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This Is Serious (6/24/10)

“They call you Smiley.

He felt the sunny glow as the corners of his mouth pushed up into his cheeks. He tried to fight the feeling but it was too late. “You say that as if it was a bad thing.”

Her brow dropped like a steel gate, the weight of it pushing her features down into a scowl. “You can’t do it can you? You can’t be serious about anything. Well, this isn’t a joke; this is serious!”

Trying to force a more severe countenance just made his smile stretch wider.

She let out an exasperated sigh.

“Let me guess. It was my sister Jackie that said something, right?”

She didn’t answer right away. “Am I right?” She nodded and he, as she expected, laughed.

“Sweetheart, Jackie is the most unhappy person I know. She manufactures misery, wallows in it and then isn’t truly happy until everyone else is weeping along with her.

“Me? I prefer not to join her. She has been crying all week and she will continue crying as long as there is anyone around to listen.”

“And you haven’t shed one tear.”

“Why should I?”

“Because this is a funeral. It’s your father’s funeral for God’s sake!”

The way she threw them, the words should have stung him. Instead, they just seemed curiosities in their conversation.

“Jackie was upset because you were laughing and joking with Aunt Tiz.”

“Aunt Tiz is wonderful fun! Did you know that she still swims and rides her bike every day?”

“Yes, I heard. Everyone heard.”

He smiled, “Yeah, she’s eighty-six years old and could probably use a hearing aid. But, she is alive and vibrant – which is more than I can say for my sister.”

“Jackie was very upset when you didn’t want any of your father’s ashes. She had arranged an urn for each of your brothers and sisters and after the service she was going to have the ashes divided…”

“What would I do with his ashes? Besides, do you know which urns she chose? Gold. Solid gold. Two thousand dollars apiece. Is that crazy, or what? My father was a store-brand butter pecan kinda guy. How many times did you hear him complain that for the price of a single ice cream cone at the shop we could have bought a whole gallon at the grocery store. Two thousand dollar gold urns would have made him crazy.

“She can save the two thousand dollars and they can each have an extra scoop of Dad in their urns.”

“Don’t you miss him?”

“Of course I do!”

“Aren’t you upset that you won’t see him again?”

“Who says I won’t see him again? I have a whole lifetime of memories that I can rewind and replay any time I want to.”

“Aren’t you sad that he is gone?”

“If being sad means sitting around crying about all the would have been’s then, no, I am not sad. Oh, honey, you know me, I am just not made like that.”

It was her turn to laugh. “No, I guess you are not. You laugh at everything. You even giggle when we make love.”

“Oh, come on, sex is funny. With an ‘ooh-ooh’ here and an ‘aaah-aaah’ there it sounds an awful lot like Old McDonald’s farm.”

She slapped his leg but left her hand resting there. He covered it with his own.

“I thought that was what attracted you to me, that I am not all stuffy. If you remember, you did dance with me.”

She looked into his warm face and his glinty eyes. They both smiled remembering the first time they met. It was at a wedding. She was a bridesmaid and he was a friend of the groom. They made eye contact several times across the room but found no convenient opportunity to casually meet.

She asked the bride about him and he asked the groom about her. “Do you think I should ask her to dance?” “It couldn’t hurt,” was the groom’s response.

So, he picked up his crutches, propped himself upright and as gracefully as he could made his way over to where she stood.

She watched his progress with interest and when he stopped in front of her she realized that she had stopped breathing. It took a moment for her to respond to his question.

“Would you like to dance?” he had asked.

She laughed nervously and looked at the cast that ran from ankle to hip. “Yes,” she replied, “Yes, I would very much like to dance.”

He led her to the dance floor then propped both crutches under one arm. She moved in under the other arm and they stood there swaying while the band played “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”.

When the song ended they returned to his table. She sat with him and asked how he had broken his leg. He told her several versions, each funnier than the one before. At the end of the evening they were both giddy and glassy eyed.

That was twenty-seven years ago and the memory still made her feel that same breathlessness.

She looked at him again, “Will you be sad when I die?”

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