Fiction: Viewing by Storm Humbert

funeral

Sit in the car. You have time. Sharon thinks you’re with Craig, and Craig knows exactly where you are. You can trust Craig – have trusted him for fifty years – with this.

Grab the keys. Think about going home. Put them away. You need to see her.

Don’t think about the first time you kissed. That isn’t helping.

Don’t think about when Jess’s thunderstorm-blue eyes finally rolled your way; how your arm was already on the back of her chair where it shouldn’t have been. Don’t think about how mutual it was – the lean and pull of it – how you could tell that you had both gotten exactly what you’d come for.

Don’t think about how you’d known all night what you’d do with that moment, if it came, even though you were both with someone. How you drank anyway. Don’t think about how she’d known too.

Get out for some air.

Don’t think through the hundreds of kisses between the bar and the bus. Definitely don’t think about how you put her on that bus in tears because you wouldn’t take her home – because you couldn’t bring yourself to burn both of your worlds to the ground and lie with her in the ashes – even though you’d thought you would all along. The bravest thing a coward ever did.

Instead, think about how close you got after that; how adult you were, “pretending it never happened.” Think about how natural it was, the texts and jokes and the flirts neither of you acknowledged as flirts.

Go into the funeral parlor. Don’t sign the book.

Turn the page to hide your stupid signature.

Hate yourself for hoping that Ken knows about you and Jess and sees your damn name.

Go to the end of the viewing line.

Don’t think about the second time you kissed a year later – how she’d quietly taken precautions; how you’d hoped she would because you didn’t know if you would stop it again. She’d brought friends. She’d made the group large. She’d said she wouldn’t drink because she had to work the next day.

You shouldn’t smile when you remember how little it all mattered. How, after four drinks, she said she didn’t have to work because she’d exceeded her hours. You knew she’d called off, and she knew you knew.

Don’t think about sneaking out of the bar “to talk” like giggling teenagers. Don’t think about how much more you kissed than talked even though you talked about such big things: what you wanted from each other, the attraction you couldn’t fight, how much she loved Ken and you loved Sharon and that you didn’t love them any less in all of this kissing and touching; how that didn’t make sense but was true anyway.

Don’t think about how you laid together in your bed that night – fully clothed, never taking that leap – trying and failing to say how you felt.

Try not to think about how you and Jess – for all you discussed – never talked about what this was; if it was possible for Ken and Sharon to be your whole lives but for one life not to be enough. Don’t wonder whether you were too drunk for that question – or not drunk enough.

Ken is beside the casket. Remember how silly it would be for men in their seventies to come to blows over a dead woman.

Don’t cry. You can’t even see her yet.

Remember how she decided to make rules after that night: no being alone, no drinking together, no joking about how good the sex would be, etcetera.

Don’t think about how false it felt to be less than open with each other; how you both drifted into silent gravity you could neither escape nor acknowledge lest it draw you too close again.

Don’t remember that deadness inside when you and Sharon moved away for her new job. Jess didn’t even text goodbye.

The line is moving too fast. You’re not ready.

Remember, a year later, when Jess reconnected – how the distance made you both feel safer. You were adamant that you’d just be friends, but you still kept the emails in a secret folder.

Stop. Don’t think about the third night – twelve years after the second. You were back in town for a conference. You told each other you were old enough – that it had been long enough – so you broke all the rules. Don’t think about how you both knew there was no “old enough” or “long enough.”

You kissed at the bar as if you’d been dreaming about it for a decade. You had. You joked that nobody would say anything since you both had wedding rings now, but then she said nobody kisses their spouse like that. She was right.

You’re by the casket now.

Don’t reach down and peel back her eyelids to see the blue again. They’d be too calm, the thunderstorm gone.

Don’t cry.

Don’t think about the end of that night, after the bar, when you lay together on your hotel bed. Again, you abstained, but you came closer this time.

Don’t think about how the skin on her stomach and waist felt – the skin you’d only dreamed of touching. Don’t think about her hand in your hair; how you didn’t talk much this time because you both knew how it went. You’d be regretful after; you’d stay away and not talk, but you would keep circling each other – the gravity would bring you back.

Don’t think about how you still didn’t talk about love; how this time it was because you both knew. You knew it was the could-have-beens that drew you – the could-have-been life – what could-have-been otherwise had circumstances been only a whisper different.

Don’t crawl into that casket. Don’t lie beside her as you did thirty-some years ago – as you maybe should have your whole life. Don’t regret for one second your life with Sharon.

Shake Ken’s hand. Tell him you’re sorry for his loss.

Viewing

By: Storm Humbert

 

Sit in the car. You have time. Sharon thinks you’re with Craig, and Craig knows exactly where you are. You can trust Craig – have trusted him for fifty years – with this.

Grab the keys. Think about going home. Put them away. You need to see her.

Don’t think about the first time you kissed. That isn’t helping.

Don’t think about when Jess’s thunderstorm-blue eyes finally rolled your way; how your arm was already on the back of her chair where it shouldn’t have been. Don’t think about how mutual it was – the lean and pull of it – how you could tell that you had both gotten exactly what you’d come for.

Don’t think about how you’d known all night what you’d do with that moment, if it came, even though you were both with someone. How you drank anyway. Don’t think about how she’d known too.

Get out for some air.

Don’t think through the hundreds of kisses between the bar and the bus. Definitely don’t think about how you put her on that bus in tears because you wouldn’t take her home – because you couldn’t bring yourself to burn both of your worlds to the ground and lie with her in the ashes – even though you’d thought you would all along. The bravest thing a coward ever did.

Instead, think about how close you got after that; how adult you were, “pretending it never happened.” Think about how natural it was, the texts and jokes and the flirts neither of you acknowledged as flirts.

Go into the funeral parlor. Don’t sign the book.

Turn the page to hide your stupid signature.

Hate yourself for hoping that Ken knows about you and Jess and sees your damn name.

Go to the end of the viewing line.

Don’t think about the second time you kissed a year later – how she’d quietly taken precautions; how you’d hoped she would because you didn’t know if you would stop it again. She’d brought friends. She’d made the group large. She’d said she wouldn’t drink because she had to work the next day.

You shouldn’t smile when you remember how little it all mattered. How, after four drinks, she said she didn’t have to work because she’d exceeded her hours. You knew she’d called off, and she knew you knew.

Don’t think about sneaking out of the bar “to talk” like giggling teenagers. Don’t think about how much more you kissed than talked even though you talked about such big things: what you wanted from each other, the attraction you couldn’t fight, how much she loved Ken and you loved Sharon and that you didn’t love them any less in all of this kissing and touching; how that didn’t make sense but was true anyway.

Don’t think about how you laid together in your bed that night – fully clothed, never taking that leap – trying and failing to say how you felt.

Try not to think about how you and Jess – for all you discussed – never talked about what this was; if it was possible for Ken and Sharon to be your whole lives but for one life not to be enough. Don’t wonder whether you were too drunk for that question – or not drunk enough.

Ken is beside the casket. Remember how silly it would be for men in their seventies to come to blows over a dead woman.

Don’t cry. You can’t even see her yet.

Remember how she decided to make rules after that night: no being alone, no drinking together, no joking about how good the sex would be, etcetera.

Don’t think about how false it felt to be less than open with each other; how you both drifted into silent gravity you could neither escape nor acknowledge lest it draw you too close again.

Don’t remember that deadness inside when you and Sharon moved away for her new job. Jess didn’t even text goodbye.

The line is moving too fast. You’re not ready.

Remember, a year later, when Jess reconnected – how the distance made you both feel safer. You were adamant that you’d just be friends, but you still kept the emails in a secret folder.

Stop. Don’t think about the third night – twelve years after the second. You were back in town for a conference. You told each other you were old enough – that it had been long enough – so you broke all the rules. Don’t think about how you both knew there was no “old enough” or “long enough.”

You kissed at the bar as if you’d been dreaming about it for a decade. You had. You joked that nobody would say anything since you both had wedding rings now, but then she said nobody kisses their spouse like that. She was right.

You’re by the casket now.

Don’t reach down and peel back her eyelids to see the blue again. They’d be too calm, the thunderstorm gone.

Don’t cry.

Don’t think about the end of that night, after the bar, when you lay together on your hotel bed. Again, you abstained, but you came closer this time.

Don’t think about how the skin on her stomach and waist felt – the skin you’d only dreamed of touching. Don’t think about her hand in your hair; how you didn’t talk much this time because you both knew how it went. You’d be regretful after; you’d stay away and not talk, but you would keep circling each other – the gravity would bring you back.

Don’t think about how you still didn’t talk about love; how this time it was because you both knew. You knew it was the could-have-beens that drew you – the could-have-been life – what could-have-been otherwise had circumstances been only a whisper different.

Don’t crawl into that casket. Don’t lie beside her as you did thirty-some years ago – as you maybe should have your whole life. Don’t regret for one second your life with Sharon.

Shake Ken’s hand. Tell him you’re sorry for his loss.

 

Storm Humbert is a 27-year-old writer from a small town called Fayette (literally a one stoplight town) in northwest Ohio near the Michigan border. For two years after he finished his bachelors degree, Storm worked odd jobs ranging from newspaper editing to creating animated digital advertisements (and basically anything in between). He has an MFA from, and is a writing instructor at, Temple University in Philadelphia and is currently an instructor at Siena Heights University. Storm’s work has previously appeared in The Legendary and Tinge Magazine.

 

 

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