- Bury Me
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[End Page 50]
Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!Beware the awful avalanche!—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It was the strangest funeral I’d ever attended. Sun-soaked— on the old farm field behind Sally’s house—the bereaved dressed in a rainbow of colors, the air sugared with cotton candy and the pangs of a string quartet. A downy white pony for children to ride. [End Page 51]
Sally saw me and came sailing across the lawn, a loose yellow dress lashed to her body.
“My mother’s,” she said, hiking the dress past her knees, as if she were a little girl crossing a mud puddle. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She gave me a wet, splintering smile. “I almost thought you weren’t coming.”
But already she was gone, engulfed by relatives, all of them echoes of her: lithe Nordic bodies, white-blond hair, long noses. Polished people who looked like they’d be cold to touch.
I had not wanted to come. It had been three months since I’d so much as grabbed coffee with Sally, and in those months I’d finally felt able to think straight. “It’s my work,” I’d told her, in the phone calls I answered. “I’m unbelievably busy.” I said this despite living less than two hours away. Despite the fact that her mother was dying—for real this time, no more chance of remission—and that her father had been dead for eight years. I deliberately took on extra hours, extra projects, anything to stay longer in the white light of the lab, among whirring fans, trays of bladderwort and daffodils standing erect, in the place where I believed myself happy.
Notes 5/12 — Characteristics
Native to New England, Pinus Strobus is also known as White Pine, Soft Pine and Weymouth Pine. The evergreen tree takes a conical shape. Fast growing, given the proper climate.
“Madeline,” called a voice, and I peered out toward the other funeral attendees, like bright dashes of paint dotting the lawn. No sign of Sally. No sign that the voice belonged to anyone. A caterer lunged at me with a tray of little marzipan animals: zebras, penguins, a slumping chimpanzee. I felt dizzy.
I turned to find Lou Crane, one of Sally’s ex-boyfriends (always Lou Crane, never Lou. “Like Charlie Parker,” he used to tell people). He’d gotten paunchy since college but still had the same foxy, glittering eyes. He beckoned from a half circle of young men, some of whom looked familiar. More of Sally’s ex-boyfriends, I realized.
It surprised me, seeing them, though it shouldn’t have. Sally had the uncanny ability to stay close after breakups. The boyfriends waved, a few [End Page 52] hugged me—they all seemed to be getting along quite well—unaware, evidently, of their own oddity: a series of successive upgrades, each in turn abandoned.
“So,” said Lou Crane, as he and the other boyfriends dismantled a tray of blue cheese canapés, “I got us some stuff for tonight.” He exaggerated the word stuff.
“Tonight?” I echoed.
“We’re having a party.”
In college, Lou Crane had called himself a musician—played saxophone and wore his hair long—but even then you could detect a harshness, a bulldoggedness, beneath the smell of hash. How fitting that he’d since started working in finance.
“For Sally,” he added, drawing close and raising his eyebrows, “to take her mind off things.”
Despite the circumstances, I had enjoyed seeing Lou Crane—enjoyed jostling shoulders with my past—but now I wanted to shut that past out. I wanted to return to my clear-eyed life: the 6:00 am jogs, the hissing cappuccino maker, a newspaper so fresh it smudged my palms black.
“Can’t stay,” I said, trying to sound disappointed. “Got to get back—work.”
Lou Crane gave me a come on look, the other boyfriends following his gaze, as if it were a road leading from him to me. “Maddy,” he said, like he owned the name. He looked at me...