The next morning I awoke to the sound of the telephone. “This is your 8am wakeup call as requested.”
“The fuck?” I muttered into the phone somewhat incoherently. I didn’t recall making such a request and would have much preferred to sleep all the way until minutes before the funeral. “I didn’t request…”
“Tracy from the night shift said you mentioned it to her so she programmed it into the call rotation.” The front desk attendant replied quickly, trying her best to seem soothing and understanding. “She said you had ….ummm…that you had somewhere to be today.”
I sighed and despite my true feelings, thanked her for the call. She immediately bubbled back with an overly enthusiastic “You’re welcome!!” Before hanging up the reviewer and dialing the next room.
I ran my hands up and down my face as if to rub away the sleepiness manually. Swinging my legs off the bed I curled my toes into balls as I tightened my hands into fists. It seemed like every knuckle of every digit cracked and for a brief moment it was sounding like I was cooking popcorn in the room. I rolled my head from side to side, then rounded my back and straightened it again. The day after a long drive is never kind to a body. So much sitting in one unmoving place just isn’t good for anyone. I resolved to stop and take stretch breaks next time on the way back. Squinting my eyes together a sudden urge to yawn captured my attention and I was compelled to vehemently groan as it escaped my mouth. Punctuating the end of my yawn came yet another ring of the phone. “Damn they really want to be thorough here.” I thought to myself as I picked up the receiver. “Yes?” I grunted into the phone.
“Yes?” I asked with increasing irritation.
“Oh good you’re up. Ok, get dressed and meet me downstairs, I’m gonna take you to breakfast!” came the giggly happy reply from Tracy the night clerk. She must have just pounded back another coffee because she was far too alert for my liking.
“Ummm….” I mumbled, “…why?” I tried to say with as little annoyance in my voice as possible.
“Oh..umm….you….uhhh…you said last night that you…..that you needed to talk some things out….I just…well….I thought…” she was falling over her words like a verbal Buster Keaton.
I paused for a moment, trying to recall the context of the exchange. I recalled what I had said but she extracted the incorrect message, “I meant I had to think things through, talk them out. I have a eulogy to write for a funeral I’m supposed to be at today.”
“Oh……uh…oh….” Tracy stammered, quite obviously disappointed. Apparently she enjoyed the late night conversation far more than I was aware of. It’s difficult when you meet new people. The subtleties and nuances of their inflection, mannerisms, and sarcasm can easily be lost and the message that was sent from one stranger to the other could quite easily be misconstrued. It made me wonder how ancient explorers were able to do it. How they were able to meet new undiscovered people with unknown customs, unknown languages, and somehow manage to make a meaningful dialogue. I suppose you would have to start simple. “This…this is a rock” I imagined one explorer saying, holding a stone in his hand as another individual from another tribe tried to understand and repeated, “raack”. Amazing. I wonder how many accidental breakfasts they were invited to before it was understood that one just wanted to sleep in. “I didn’t….I thought…oh….”
I couldn’t help but interject. The automatic civility imposed internally coming through, “I’d be happy to join you Tracy, I only just woke up though. Can you wait a little longer while I get ready?”
I could almost hear her enthusiastic nodding through the phone, “Sure sure! Ya….whatever!…I’ll be here. I’m in my regular street clothes now though so you may not recognize me.” she laughed uncomfortably and I allowed myself a sympathetic chuckle.
“See you in a bit then.”
“Ya…ya …ok ya…I’ll be here.” and she giggled again.
I hung up the phone and let out a sigh. “Well, no time like the present.” I heard myself say aloud. Then cringe in revulsion realizing who used that expression and where I patterned it from. I slipped into the shower, which as normal hotel showers are, had far too little water pressure. The hot water, however, was admirably scalding. After a short shower and a shave I was already feeling like a new man. Once I was done my hair and was dressed the sleep that was begging me to stay in bed for the rest of the morning had dissipated to a hushed murmur. I strode down the hall with a purposeful gate and chuckled at the numerous “Do Not Disturb” signs hanging on each door. This hotel had a small complimentary breakfast and from the looks of it, there would be very few that took advantage of it. I took the stairs down to the lobby instead of the elevator, convincing myself that it was the healthier more active option. Realistically though, going down stairs is just allowing gravity to perform its function, albeit under some control. I recalled a professor from university telling us, “Humans don’t walk. They fall and catch themselves with the other foot.” I understood what he was trying to say, but all the same, if I was falling down the stairs instead of walking down them, there would be a considerable difference to the toll it took on my body.
I reached the lobby eventually and noted Tracy sitting in a corner her eyes fixed to her phone. Her bright bottle bought blond hair was easily recognizable. She must have heard my approaching steps because she lowered the phone and turned to see me walking towards her. She flicked her hair back over her shoulder and stood. “Street clothes indeed.” I thought to myself as she adjusted the tight shirt that was straining against her impressive breasts. The skirt she had been wearing before was replaced by a pair of equally tight yoga pants and I had to take a moment to myself to regain my composure. Fixing a mask of indifference to my face I smiled at her nonchalantly then cursed myself as I accidently winked. She smiled back and raised her eyebrows looking at me from head to toe and back again, “Well now, don’t you clean up nicely.” she scoffed, “Kay, let’s roll I’m so fucking hungry!” she blurted.
We walked to my car side by side and from outward appearances people may have got the wrong impression about our status. Out of habit I opened the door for her, waited for her to find her seat then gently closed the door before walking around the car and entering it myself. These little gestures so often overlooked were ingrained into my brain. “Son when you’re with a woman you always open the door for them.” I heard my dad’s voice in my mind. “Doesn’t matter if it’s your mom, your grandma, your aunt or your girlfriend, you open the door for her.”
“Why?” I remember asking the curiosity abounding in my young developing brain.
“It’s just what you’re supposed to do…they may tell you otherwise. They might say that they can do it themselves with all this feminist mumbo jumbo but in truth they love it.” I remember him smiling and nodding to himself, wrapped up in old memories. “And always make her walk on the inside of the curb.”
“The inside of the curb?” I ask not entirely sure what my dad was talking about.
“Yes, so if there’s a puddle you can shield her from getting soaked by passing cars.” He turned to me and smiled, “We don’t wear armor anymore son, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be knights.”
It was the knights comment that etched these teachings into my mind. I was a kid and completely enthralled with knights, sword fighting, and rescuing maidens from dragons. I didn’t have much interest in the maiden or what we would do after I rescued her, but bring a knight was definitely what I wanted to do when I grew up.
“Where are we heading then?” I asked Tracy as she looked around the cabin of my car inspecting it for visible damage.
“Huh? Oh…ya….like there’s this little place over a little ways that way. The rest of the menu is shit but they have the best waffles you’ve ever eaten!” She closed her eyes and arched her back with the last words making them seem far more sexual than intended. Then immediately she straightened up, turned to me and asked “I thought you’d been in an accident? Why’s there no damage? Did you like….have to get all this fixed or is this some sort of replacement car thingy?”
I turned the key and the engine came to life. The radio blared loudly and I swiftly reached out to off some overly enthusiastic DJ that clearly had more caffeine in his system than I did. “The accident was quite tame,” I responded pulling the car out of its spot, “I landed in a snow filled ditch. It was the walking through the snow that nearly killed me.”
Tracy nodded thoughtfully. “Are you going to call her?” She blurted suddenly turning her head to me and whipping her hair in the process.
I stopped for a moment to let another vehicle pass. Not really sure what to say yet.
“The hot girl that saved your dumb ass.” She clarified, as if I wasn’t sure who she was asking about. She smirked at me and raised her eyebrow questioningly.
“I dunno.” I responded without thinking. I turned to her and shrugged, punctuating my indecision with the gesture.
“Are you going to drive back the same way?” Tracy continued. She seemed more interested in this than I would have expected. She looked straight ahead now, playing with her phone in her hand, turning it over and over before looking at me again waiting for my response.
“Dunno” I muttered. The answer disappointed her as much as it disappointed myself. This should be something you’re sure of. I should know this. I should know what I want. But yet even a year and a bit into my divorce I still felt the fears of being let down. What you and I had in that brief moment in the farmhouse was beautiful. The interaction, the conversation, the give and take. It felt like home should feel. It felt like I belonged. But it was such a unique situation. Was it merely a flash in the pan or could there be something more? Was I even ready? Would I ever know when I was? I drove in silence for the next few blocks before I saw out of the corner of my eye Tracy preparing for another question.
She tucked her long hair behind her ear and glanced over at me again, “Don’t you like her?” she asked quietly. I was beginning to feel like Tracy was asking for herself more than for you. Maybe she identified with you in some way I couldn’t quite see just yet.
“Yes.” I admitted, both to her as well as to myself, though I supposed that this answer was the most obvious one. There was a fascination with you that I had within me. As you told me of your experiences in Paris I felt as if I was there with you. Imperceptibly the tender tendrils of my existence were weaving themselves into yours. I did like you, very much. Perhaps that’s what was making me hesitate. Falling. It can be so terrifying or it can be exhilarating, depending on who packed your parachute.
“So…why not then?” Tracy asked, unsnapping her seatbelt and opening the door. I stepped out and met her on the other side.
As we walked towards the restaurant I muttered, “I dunno.” I repeated yet again, “I’m not sure if I’m ready.” I stopped and pulled the door open for her and let her walk ahead of me. I couldn’t help but give her another look over as she passed in front of me. She was a good looking girl, that much was certain, perhaps deeper than her vapid exterior had originally made me believe.
She turned to me and smiled, “You’re ready Zale. You know you are. That’s why you’re scared.” before turning back to the hostess, “Two please, for a booth.” The hostess nodded and looked over the table plan before jotting it down and picking up a couple of menus.
“This way please.” she said and Tracy and I followed in kind.
“You say you’re not sure. You say that you don’t know. That you’re not ready, but you know you’re ready. You know you’re sure and that’s what you’re afraid of.” she said to me after we were seated.
I furrowed my brow and scowled. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was being fearful. Afraid of what could be happening to me. Afraid of another potential failure. “Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from success.” I murmured.
“Huh?” Tracy reacted, not sure what I had said.
“Something my grandfather used to say.” I clarified, “Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from success.”
“Ooooooh I like that!” she said, clapping her hands together excitedly. “That should be like…on a poster or something.” Tracy giggled and looked back at the menu. “Sounds like your grandfather was a smart man.”
“He was.” I replied. Of course I was leaving out the part where he said this just before swinging a belt down at me. I pulled out a pen and a pad of paper I had snagged from the hotel room, jotting down the saying briefly.
“My grandfather’s eulogy.” I replied sullenly.
Mistaking my annoyance for grief she cocked her head to the side and with a pouty face said, “Ohhhhh I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I looked back at Tracy and willed myself into an emotional state. Nodding briefly as I attempted to act upset at the loss. “I have to write eulogy for him, and I haven’t been able to figure out what to say.” I admitted.
“It’ll come to you.” she said reassuringly, reaching across the table to grasp my forearm. “Just think of all the good things he did and it’ll come to you. I’m sure.” she repeated.
I nodded, and then looked at my menu finding the waffles and picking out which fruit I wanted mine to be smothered in. The rest of the breakfast was fairly pleasant. Tracy told me about her university plans, how she wanted to run her own business someday, how her boyfriend and her were on a break and she was ok with that before going on to complain about some girl she was sure he was cheating on her with. I reminded her that she was on a break, and that it’s not really cheating if you’re on a break. She smiled and gave me a look that suggested she was going to do something regrettable in retaliation for the apparent slight she had felt.
After breakfast I paid the bill and drove her home. She offered her condolences again and wished me luck with the eulogy. “I guess I’ll see you tonight at work?” she asked me as she was about to step out of the car.
“I suppose so, yes.”
“Good then.” she smiled again, “If you need to talk or whatever just give me a ring. There’ll be two of us on front desk tonight.”
“Sounds good Tracy, thanks for the company.” without thinking I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She smirked and blushed before stepping out of the car and walking up the walkway to her condo. As she reached the door she turned and waved before smiling widely and going inside.
I drove in silence back to the hotel to change into my suit for the funeral. After getting directions from the day shift front desk woman, I was back in my car and on the way to the church.
It truly was horrible. I felt like a stranger among family. I didn’t belong with these people. They were no more my kin than a rock would be. No one called me Zale. They only knew me as my birth name. The questions about my wife came. Whether or not she was pregnant yet. How I must have messed up the marriage because she was so perfect. People really should have a filter on their brain sometimes. I detested every moment. I couldn’t stand the people, the place, and definitely not the individual whose life we were supposed to be celebrating.
Eventually the time came where I was to speak. I said what everyone wanted to hear. What anyone would say when asked to speak at a funeral. The dead man in the wooden box is always wonderful. We find it easier to believe this than the truth. If I was to say how this man wronged me, how he hurt me, and how much I utterly despised him, it would be the truth but no one would listen. No the dead are immune to criticism at a funeral. They’re untouchable. So I say my words, the lies like stinging nettles in my mouth. I soldier on and spew forth a tall tale about his wondrous character. I would have killed him myself if I had the strength. But in the end, emphysema did it for me, and I could think of no better long suffering torturous hell then that which he suffered by his own cigarette stained hand.
“That was a great eulogy.” the pastor said as he came up to me, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “I can tell it came from the heart.” he said with the utmost confidence.
“You would think that a man of the cloth would be able to spot bullshit from a mile away.” I thought to myself as I nodded and feigned grief one last time.
His coffin was eased into the ground slowly. The small electric motors lowering it whirring as onlookers sniffled and pulled loved one’s closer. I vowed once more to never end up like him. I would never be such a callous cold closed off man. I would never belittle the people I loved. I would never hold them back from enjoying their life. As much as I hated him, the one thing he definitely taught me, is how not to act. I thought about you once more as I stood over his final resting place.
“Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from success.” I muttered to myself again.