Lila was driving when she got the call. She was driving her black sedan Volvo then, with an interior the color of caramel ice cream. The voice sounded unfamiliar, even though she knew who it was. The girl on the other end of the line seemed distant and unsure of what to say now that there were two voices on the line.
“It’s about Rosaline,” she said, slowly.
Lila felt her heart beating, faster and harder in an unusual way. She had just seen her. They walked past each other a week ago. No words were exchanged because they hadn’t spoken in almost two years. Lila didn’t take her eyes off the stoplight.
“What? What’s wrong?”
The light quickly turned green and Lila pushed her foot on the gas pedal to take a right turn. She was going to take a left at the next light. But before she made it to the light, she heard the words.
Lila felt her weight sink into the car. The rush hour traffic became a blur as she felt her face transform. She still had to make that turn so she could at least find somewhere to park.
“But I saw her a week ago,” Lila said. Her hands were shaking on the wheel.
All I had to do was say hello.
The other end of the phone was silent until the voice asked how she was doing.
“I wish I wasn’t fucking driving right now,” said Lila.
Lila thanked the girl for calling and hung up. There was nothing to say. Was the radio still on? It didn’t matter. After she made her turn she drove half a mile and came to another light. She decided to go straight. She drove down the hill leading to the river. She knew she would be able to stop at one of the gas stations at the bottom of the hill.
She found it difficult to breathe and wondered if people in the passing cars could see her crying. Was this something people do? She let out a scream that only she could feel. The windows were down in the car, the summer air floating through her hair. She had to forget that this was supposed to be a beautiful night.
She turned into a gas station parking lot. She parked and immediately turned off the car and let herself go. Her face and hands hugging the steering wheel. Trying to find something to hold onto.
She opened the door and stood up, briefly, as if to establish her existence. Her legs went limp and she quickly found herself sitting on the asphalt next to her car. If she was making a scene, nobody noticed. She stayed there until she was able to drive. Until she remembered how close she was to his apartment. They hadn’t spoken in over a month since he decided he couldn’t be in a relationship anymore. She called him, though it felt like she was in search of something else. Perhaps momentary, but at least it would be something.
She was standing in his apartment again. The air was quiet and smelled like old cigarettes and coffee. There was an apology as if she were interrupting his solitude. When he began to kiss her she thought it might be inappropriate. She felt the weight of his arms, and let herself fall into his embrace. It was more like a disappearing act. Sacrificing herself on to someone else. But she needed to make sure she was still capable of living. As if this were the only way to prove it. This behavior continued on the couch, as they slowly made their way to the futon in his bedroom.
“I need this,” she said. “But I’m probably going to cry. Is that okay?”
After they were done creating a distraction in his sheets, she asked for one of his cigarettes. She put her clothes back on and went to sit on his porch. She looked down at her bare feet as she felt the chill of the wood underneath crawl through her body. She had wanted to feel nothing but gave in to the weight of the world. And what about Rosaline? She was already a ghost.
Lila waited before she got out of the car, caught in the last grasps of a familiar song. Violent Femmes, maybe. Lila felt her knees begin to buckle as she made her way from the parking lot into the funeral home for the visitation. People were spilling out into the lot that seemed overwhelmed with the haunt of familiar faces.
The line was long. Quiet. Lila didn’t know what she was supposed to say when got to the front. The casket was open, and Wite-Out white. As she grew closer, her eyes were distracted by color. The magenta, dark blue, brown and black sharpie ink indicative to the casket. People were being encouraged to write something about Rosaline, something resembling a bouquet of love letters. Ana, an old friend from high school walked by with her boyfriend. They were on their way out, when they stopped to talk to Lila.
Why is she here? They weren’t even friends.
Lila tried to make frivolous banter but found it difficult to even stand. They would find a more appropriate time to play catch up. She felt her heart beat as she kept getting closer to the front. She was disturbed by the stillness of the body, half expecting Rosaline to rise up and start looking for her cigarettes.
She was next in line. Mostly afraid. There were flashbacks to late night skinny dipping in Rosaline’s backyard, talking about boys and what music they were listening to. Now, she was hugging Rosaline’s mother as if holding onto a porcelain vase. For a minute their hearts were touching and it felt warm. Once Lila pulled away the feeling was gone. She grabbed a brown sharpie and let her words say goodbye.
Lila left the funeral home without talking to anyone else. She considered calling him but refrained. She felt her eyes quickly fill up as she got back into the car. She considered the rest of the night. She wanted to be alone but was looking for something else. She thought about renting a movie so she drove to the store. She parked in the back and for a minute felt self-conscious about her outfit. Black heels, black-and-white striped knee-length dress, and a red sweater. Before she got out of the car she called her friend Ana, whom she had seen earlier at the visitation.
“Hey, it was good to see you earlier,” Lila said indifferently.
“I can’t believe how many people were at the visitation,” she said.
“I know. I can’t make sense of any of this. What did you think?”
“I don’t know, I thought what Rosaline did was really selfish,” she said.
It felt like an anvil had landed on the top of her. She didn’t know what to do with the weight of these words. She could feel her heart beating as if letting her know it was still there.
“I don’t know why you would say something like that,” said Lila.
“You asked me what I thought,” she said. “I told you.”
“I have to go.”
Before Lila walked into the store, she caught up with her breath. There was hardly anybody there. Her eyes got caught on the worn green carpet as she realized she didn’t know what movie she wanted to watch.
She felt her hands flip through the plastic envelopes which told her the names of movies. For the moment she felt safe and unaware. She knew she wouldn’t be able to talk to Ana. More than that, she knew her life was never going to be the same again. She took a pause and looked out the window. They were finally taking down the Kentucky Fried Chicken that had been closed for a few years. Lila moved to a different row of movies. She was tired of standing. Tired of the day. She chose Annie Hall and left the store with her heart still beating.
It was difficult to see Rosaline’s younger sister at the funeral. As they brought the casket into the church, her back was slouched as she held her head in her arms, barely holding herself up on the railing of the church pew. It would be difficult to forget the uncontrollable sounds haunting the echo through the church that day. Lila tried to look away as if this could make the impossible actually impossible. She felt the program fall between her feet.
You walked past me a week ago.
As people began filing out of the church Lila began to notice the familiar faces she had previously ignored. She wasn’t surprised to see that a particular girl from their high school was pregnant. She did not see Ana. It hadn’t seemed appropriate for her to ask him to come with her to the funeral. Although it was what she wanted, it wouldn’t have been enough. He wouldn’t be enough. Or maybe she wasn’t going to be enough for him?
Lila watched the other cars leave the parking lot. A sea of purple flags waving in the morning air. They had run out of the flags by the time she was leaving. She was glad. She followed the procession to the cemetery, indulging in the radio silence.
The weather was gray and warm. The grass was still, although Lila’s heels kept getting stuck in the ground. She pulled her weight towards the front of her feet as if trying to feel the actual weight of what was happening in front of her. Her eyes were glued to the colored letters on the casket. As she looked at the faces around her, she felt her heart move. She wondered if he might be the one.