I didn't see Melanie. She was what, two? Certainly no more than three, and too young for a funeral.
But then so was Anita.
"Her birthday's in November," I'd told Elaine. "She's three years younger than me, three and a half. That makes her fifty-eight."
"God, that seems young."
"She had a heart attack. I thought men got heart attacks."
"So do women."
"She wasn't heavy, she didn't smoke. Although what the hell do I know about it? Maybe she weighed three hundred pounds and chewed cigars. I'm trying to remember the last time I saw her. I can't. I spoke to her on the phone when that lunatic Motley was on the loose, killing any woman he could find who was somehow connected to me. I told her she might be in danger and to get out of town for a while."
"She was pissed off. How dare I interfere in her life? I told her it wasn't by choice, but I have to say I could see her point. You divorce a guy and move on, you don't want to have to run and hide because he got himself on somebody's shit list."
"You must have talked to her since then."
"I did. I remember now, I called to congratulate her when Melanie was born. Wait a minute, that's wrong. I called, all right. But I got him instead, Thiele, and he said Anita had flown out to see the kid for herself."
"And you called Michael's house, and she answered the phone."
"That's right. I remember she kept telling me how beautiful Melanie was, as if she was telling herself as much as she was telling me. It bothered her when Michael and June got married."
"I didn't know that. Because she's Chinese?"
"Uh-huh. So Michael said. Because it would be difficult for them, coming from different cultures, di dah di dah di dah. That's how she put it, but I think all it was was she didn't want a Chinese daughter-in-law, or grandchildren with slanted eyes."
"But she got over it."
"Oh, sure. People do. And Anita was never mean-spirited, or particularly narrow-minded. It was just that she didn't know any Asians. Then her son married one and she got used to it."
"How do you feel, baby?"
"About June? I think she's the best thing that ever happened to Michael, with the possible exception of Melanie. But that's not what you mean."
"I'm not sure how I feel," I said. "Like I've lost something, but what? She hasn't been in my life for years."
"Maybe you've lost part of the past."
"Maybe. Whatever it is, I feel sad."
We were silent for a long moment, and then she asked me if I wanted another cup of coffee. I said I thought Monica got the last cup, and anyway I didn't figure I needed any more coffee.
"She died Saturday morning," I said. "The boys flew in Sunday. I don't know where Andy's living now. It was Denver last I heard, but that was a while ago. He doesn't stay anyplace for very long."
"Gathers no moss."
"They flew in yesterday," I said, "and called me tonight." I let that hang in the air, and then I said, "The funeral's tomorrow. Out in Syosset."
"You'll go, won't you?"
"I suppose so. Pick up a car from Avis and drive out. It's at two in the afternoon, so I'll miss the rush hour going out, and probably coming back, too." I looked down at my hands. "I can't say I'm looking forward to it."
"I think you should go, though."
"I don't think I've got much choice."
"Do you want me to come? Because I will if you want, and I won't feel hurt if you don't."
"I think maybe not," I said.
"Or I could keep you company and wait in the car, so you won't be parading Anita's replacement in front of all her friends. Or, as far as that goes, T J would be glad to keep you company."
"He could wear a chauffeur's cap," I said, "and I could ride in the back seat. No, I'll drive myself, I think, and keep myself company. I don't know that I'll mind the solitude. I'll probably have things to think about."
So I sat there in the last row and thought about things, and when the service ended I walked up the aisle and mumbled something to Graham Thiele, something about how sorry I was, and he mumbled something back, assuring me it was good of me to come. We could have phoned it in, both of us. Then I turned to Michael and Andy. They were both wearing suits and ties, of course, and they looked good dressed up like that, my two big handsome sons.
"I'm glad you could come," Michael said. "The service was okay, don't you think?"
"It seemed fine," I said.
"Are you going to ride out to the cemetery? I could see if there's room in the limo with us, or you could just join the parade, except they don't call it that. What's the word?"
"Cortege," Andy supplied.
"And afterward we're all going back to Graham's house. Uh, their house."
"I think I'll pass," I said. "On the house, and on the cemetery. I think I'd be out of place."
"Well, that's up to you," Michael said. "Strictly your call."
Andy said, "Whatever, we've got a job to do." He was pulling on a pair of black silk gloves. "We're pallbearers," he said. "It's hard to take it all in, you know?"
"They're going to close the casket. If you want to take a last look at Mom…"
I didn't much want to, but then I hadn't really wanted to come out to Syosset, either. There are things you just do, and the hell with what you want or don't want. I went over and looked at her and was immediately sorry I had. She looked dead, waxen, looked as though she had never been alive in the first place.
I turned away and blinked a few times but the image was still there. It would stay with me for a while, I knew, and then it would fade, and eventually I would remember the woman I used to know, the woman I'd married, the woman I'd fallen in love with once upon a time.
I looked for my sons and there they were, both wearing the black pallbearer's gloves now, both with expressions that were hard to read. "Maybe we could meet someplace afterward," I suggested. "It's what, two years since I last saw you, Mike? And I can't remember the last time I saw you, Andy."
"I can," he said, "because it's the last time I was in New York. Four years ago, and I met Elaine for the first time, and the three of us walked to a restaurant and had dinner."
"That's the one."
"Well, is there a place here in Syosset where we can meet? A coffee shop or something? After the cemetery, and after you've had a chance to see people back at the house."
They exchanged glances. Michael said, "Once we get back to the house, I think we have to stay there. There's a lot of people who'll be dropping in, and I think we'd be missed if we slipped out."
"Mom had a lot of friends," Andy said.
"Maybe between the cemetery and the house," I said. But they'd be riding in the limo, Michael said, and Andy said the limo'd bring them back here, that was the plan, and they'd get their own cars.
"So June can drive your car back," he said, "and I'll run you and me over to Hershey's."
"God, not the Hershey Bar," Michael said. To me he said, "It's a beer bar, it's all high school and college kids, it's crowded and noisy. You wouldn't like it. As far as that goes, I wouldn't like it."
"You used to," Andy said. "Before you turned into an old man. Anyway, it's an afternoon in the middle of the week. How rowdy do you think it's going to be?"
"Jesus, the Hershey Bar," Michael said.
"Well, pick someplace better, if you can think of one."
"I can't, and they're waiting for us, so I guess it's the Hershey Bar." He gave me quick directions and then the two of them let one of the mortuary staff guide them to their places on opposite sides of the now-sealed casket. Anita's brother, Phil, had the spot behind Andy, and there were three other men whom I didn't recognize.
I left them to their work.
I drove out to the cemetery after all. I hadn't planned on it, but somehow my car wound up queueing along with the others, and I sat there and followed the car in front of me. We had a police escort, so we didn't have to stop for traffic lights, and I told myself the cops out here had it easy, with nothing to do but take an occasional run out to the cemetery. But I knew better. They have crime on Long Island, and people selling drugs and other people using them, and men who batter their wives and abuse their children, and others who drive drunk and plow head-on into a school bus. They don't have Crips and Bloods and drive-by shootings yet, not that I've heard, but they probably won't have long to wait.
I stayed in my car at the cemetery while everybody else walked over to the graveside for the service. I could see them from where I was parked, and as soon as the service was over I started my engine and found my way out of there.
I hadn't paid close attention to the route to the cemetery- you don't when all you have to do is tag along after the car in front of you- and I took a few wrong turns on the way back, and a few more finding my way to the Hershey Bar. I parked and went in, expecting my sons would already be there, but the place was empty except for the bartender, a blue-jawed skinhead in a Metallica T-shirt, its sleeves rolled up to show health club muscles, and his sole customer, an old man in a cloth cap and a thrift-shop overcoat. The old fellow looked like he belonged on a bar stool at the Blarney Stone or the White Rose, but here he was at a college kids' bar in Syosset, drinking his beer out of a heavy glass mug.
There were college pennants on the rough wooden walls, and beer steins hanging from the exposed beams, and the bar and tabletops held bowls of miniature chocolate bars. Hershey bars, of course, in several varieties, along with foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses. It was consistent with the name of the joint, to be sure, but why would anyone want to nibble chocolate as an accompaniment to beer? I could think of several bars that used to set out complimentary bowls of peanuts in the shell, and I remembered the chickpeas at Max's Kansas City, but who'd want to pair a Dos Equis or a St. Pauli Girl with a Hershey's Kiss?
The bartender was looking at me, eyebrows raised, and I didn't want a beer or a chocolate bar. I wanted bourbon, better make it a double, straight up, and leave the bottle.
I patted my pockets as if I'd lost something- my wallet, my car keys, my cigarettes. "Be right back," I said, and got out of there and sat in my car. I turned the key so I could play the radio, and I found a station that featured what they called Classic Country, which Elaine would call a contradiction in terms. But they played Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Red Foley and Kitty Wells, and then Mike and Andy pulled in and got out of a gray Honda Accord. When they reached the entrance Mike said something, and Andy gave him a poke in the shoulder and held the door open, and the two of them disappeared inside.
I waited for the last notes of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Then I went in after them.
Mike ordered a Heineken's and I said I'd have a glass of Coke. The bartender asked if Pepsi would be all right, and I said it would be fine. Neither one was what I wanted, but I wasn't going to have what I wanted, and the fact was I didn't really want it anymore. The urge had been strong enough to get me the hell out of there, but wanting a drink is a world away from having one, and now the wanting had passed. A Coke would have been fine, and a Pepsi would be fine, and so would a glass of water, or nothing at all.