~~October 23, 1897-July 11, 1959
A loving husband, father, grandfather.........
It must be Cody's nana's husband--her grandfather, I thought. And the empty space beside it was obviously reserved for his wife. I thought it kind of morbid if I was Mrs. Jelinek--gazing at the tombstone reserved for herself--gazing at death itself!
The minister, a bible raised to chest level, began to speak with a low solemn voice:
We have gathered here to praise God and to witness to our faith as we celebrate the life of Cody Jelinek. We come together in grief, acknowledging human loss. May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort, in sorrow hope, in death resurrection...
I figured there were a couple of dozen mourners. Most were dressed in solemn black. Some of the women were wearing dark sunglasses. A few had on black pill box type hats with mesh veils. I tried to see if there was anyone I knew. On the far side from where I stood I spotted Mrs. Gardiner, Cody's art teacher, holding the hand of a partially hidden man--most likely her husband. I recognized no one else except for Alice, Cody's neighbour who was standing alongside Mrs. Jelinek.
.......The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake......
There was the sudden sound of something rustling behind me. I turned around tentatively while the minister continued his sermon. Holy fucking shit! It was two of the boys' basketball team's cheerleaders. They stood a few yards from me behind the main group. Both were the most nasty of poor Cody's bullies, even worse than the jocks who at least weren't catty and all gossipy. They were wearing their stupid green and yellow athletic jackets with the pukey looking stylized red "NHS" emblazoned on the upper left corner. The taller one, Helen Stafford, had a boyish figure, long and lean with narrow hips and a flat chest. It was no secret that the bitch was balling the star of the team--a hot shot senior. Physically, her money maker was the fetching anatomy above her neck, highlighted by long shiny cinnamon hair flowing down to her narrow shoulders, unimpeded by any imperfections. I wondered if she was one of those vain chicks who straightened their hair with a steam iron--all the rage. Her physical portfolio included a peaches and cream zit-free complexion, high prominent cheek bones, searing green eyes, and a perfectly symmetrical up-turned nose, the type that Jewish girls dream of getting sculpted by a talented plastic surgeon for their sweet sixteen birthday. Yes, I admit the babe had a lovely punim, the kind that could launch a thousand ships, lasviously navigated by a thousand horny Northwood High School losers, eager to gain her favour. She did nothing for me though, especially when I thought about her cruel, ego-tripping nature. This was a girl with an ugly soul.
The other girl--now that was different story! The two broads were like Mutt and Jeff or Abbot and Costello. Her name was Jennifer Lewicki. She was much shorter than her friend with wide set hips greatly enhanced by a slim waist--kind of like the hour glass shaped movie actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield . But by far her most defining feature was her mind-blowing chest. She was burlesque-stripper stacked, a rack unrivalled anywhere, at least at Northwood. The boys called her "Jenny Jugs" and I'm sure the jealous girls at school had come up with their own slanderous labels. Her mousy hair was worn in a short bob cut with abbreviated bangs. A fleshy nose, with a slight crook at the bridge centred her plump freckled cheeks and large chestnut eyes. Her childlike face made her appear much younger than her actual age. She was one of those chicks who, into their teens, still held on to some of their childhood baby fat, making them appear neither slender or plump, but on the verge--maybe just a tempting plate of greasy French fries away from being viewed as "fat." Jenny was known as the school's "gossip queen." All the school's newscasts were filtered through her. Uncle Mickey had his favourite Yiddish word for her type: "yente!"
Jesus, how I remember those occasions in gym class when our loser class would arrive a bit early to find the cheerleaders wrapping up their rehearsals. We all stood against the far wall, hands behind our backs, our eyes drawn to the girls' short green and yellow striped skirts, gyrating in a variety of spirited movements, not unaware of teasing us with a revealing glance of their satiny white panties, while we drooled, obsessing carnally over the shadowed cleavage between their perfectly contoured butt cheeks. We tried to look all cool and collected but our hard-ons called us out. We were just a bunch of overstimulated horny goofs.
The minister turned and walked slowly towards the casket. He beckoned the group to join him near the grave. Although reluctant, we all moved closer. The white haired woman pushed Mrs. Jelinek closer. Then the minister cleared his throat and spoke with a solemn voice:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.
Wow! One of my favourite Byrd's tunes! The minister lowered his bible and beckoned forward four younger men who were standing with hands folded at the far end of the group. The simple pinewood casket, unadorned except for a small wreath of colourful flowers, lay on some kind of metal gurney with two thick leather looking straps running perpendicular at both ends. The four men arranged themselves, two at each end. I figured they were the pallbearers, probably funeral home employees, seeing as most of the mourners were old people. Two cemetery labourers, patiently standing aside the mound of freshly dug earth, their chins resting on their shovel handles, began to walk slowly towards the casket while the pallbearers grabbed the leather straps. The labourers removed the gurney, leaving the four men with the task of lowering Cody into her final resting place. As they lowered her, the minister once again held up his bible and spoke:
It is here that we separate ourselves from the body which once housed,
Here we commit the body back to the dust it came from.
Earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust.
The Spirit & Soul we leave with God who made & formed us.
May we that are alive and remain take it to heart.
For we know that this appointed time remains for each and everyone of us.
Let us here renew our commitment to the Lord who created us, died for us & called us into divine fellowship with him
And commit to do with all of our might what our hands find to do, while we are still in these earthly bodies.
And may our trust be in the Lord Jesus Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believes on me though he die yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
The Lord bless you and keep your hearts.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. AMEN
A few scatterings of "Amens" were heard amongst the group. Some crossed themselves. I made a silent prayer, hoping Cody was in a better place and promising never to relegate her memory to just an afterthought.
The white haired lady pushed the wheelchair closer to the grave. Cody's nana picked up a long-stemmed rose from her lap and with shaking hand, tossed the pink flower into the grave. Sobs broke out. I knew Cody loved roses. She told me it was her birth flower, reminding me that in just a few months she would have been turning sixteen, a milestone birthday for young people, especially girls. I realized that Cody would never have a sweet sixteen party; never graduate from high school; never fall madly in love; or have a chance to chase after her unfulfilled dreams.
I walked over to Mrs. Jelinek to pay my respects. She was wearing a black funeral shawl covering her head. I bent down and kissed both cheeks, in the style of my mother's people, and hugged her frail body. Between sobs, she thanked me for coming. The elderly lady in charge of the wheelchair introduced herself as Mrs. Jelinek's sister. Except for her rather stout frame, she looked remarkably like her sister. I wondered if they were twins. The minister came forward and introduced himself as Reverend Leclaire, the sisters' brother. I noticed he spoke with a slight French Canadian accent.
Mrs. Gardiner, smartly dressed in a knee length dark blue cashmere coat, walked up to me and gave me a hug. She introduced her husband: Gavin Gardiner. I was intrigued by this odd looking couple. Physically, they were from different planets--no universes! Mr. Gardiner was half a head shorter than his wife. He was delicately built with a most unusual head of hair, reminding me of white cotton candy, its frizzy texture interspersed with a few errant strands of defined curls, reminding me of an eccentric orchestra leader or some genius science guy like Alfred Einstein. He had narrow-set dark button-like eyes, a long sharp sloping nose, weak chin, and enormous ears, which together, gave him the look of a rat. My monkey mind: the nasty, cynical, and not to be disregarded as the hypocritical part of my head space, concluded that this cat had to have money--shit loads of it! Or less likely, he was hung like Northern Dancer. Maybe both! However my more charitable and soulful headspace convinced me that the comely Mrs. Gardiner was attracted to the many wonderful qualities possessed by her homely looking spouse: his immensely creative talents, gentle nature, sensitivity, one-of-a-kind sense of humour, generosity, and faithfulness ( my monkey mind laughing, speculating how a man of this description could ever hook a mistress!). Anyway, I could never downplay the man's rugged handshake. His grip was like a vice, just a pressure point away from being painful.
I noticed no one else that looked familiar so I turned towards the paved road, debating which route I would take to exit the cemetery. I heard a voice behind me. It was the minister who was jogging towards me, waving something. "Young man, I'm very sorry to bother you but I just remembered that I have something for you--its from Cody. My sister wanted me to bring it to you today--It's in my car. Would you like to wait for a few minutes while I say goodbye to the mourners?" I told him that I needed a walk to clear my head but I would wait near his car. He told me his car was behind the hearse--an avocado coloured GT Hawk Studebaker with a black vinyl top. "Avocado, I thought: What the fuck is that?" I honestly never saw one, whatever it is. Was it some kind of tree or exotic animal? A Latin dance?
I started walking toward the minister's car. I gazed at the headstones to the side of the paved roadside: the different shapes and colours, some with delicately engraved crosses, others displaying fallen trees and flowered vines. A tiny heart-shaped pinkish stone with a winged angel peeking out from the top caught my eye. I read the inscription. It was dedicated to a four year old girl: "Our loving angel....taken much too young." I pondered her fate. Was it a rare childhood disease? A hideous act of murder--maybe a botched ransom taking? A terrible car accident or drowning? Whatever, I thought of the unimaginable grief facing her parents and family.
I heard muffled voices behind me. I turned around to see the two cheerleaders skipping towards me arm-in-arm. The sight of the child's resting place temporarily took the edge off my growing anger. "You have a nerve to be here", I said. Helen laughed: "What's it to you dork face?" I turned to her, trying to keep my voice from trembling. "It was you and your disgusting clique that made poor Cody's life miserable. You hassled her and played cruel games on her and then a minute later turn around and ignored her. You treated her like a sack of shit and had the fuckin' nerve to show your faces here, acting all nicey-nicey! It's like a goddamn murderer attending her victim's funeral!" I pointed my shaking hand in their direction. "What kind of bloody human beings are you?"
The tall redhead walked up to me, close enough to get a strong whiff of tobacco on her breath. She placed both hands on her boyish hips, exaggerated the need to bend her head to accommodate my shorter stature, and spoke slowly, enunciating each word as if I was either deaf or stupid. "You... little... fuck, do you think you have the right to give us a lecture on morals? Get real jerk-off! Tell us who never showed up to class? Tell us who got busted for truancy? Tell us who got suspended?" I had to will myself from getting physical but I knew that if I ever hit this chick I would be a goner, my reputation shredded and more important, my masculinity questioned forever. It was a small sure-cut guarantee that the big mouthed yente standing beside her would show up to school on Monday morning broadcasting the delicious news of my impropriety like a town crier in the olden days.
Jenny kept staring at me, trying to get me to wig out. "Who the fuck are you looking at douche bag?" She raised her eyebrows and placed her index finger on the lower lip of her slightly opened mouth as if she suddenly discovered the meaning of life. "Well, well, look at our little Jew-boy here, Helen. It appears as if he's losing his cool! How sad! Maybe he should skip along home and let mommy calm him down and make him some gefilthy fish." No, Jenny, the skinny bozo corrected, his mother's Eyetalian--she'll make him a nice hot plate of pasta fazzooooo!"
To hell with my reputation! It was nothing to write home about anyway. I was preparing to grab a neck, either one would do, and squeeze until one of them begged for mercy. A hand touched my shoulder. I turned around. Mrs. Gardiner gently pulled me aside. "Don't let them bother you Jake", she said in a soft whisper. "They really don't mean any harm--they're being foolish--just schoolgirl drama." She looked over to the girls and spoke with a stern teacher's voice: "Girls, I think it best if you leave."
Helen shifted her posture, revealing an overly melodramatic indignant pose: arms folded, feet spread, and head shifted upwards ever so slightly--the drama queen at her best. "We have the right to be here just like anyone else. We're not on school property. You have no authority to tell us what to do." Jenny, looking rather uneasy, added with a shaking voice: "It's a free country, not like we're living in the USSR!" The teacher, clearly unruffled by their responses, smiled demurely. You're perfectly correct girls but your conduct has given me some pause. You both must be aware that I happen to know your parents quite well. Enough so, that I am contemplating giving them a call on Monday. So what's it going to be young ladies? The two cheerleaders, faces reddening, glared menacingly at me--a mute warning that no way in the depths of Hades was this close to the end of their vitriol. They turned around indignantly and raised an arm to give me the one-finger salute. Mr. Gardiner smiled. "Not a very happy lot are they! Things have certainly changed with this young generation. I'd get a taste of the rod if I ever spoke like that to my elders!"
Mrs. Gardiner placed her lovely hand on my shoulder. "So young man, I'm going to miss you. How do you feel about starting classes at your new school?" I lied, telling her I was looking forward to Monday. In truth, I was wallowing in anxiety, my sleep for the past week interrupted by thoughts of confronting new teachers and students, all with the agonizing knowledge that being placed in a "special class" was setting me up for a student life rife with bullying and avoidance. "Anyway, don't be a stranger Jake. Give me a call sometime and give me the scoop on how you're doing or better still, drop by if you're back in the area." Mr. Gardiner offered me a ride home but I told him I was on my way to shoot pool at Finch Hill. We said our goodbyes and I continued to walk along the paved road towards the minister's car.
Almost everything about his car was totally rad: a sleek sports car, low to the ground with dual exhaust. Except for its colour. "What weird shit is this!", I thought. It looked like a load of upchuck from a night of hard drinking! You'd think an artist like Mr. Gardiner would have displayed some sense of aesthetic taste, or at least his wife who taught art. "What a waste!", I thought. It was like a drop-dead gorgeous chick showing up at a swinging party wearing a frumpy muumuu. I actually felt embarrassed standing alongside the sad looking vehicle. I walked a little way past the car, pretending to gaze at a row of headstones.
The minister arrived, car keys in hand, apologizing for making me wait. He opened the driver's door and retrieved a letter-sized manilla envelope. "When I went to fetch Cody's personal belongings at Queen Street a few days ago, I found this among her clothing. It's addressed to you." He handed me the envelope. In wobbly handwriting were the words: "To: Jake O........ From: Cody J." "My sister wanted you to have this. She said she hopes it will give you some sense of comfort." He turned his head skyward. "May our sweet Cody rest in peace." "Amen!", I replied. "One more thing I want to tell you", he added. "As you know, Cody was a great assistance to her grandmother. But now that she's gone, my sister would not be served well to live alone. I have a comfortable ranch style home in Hull, just across the river from Ottawa. There is plenty of room--it's only me and her twin sister, so I hope we can convince her to come live with us. We'll be staying in a Toronto for a couple of weeks so I hope you'll pay us a visit. I know that Edith would be very appreciative. I told the minister that I would do my best, shook his hand and made my exit, returning along the same route as I came.
Before I descended the stairway, I looked back at the grave site. The two cemetery workers were scooping up the last dregs of earth and tossing it into Cody's final resting place. The minister's sermon burned in my ears:
Earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust.
The blind man was no longer standing at the cemetery gates. I wondered where he lived, how he got home, and what kind of assistance he needed. Did he have a wife or girlfriend or children? If there was a woman in his life, how did he initially judge her? I mean isn't chemistry important when choosing a mate? Was it simply by touch or was the scent of her body or sweetness in her voice enough to turn him on? And how did he lose his sight? Was it a slow descent into darkness or sudden lights out? Still, I contemplated, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing being sightless, never having to endure all the disgusting looks from people eager to shit on your parade.