Paranoia (136 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Part Seven: 72 (Cont'd)

He didn't look at all real, but they never, ever do. Frank, or whoever had done the work, hadn't done a bad job—hadn't put on too much rouge or whatever—but he still looked like one of Madame Tussaud's wax museum displays, if one of the better ones. The spirit leaves the body and there's nothing a mortician can do to bring it back. His face was a fake-looking "flesh tone." There seemed to be subtle brown lipstick on his lips. He looked a little less enraged than he had at the hospital, but they still hadn't been able to make him look peaceful. I guess there was only so much they could do to smooth the furrow from his brow. His skin was cold now, and a lot waxier than it had felt in the hospital. I hesitated a moment before kissing his cheek; it felt strange, unnatural, unclean.

I stood there looking at this fleshy shell, this discarded husk, this pod that had once contained the mysterious and fearsome soul of my father. And I started talking to him, as I figure almost every son talks to his dead father. "Well, Dad," I said, "you're finally out of here. If there really is an afterlife, I hope you're happier there than you were here."

I felt sorry for him then, which was something I guess I was never quite able to feel when he was alive. I remembered a couple of times when he actually seemed to be happy, when I was a lot younger and he'd carry me around on his shoulders. A time when one of his teams had won a championship. The time he was hired by Bartholomew Browning. A few moments like that. But he rarely smiled, unless he was laughing his bitter laugh. Maybe he'd needed antidepressants, maybe that was his problem, but I doubted it. "I didn't understand you so well, Dad," I said. "But I really did try."

Hardly anyone showed up in the three-hour span of time. There were some buddies of mine from high school, a couple with their wives, and two college friends. Dad's elderly Aunt Irene came for a while and said, "Your father was very lucky to have you." She had a faint Irish brogue and wore overpowering old-lady perfume. Seth came early and stayed late, kept me company. He told Dad stories in an attempt to make me laugh, famous anecdotes about Dad's coaching days, tales that had become legend among my friends and at Bartholomew Browning. There was the time he took a marking pen and drew a line down the middle of a kid's face mask, a big lunk named Pelly, then all the way down his uniform to the kid's shoes, and along the grass in a straight line across the field, even though the pen didn't make a mark on the grass, and he said, "You run this way, Pelly, you get it? This is the way you run."

There was the time when he called time out and he went up to a football player named Steve and grabbed his face mask and said, "Are you stupid, Steve?" Then, without waiting for Steve to reply, he yanked the mask up and down, making Steve's head nod like a doll's. "Yes, I am, Coach," he said in a squeaky imitation of Steve's voice. The rest of the team thought it was funny, and most of them laughed. "Yes, I am stupid."

There was the day when he called time out during a hockey game and started yelling at a kid named Resnick for playing too rough. He grabbed Resnick's hockey stick and said, "Mr. Resnick, if I ever see you spear"—and he jabbed the stick into Resnick's stomach, which instantly made Resnick throw up—"or butt-end"—and he slammed him again in the stomach with the stick—"I will destroy you." And Resnick vomited blood, and then had the dry heaves. Nobody laughed.

"Yeah," I said. "He was a funny guy, wasn't he?" By now I wanted him to stop the stories, and fortunately he did.

At the funeral the next morning, Seth sat on one side of me in the pew, Antwoine on the other. The priest, a distinguished, silver-haired fellow who looked like a TV minister, was named Father Joseph Iannucci. Before the mass he took me aside and asked me a few questions about Dad—his "faith," what he was like, what he did for a living, did he have any hobbies, that sort of thing. I was pretty much stumped.

There were maybe twenty people in the church, some of them regular parishioners who'd come for the mass and didn't know Dad. The others were friends of mine from high school and college, a couple of friends from the neighborhood, an old lady who lived next door. There was one of Dad's "friends," some guy who'd been in Kiwanis with Dad years ago before Dad quit in a rage over something minor. He didn't even know Dad had been sick. There were a couple of elderly cousins I vaguely recognized.

Seth and I were pallbearers along with some other guys from the church and the funeral home. There were a bunch of flowers at the front of the church—I had no idea how they got there, whether someone sent them or they were provided by the funeral home.

The mass was one of those incredibly long services that involve a lot of getting up and sitting down and kneeling, probably so you don't fall asleep. I felt depleted, fogged in, still sort of shell-shocked. Father Iannucci called Dad "Francis" and several times said his full name, "Francis Xavier," as if that indicated that Dad was a devout Catholic instead of a faithless guy whose only connection to the Lord was in taking His name in vain. He said, "We are sad at Francis's parting, we grieve his passing, but we believe that he has gone to God, that he is in a better place, that he is sharing now in Jesus' resurrection by living a new life." He said, "Francis's death is not the end. We can still be united with him." He asked, "Why did Francis have to suffer so much in his last months?" and answered something about Jesus' suffering and said that "Jesus was not conquered or defeated by his suffering. " I didn't quite follow what he was trying to say, but I wasn't really listening. I was zoning out.

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