Written by: Taylor Antonioli
Art by: Grace Monahan
“What on this god given earth gave you the idea you should string him up like a doll and have him drink with you? Were you already fried when you thought of it?” Ralph’s mother was someone who’s back would make a ruler look bent, and eyes who made you run to the cooler to get feeling back into your hands; that is, if you did something wrong. Though this was true, she was a good mother and always handed her husband back his head when he couldn’t find it.
His father was a tall man with a serious expression that he seemed to “leave behind with the dogs” or ie when he was plastered. “What about your son? How can you be sure he wasn’t the one to make a dead man seemed like a live one?”
“You slay me.” Her expression stayed blank as she watched his face twitch under her glare as his brothers and friends all fell under the same look. “Because my son went to bed with the rest of us, now tell me who did not.” Ralph just sat there with a smile on his face, watching with eight year old glee as the chaos unfolded before him.
The tradition of funerals differs from family to family, but none so much as the Guyette’s. Walking into the room you would think it was life they were celebrating that day, someone’s wedding maybe; in a way they were. That’s not to say they didn’t mourn the death and the disappearance of someone’s life; they cried and said goodbyes with clasped hands. But then the party started, talks of the deceased life and how they had changed, grown and turned into the person that they were before they died. Stories were told and insults were thrown with laughter ringing through the air from people with red eyes and raspy throats. That was how the Guyette’s handled death, and Ralph was not one to break tradition. But he could have a little fun with it all the same.
The funeral was held when Ralph was about eight years old and just coming into his own, growing his personality as he got more freedoms. He couldn’t tell you his great uncle’s name, but he was “old enough” in 1926 and was respected by the family, if not everyone who knew him. When he died, all of a sudden there were more family members than names he would remember, walking through the door. As was the tradition, and all that they could afford, they held the funeral in one of their homes and had the casket where the piano used to be. Everyone gathered in the living room and went through their stages of grief. “God takes lives too early for us, but the right time for them.” Nods of sorrow as bottles passed around to wrangle smiles free.
When the women went to bed first, too drained to keep their eyes awake, the first bottle was still being swirled around. “Are you hitting the sack as well?” Ralph’s mother’s eyes left no room for argument, her raised eyebrows making Ralph feel smaller than he already was.
“I’m just getting some noodle juice so I can sleep.” Tea and milk were the only acceptable drinks in the house at that moment; the sickly smell of wine and bite of amber colored whiskey made his stomach churn. But what it did to the men still reclining in the various chairs around the sitting room, made his lungs clear and his stomach settle.
The reasoning was enough, to his cheerful thanks, to get his mother to leave him there instead of grabbing his ear and saying he wouldn’t get breakfast if he lied again. The men were already drinking, saying random words before going quiet. The bottles hadn’t affected them yet. Not soon after though, their voices got stronger and more relaxed. “He was a real Oliver Twist!” someone would say with a laugh, then phrase “Tell it to Sweeny!” flying out of lips loose with drink. Ralph quickly ran out of the kitchen while they were all yelling, too busy to notice him slip behind the furniture. Girls were spoken of, they compared rub stories and talked of their old dalliances. Whatever those were.
“One last drink, a sockdolager drink for,” Ralph had to duck as a hand reached over the back of the couch he was hiding behind, forcing him to crouch. His bare calves pressed into the wood floors making him shiver, but only his hands shook and pressed against the scratchy fabric of the couch.
The men must have drained the bottle already when they made this decision, no man in his right mind would have decided the deceased needed to take part in this “last drink.” But they heaved themselves out of their chairs and creaked all the floorboards as they moved over to that back wall, grunting with the effort of lifting such a man, and set him up in his old chair. Ralph was quick and snuck a glance over the couch, having to cover his mouth with a fist to keep the chortle building in his throat from escaping his lips. His Great Uncle whatever was a stiff in life, and death apparently, as he sat up on his own.
“To Purchase Rich, the man of the hour!” Their voices were booming but only for the room they were in. No man has, or ever will be drunk enough, to yell when his wife is sleeping. They passed around the bottle, some of them smartly wiping off the lip with their sleeves. When it finally made it to the hands of their gracious host, it was held with cold but strong fingers that kept it upright on the arm of the chair.
The men filed out after that, some with eyes that drooped or ones that crinkled in the corners. When they had all left and the floor no longer protested, Ralph crawled out from his hiding spot and got his first real look at the only one left in a chair.
Purchase’s head was rolled to one side and his eyes almost all the way closed, like he was asleep. If he hadn’t enjoyed the sight of them lifting him to his chair, Ralph would have thought the man had woken up for one last drink of alcohol without the watchful eyes of his wife. He could have been sleeping off a beer any other day. With that thought stirring around, he cleaned up and went to bed. As he looked at the ceiling, a smile split his cheeks as he thought of the chaos to ensue in the morning.
Ralph never did forget the picture of his mother chastising his father while skirts bustled about the kitchen and hangovers were moaned about. It wasn’t that this was a surprise occurrence, it actually happened more often than not, but the simple fact that they hadn’t moved his Great Uncle’s body yet. He stared at it in wonder, thinking about all someone could cause by simply not moving. No one commented on the glint in the young boy’s eyes that morning, it was a simple detail when the dead had risen and night fallen at a disappointing hour.