I heard the breathy whispers behind me and I turned to face them, I was taken aback to be in a funeral parlor. I heard what they said. I could read their nasty minds. And maybe they were right and I was a cliche. You were, after all, a bastard, a goddamn son of a bitch. He never cared about her when she was alive, they mocked. They didn’t know how I felt about anything.
A man I didn’t know motioned for me to advance closer. He was something from a different time. A bygone era. I walked past the rows of people seated in the pews, people I knew, some strangers, and all of those I loved and admired and tried my best to shut out of my life. I walked by them all, shoeless and self conscious, with blood smeared on my face and feet, but at least I had teeth. I must have grown a new set like a shark.
The man showed me the woman in the casket but I didn’t recognize her. She didn’t look like a person that had recently expired, rather someone monumental from long ago, like a corpse from an ancient civilization. Some mummified woman exhumed from a puzzling sarcophagus wearing all forty pounds of Mr. T’s jewelry and hot pink high heels to teach us about the meaning of life. Life is about lessons and failing, and learning from our mistakes, which we almost never do.
How could that be Hattie? How could that be my mother? Unrecognizable except for the accessories. I saw her everywhere but not here. Every woman I passed in the street with sad eyes reminded me of her. They didn’t look like her and she didn’t look like them but I grabbed on to any sadness I could find in them to keep her alive in my memory. I knew I couldn’t handle this. And then there was the king of rock ‘n’ roll standing at the podium.
The stranger nudged me with his elbow. “Who are you?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about who I am. You’re too late. You fell right into your role. Now hand me the hammer, son.”
“Why is there an Elvis impersonator here?” I bent down, picked up the hammer by my feet and gave it to the man. “Doesn’t that seem a little inappropriate?”
“Pssh. Impersonator? That’s not fucking Val Kilmer. And about being appropriate. Who’s to say. She loved the King and he’s almost through and then you’re up.”
“Yeah, up. Say all the things you should have said when you had the chance.” The man guided me to the lectern, he thanked Mr. Presley, and raised his hands like a conductor. “The audience awaits you, Wilhelm. Don’t fuck this up like you do with everything else. No pressure.”
I looked back at the casket, it was white, weiss, and studded, matching the King’s jumpsuit. In front of the pews were eight chairs, all seated by Catherine of varying ages, from a small child to present. There was Catherine, little and crying in pajamas. And then there was Catherine in a black dress, looking how I left her earlier, upset and frustrated.
What if everything was all my fault? Everything?
I attempted to speak, to emit a sound, but when I opened my mouth, I hesitated. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what they wanted me to say. It was physically impossible for me to talk. I shut down so easily. There was a steady pulse of hammering noises. The strange man looked back at me, with nails dangling from his mouth, and falling into his hands, as he secured a charred heart and speckled lungs to the wall, with red string draped from it.
“I’m working here,” he said. “I call it, circulatory system. You know how hard it was for Hattie to get through each sorrowful day? What she required to get through life took a fatal toll on her physical form. Her rotting insides, which I have displayed, are a testament to deprivation and heartache. There are three distinct parts: the pulmonary, the coronary and the systemic. Yours are fine. Breathe. Take it all in. go on, Wilhelm. I am listening. We all are.”
“I am Wilhelm Flood. Hattie’s misbegotten son. Her fruitless son. Hattie was a wonderful woman. I wish I could have spoken to her but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Her heart was big and broken long before me, I couldn’t fix it, no one could. She was good, but how easily do we lose sight of the good in a person. We forget the good times under the heap of the bad times. I don’t know how to do this. I loved her but things got so bad, so ugly, and I allowed myself one vice to cope and that vice was hatred. I let hatred nip at my own heart until there was nothing left of it anymore. In the end it was a self defeating tactic but I couldn’t watch her destroy herself anymore. I wouldn’t talk to her. I couldn’t forgive her for the looks I’ve seen on Catherine’s face. I couldn’t forgive her for all the broken promises I knew were impossible to keep. Forgiveness is the last step, but really death is. So now I forgive her but what does it matter? I’m sorry for my role in making things worse. I understand Hattie now. I possess the same personality traits. I understand the torment of never being comfortable in your own skin and the overwhelming fear of being yourself. I get it, now. I was remote and hurtful, and understanding that doesn’t mean it was right. I apologize for being embarrassed of you, Hattie. I am a coward. You understand, Mom? I’ve written your eulogy everyday for years and yet here we are and I am unprepared. You thought everyone hated you but it was only me, and deep down, that was the biggest lie I ever told. I am a bastard. And I have let the world down, and I am sorry. I fear I’m incapable of being a good person. I love you. I have to go.”
“You always have to go. All you want is to leave us all behind,” said Catherine, all eight versions in unison. The strange man rushed Elvis back to the podium to sing, Are You Lonesome Tonight. The Floods were lonesome every night. It wasn’t ever a question. Their tears alone could wash away us all.
‘I’m sorry. I can’t say it enough.”
“You’re always sorry,” said Catherine. All of them. Did anyone know me at all? If they did then they would know how sorry I was. If sorry was a color what color would it be? Answer it. Well, I’d that color you picked and I’d paint the whole fucking world that color to show you how sorry I am.