Daniel Sun Jr. sat in the front pew at St. Barnabas’ Anglican Church, wishing he had a cocktail and maybe a snack. The light from the church’s single stained glass window was starting to bother him, tickling his eyes like pollen. His funeral should have started half an hour ago.
He twisted his head to take a look at the faces of his mourners, spaced distantly throughout the pews, all of them more bored than grief-stricken. Carole’s face, framed by over-dyed hair. Milo’s face, shadowy under his stovepipe hat. Kunal’s face, slightly red in the heat. Mom’s face, slightly red with vodka. And Chet’s face, Chet’s ugly stupid beautiful face that Dan had never gotten to kiss.
“Is this a normal turnout?” he asked the angel next to him. “This is actually the first funeral I’ve been to.”
The Archangel Dennis shrugged the spiked shoulders of his leather jacket, chewed on the toothpick that peeked from his mouth. Dennis’ face, brown and roughly-hewn, was as emotionally expressive as a tree stump. Dennis was his social worker, and in the few weeks that Dan had known him, he had heard the angel speak maybe three sentences. This might have been because Dennis was a retiring type, gentle but firm, but it might also have been because Dennis’ voice caused 4.5 magnitude earthquakes.
Dennis was very different from his old social worker, Carole, and not just because he was an immortal celestial being. Carole sat two rows behind Dan, dabbing at her eye with a tissue. She wasn’t crying; she was fixing her mascara.
The priest, the thin-as-Bible-paper nonagenarian Father Slim, sniffled out of the vestry and assumed his place at the pulpit. His face was tortoise-like and pinched, obscured by the coke bottle glasses that would have gotten him shoved into lockers during divinity school. He had presided over two generations of Sun baptisms and confirmations, and frankly, thought Dan, he was probably the only priest who had been willing to do Dan The Lesser Sun’s funeral.
Father Slim raised a tremulous finger to beg silence, but the silence was already there. So he started. “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of – ” (he checked his papers) “ – Daniel Sun Jr.” To everyone’s relief, the good Padre breezed through an abridged funerary rites. Then he opened the floor for comment.
Carole, out of duty to agency policy, was the first to step up to the pulpit. She swayed in heels that were meant for a much younger, much more athletic woman.
“Dan was… ” Carole paused, scanning the library catalogue of her mind for an appropriate euphemism. “A creative young man. He could perhaps have been a great artist, or a television producer. Instead, he was -”
“A fuckup,” said Dan, cupping his hands around his mouth in case his voice could fly in from the spirit dimension.
Carole would have agreed with him, but she finished tactfully: “-taken from us too soon.” Kunal began to clap, realized that this was inappropriate, and covered it up with a series of coughs. Carole stumbled back to her seat and Milo took her place.
6’4”, neckbearded Milo was a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, a proud and ancient organization that had been established over an Olive Garden dinner in 1990. He wore full Lincoln regalia today, as he did on all formal occasions, and recited the Gettysburg address, as he did on all formal occasions.
“I haven’t talked to that guy since high school,” said Dan, leaning back in the pew.
“Dan was my best friend in high school,” said Milo, “And he was the only person who believed in me when I told him that Lincoln was my destiny.”
“I was drunk when he told me that.” Dan glanced over at Dennis, who was looking at his iPhone. “Actually, I was drunk for most of high school.” Dennis raised his eyebrows as if to say “I know.” Because he did know.
Next up was Kunal, who stood at the pulpit without speaking for three minutes.
Dan turned to Dennis with a half-smile. “Now, this guy was from my heroin support group.”
Kunal was trembling, his skin drum-taut, his eyes bulging like a rabbit’s.
“Not a great support group, to be honest.”
Kunal bleated, and Chet, ever-merciful, helped escort him back to his seat in the second pew.
Dan’s mom stood up, her eyes cold and dry from the booze.
“I will speak from here,” she said. “My son was dead to me before he died.”
And she sat down, straightening her Calvin Klein funeral ensemble over her bony knees. Dan’s hands were folded in his lap, tight. He said nothing.
To diffuse the situation, that flower of grace Chet bloomed from his seat and approached the pulpit. As Chet passed Dan’s pew, Dan caught a whiff of Chet’s fresh laundry smell, that light aftershave, and the shampoo he used on his dumb haircut. And for the first time, Daniel realized that being dead meant never holding Chet’s hand and never going to the beach with him and never ordering pizza while watching their favorite show on Netflix. He began to cry.
Chet’s face became tear-blurred, twinkling in that obnoxious stained glass light. His words were drowned as the church faded into darkness, and a 4.5 magnitude earthquake told Dan that it was time to go. Yes, forever.