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The cicadas chirped incessantly from above and around. They lurked in the depths of the thick green foliages that had lost their glint because of the maddeningly parching sun. In Kevin’s hands, Emily in the urn felt heavier than before the funeral.

Maybe it was his mind playing a trick on him, since a body in distress led to a mind in distress. Sparse gray strands of hair were glued to his scalp. The white shirt under his black suit jacket clung to his chest and back. And his boxers under the suit pants stuck to his rear. It was as if every particle making up his body or enveloping it for “protection” were eager to prove that it was there for him. Here for him. Trying to cheer him up by making its presence known, guide him through these difficult times, express its condolences—when the problems that this day presented could simply have been solved (or rather, could have never happened), had Emily been alive.

But she was dead.

So, for the last couple of hours or so, Kevin had been dizzied to the point of weakness by the nonsensical amount of perfume that people chose to wear to an occasion like this when they happened to “belong to the circle” to which Emily used to belong before she had committed the unthinkable crime of marrying someone “the likes of Kevin.”

These were quotes from a few fake-polite distant relatives who’d been whispering just outside the door, in the brightness, while Kevin had been standing just inside around the corner, in the shadow. They’d made it extremely clear that they found it highly distasteful that Kevin had chosen this church, so small, so neglected, for the funeral of their relative—or rather, a woman who used to be, by birth, their relative, until she abandoned that good fortune for some crazy fluffy intangible useless thing she used to call “love.”

These relatives had been the triggers that had compelled Kevin to storm out of the stuffy church into the equally stuffy outdoor heat. Them, and all the other guests reeking of perfume.

There’d been at least a hundred coming and going. Emily’s sister and brother had wanted to make sure that they make the most out of this last opportunity to redeem the reputation of their dead sister, thereby themselves: call as many ministers and Fortune 500s and celebrities as possible.

The problem was that about half of them hadn’t bothered to check the weather forecast (or to check in with their obviously absent common sense). If they had, they would have realized that applying four, five sprays of perfume on a hot summer day, of all days, when going to a church funeral, of all events, was a bad, bad decision. This, considering that the world was full of other people who didn’t check the weather forecast (and had an absentee common sense). Anyone with any logical reasoning ability would have concluded that the church was likely going to be full of people who didn’t listen to weather forecasters and didn’t even know how to miss their lacking common sense, therefore was going to be full of cheap perfume posing as expensive perfume, therefore one didn’t need to add to the disastrous heap of invisible junk that was the stuffy church air on an occasion like this.

But alas, there weren’t enough people with logical reasoning abilities in Emily’s old “circle.” Unlike what her relatives believed, such abilities had absolutely nothing to do with wealth.

So, what had happened? The church had been full of folks who’d slapped one layer of perfume over the other. The irony, of course, was that the more you slapped on, the more you experienced olfactory fatigue. Therefore, you thought you didn’t smell good enough and applied more of the “good” smell, until the “good” became sickeningly terrible.

Kevin sighed. That barely pushed the jelly-like thick air in front of his nostrils out of the way. At once, he felt like he was suffocating. Strange, how the inability to exhale with vigor mimicked the sensation of being unable to inhale properly. The feeling of helplessness had to be happening in his head. He was anticipating the improper inhale when he was performing the inadequate exhale.

Just like he was anticipating his improper life, going forward, at this inadequate funeral.

Oh yes, his life was going to be improper. He was sure of this, although in front of Emily’s relatives, he never would’ve admitted it. They were right. He was a failure, always had been. The only person who’d seemed to fail to notice that had been Emily. Now, with Emily gone, there was nothing left to protect him from that truth. All he had to look forward to was a lifetime of sleeping alone in the cold bed. A lifetime of eating dinner alone. A lifetime of no hand to hold.

And no funeral could be adequate for saying farewell to Emily. Maybe that was why he couldn’t stop thinking about himself, even though he didn’t want to. If the funeral had been anywhere close to somehow consoling him, he wouldn’t be thinking the following, thereby connecting all his previous thoughts about perfumes to himself:

With Emily, he was good.

Without Emily, he’d become sickeningly terrible.

His thoughts kept spinning. Over and over, the rumination continued. He didn’t want to. There had to be a silver lining—at which thought, he felt nauseous.

Silver linings belonged on clouds.

Clouds made him think of…

…one stupid helicopter pilot. He was supposed to be the expert, but clearly wasn’t, because he ignored the weather forecast and also his common sense on that fateful cloudy day about two weeks ago. That man was all it had taken to turn Kevin from good to terrible by allowing Emily to embark on that Most Exciting Part of the Tour Package That They Had Booked, Now That They Were Both Retired. If Kevin had boarded the helicopter with her, he would have been dead too. He wouldn’t have to experience all this.

This stuffy air.

The stupidity of “experts” who ignored weather forecasts.

The maddening shortage of common sense.

And the problem that was rooted in Kevin himself, therefore was too painful to ruminate about, therefore he tried to keep pushing out of his head but had been failing since his wife’s death:

His own inaction. His cowardice, which had ironically resulted from his inability to trust his fear.

No kidding. Fear, frequently, was the best manifestation of common sense. Use any subtler feeling, and the human was bound to ignore the danger signal. Fear was unlikely to be ignored.

Yet Kevin had managed to do just that, like the coward he was. Mainly, because that pilot had implied that Kevin was ball-less for fearing what he feared.

Bad weather? the pilot had said. This doesn’t even count as bad weather.

So, what had Kevin done? Pretended like he was incapable of fear. Implied that the pilot had totally misunderstood his nonchalant comment (“A bit too cloudy today, isn’t it?”) as an expression of an emotion. As if real men ever expressed emotions!

Emily’s father, when he was still alive, had made no attempts to hide the fact that he highly doubted Kevin’s real-manness. Kevin, the son of a groundskeeper, couldn’t ever have enough real-manness for his daughter, by definition. The fact that Kevin had grown up right on his grounds also hadn’t helped matters. The dead man had had plenty of proof of Kevin’s weakness along the lines of: at age three, the boy enjoyed crying way too much when he fell from the lawnmower. And to think that that son-of-the-groundskeeper (Emily’s father used to say this phrase as if it were one word) had lusted after his daughter since they were twelve…

Never mind that. That man had been dead for decades. And for the record, Kevin hadn’t lusted after Emily when they were twelve. He had merely, purely, simply adored her, and had never stopped since.

Not even now, in her death.

And before her death, since Kevin was a real man, he didn’t want to ruin the experience for her. He made up some excuse about a headache rather than admitting that he was too scared to fly and would prefer that his wife didn’t fly either. And Emily, who’d always been the brave one of the two—otherwise, she wouldn’t have married “the likes of Kevin”—cheerfully hopped on the helicopter. It flew off. She waved from the window, smiling. He waved back, with a slight frown, since he was supposed to have a headache. That was their last moment together.

In hindsight, Kevin admitted his foolishness. Saying that you feared nothing was tantamount to admitting you had no intelligence. Only cowards said that they had no fear. He should have dragged Emily off that helicopter. And when the stupid pilot protested, he should have shoved that idiot out of the way and fled with Emily.

Which, he hadn’t done. Emily was dead. He was alive.

They’d had to rummage for body parts in the wreckage. Worse, when they did find body parts, they’d had to separate them.

Does this arm belong to that dead lady? Well, this leg here clearly belongs to the pilot—you can tell by the amount of hair it has, although, this other whole area is burned off, so maybe it’s not so clear, after all…

Emily in the urn felt heavy. Really, a lot heavier than before the funeral. It made no sense. Maybe she was punishing him this way, in his head, and he deserved it. Despite being reduced to dust contained in a more or less tightly sealed urn, she had somehow absorbed the atmospheric humidity quite actively. Not a surprise. In life, she’d been ingenious. She’d transformed herself from the unofficial princess of this area to That Woman Who Went Crazy and Married That Nobody. So why shouldn’t she be creative in death, in the form of remains?

A whiff of cheap perfume reached Kevin’s nostrils, and once again, he was reminded of his location: just outside the church; to be more precise, in its back yard, between the building and the tombstones.

The cicadas hadn’t stopped chirping. The sun still blazed. The air was still basically immobile, except when it seemed to magically dance whenever someone wearing perfume was nearby.

Kevin clasped Emily closer and glared at the disturber.

“Excuse me,” he said, without having decided what he wanted to say next.

The person, who’d passed by Kevin to examine a particularly ancient-looking tombstone, looked up.

Kevin took a step back. That primal warning signal, that shiver of fear, took over him.

Why? If you asked, he wouldn’t be able to answer.

This was just a woman. Outlandish in her long silver dress and long silver hair, but just a woman in her twenties…

Or wasn’t she? Could it be that the silver hair was natural?

Kevin frowned. His presbyopia was getting worse by the day. And yet, can’t you just tell youth by its distinct litheness and carelessness? Whatever messed-up things you do to your body, the side effects haven’t fully manifested themselves yet. And no matter how many superfluous movements you commit, your muscles and bones don’t protest.

Waste is the luxury reserved for the young. It doesn’t matter if the thing that is young is a human or a civilization. Either the cells that come after or the people who come after are bound to suffer the consequences. But those that are here, now? They know nothing of repercussions.

The woman had to be young. Her silver hair glistened too healthily, even under the exhausting sun. Was this the trend among young people these days? Pretending to be old? Was it becoming cool to be old? Just the way at some point, people tried to convince themselves and others that being poor was cool?

As a man in his sixties, Kevin could confidently say: being old was no sin but it wasn’t so cool either. The idea that a young person—young as in, “had Emily and I ever had children, and they had had children, you’d be our grandchildren’s age” young—should pretend to be old was so uniquely offensive, he took a step forward in as clearly an indignant way as possible.

And yet…

His instincts hadn’t fooled him completely. Despite his aging eyes, he could see: the “young” woman’s serene face was wrapped in wrinkles.

Then he thought: What? “Wrapped in wrinkles”?

“I’m sorry,” he hurriedly said. “I mistook you for someone else. I must go…”

“Wait, Kevin,” the young woman said.

He froze. “…Do I know you?”

“Not yet, but that’s not too difficult to fix. Let me introduce myself.”

She approached, holding out a hand, apparently expecting him to shake it. But the closer she came, the clearer the wrinkles became—not on her face, but really wrapped around her face, as if the latest most-impossible-to-understand haute couture statement was facial wrinkle fabric.

Like the finest silk, the wrap swayed in the wind…

…no. Impossible. There was no breeze. The wrinkle silk was spontaneously swaying.

Actually, it wasn’t wrinkled at all, now that the woman came within handshaking distance. What was rippling over the woman’s face was the air itself—specially reserved for her and her only, so that she could stay perspiration-free and fluffy like a freshly-dried pillow on this most humid day.

Despite Kevin’s lack of response to her obvious desire to shake hands, she kept coming closer, way too close, until a handshake was clearly impossible—

—she gently pulled Emily from him.

“Hey!” he said.

“Just so we can meet,” the woman said.

To her, evidently, the urn wasn’t heavy; she basically held it with half her palm. This proved that Kevin had imagined the urn’s getting heavier.

Which was good. It meant that it was very likely that he was imagining the woman too.

A hallucination because of the heat and the perfume—that had to be what she was. There was no such thing as a chunk of rippling air following around a person, casting shadows that looked like wrinkles. Perhaps you could play such a visual trick through the elaborate manipulation of the environment, but surely you couldn’t manage to create near-intangible fabric.

Because, that was what he was noticing now: the intangibility of the silver dress the woman wore. When its end touched his shoes and the pants cuffs, it flowed through…

…drenching them.

Kevin gaped down at his own wet feet when the woman grabbed his hand and shook it.

“I am Silver Lining,” she said.

© 2022 Ithaka O.
All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.

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