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On Friday night, Billy McDermiad crashed his car into a telephone pole, and left this world forever.
By Saturday afternoon, his grieving sister had already bitch-slapped the girlfriend on the Facebook memorial page, claiming the abrupt dumping of her brother had led to Billy’s actions. That, and the fact that the slut was five months gone with some other guy’s kid.
By Sunday, word was the girlfriends’ brothers had had a dust-up with Billy’s brothers over the accusation. We heard that Billy’s sister and girlfriend had done a few rounds, too, over whether it was or wasn’t suicide that Billy had been after.
No one would have been surprised if it were Billy’s drinking instead, least of all me and Trey. But since it was clear from the police report that Billy had been drinking, we’d probably never know for sure. Not that it made a difference when you were planting your kid or brother in the ground, I guess. Unless you were Catholic, like Billy’s mum was, and believed the path to Heaven was locked against you if you tried to get there on your own steam.
But Billy’s Da could give a flying fuck what the pederast Church – his words, not mine – said. “No God I believe in would pick on a poor broken soul like Billy!” his Da thundered, slamming his hand down so hard on the counter that the plates in the cabinets above rattled. The family claimed it was drunk driving and got Billy a plot in the church cemetery, anyway.
On Monday, we gathered at the church, some of us drunk on a lack of sleep or sorrow, some of us just drunk. As Billy’s best friends, Mr. McDermiad wanted me and Trey to be casket bearers. I felt I owed it to Billy not to stumble, so I held back my tears. At his corner, Trey kept his head bowed as we navigated the aisle and steps, but I felt how the quiet hiccups of his tears unsteadied the coffin balanced on his shoulder.
I think I was the only one who looked at Deirdre and her brothers when we went by them at the back of the church. Her eyes and mouth pinched dark as Trey, then the coffin, then I moved by. She wilted against her brother’s side as we passed. Maybe it was respect for Father Overby, but none of Billy’s family even acknowledged Dee’s presence at the church.
I worried about the cemetery, though, and I was glad when Dee, who’d never let anyone tell her what to do, showed the good sense to stand back from the grave. Even with his wrist in a sling, Billy’s younger, Ned, spat at their feet as he passed. When Dee’s brother stepped forward, his bony fist clenched, I saw Dee lay a hand on his arm to stop him. He looked a question at her, and she shook her head, and he fell back into line with her and the rest of her clan.
No surprise in that, either. She always did get what she wanted, I thought, bowing my head over the Our Father at the graveside. Then we were all distracted by Billy’s sister, who practically threw herself after the coffin, wailing her brother’s name. They were twins, you see, and I guess that putting Billy in the ground was like burying part of herself. Her Old World grief unsettled the lot of us; a bunch of the mourners began crying as she clawed at the loose dirt next to the grave, though Mr. McDermiad stood red-faced, like he was holding his breath, and Mrs. McDermiad just stared straight ahead at the horizon, never looking at the hole in front of her.
Over the mourners’ shoulders, I saw Deirdre wipe her nose with the back of her thin wrist. When she lowered her arm, her hand came to rest on her belly where the swelling had only recently become noticeable.
Next to me, Trey continued to shake. I threw one arm around his shoulders protectively. It felt to me like the burden of his sorrow was so great he would never be able to lift his eyes from the ground again. For sure, he’d never be able to look at Deirdre again.
Over everyone’s heads, I saw how Deirdre watched Trey, patient and sure. Then she caught me looking at her. Her face went stony and defiant, her fingers twitched on her belly. I looked away, but not before I sent a silent message to her through the expectant air between us.
Go figure it out, Dee. Go figure it out, ‘cause this time you’re not going to get what you want.
Elizabeth Rosen's fiction has appeared in Revolver, Referential Magazine, Ducts, Xavier Review and the 2014 anthology Best Short Stories from the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. She is a former children's television writer, and the author of Apocalyptic Transformation, a nonfiction study of contemporary apocalyptic fiction and film.