Michael straightened his tie and checked his watch. Diana spotted him and gave him a wife look. The look said ‘your tie is straight and checking your watch won’t help anything, stop fidgeting’. He gave her a husband look back that said ‘you’re right but cut me some slack’.
She was right of course he was fidgeting and there was no need to worry about time. The viewing was from seven o’clock to nine and it was barely seven now. A few folks were milling about but it would probably be half past before it got busy. Anyway, it wasn’t like Big Mike was going anywhere.
Michael still couldn’t believe his father was gone. Easy enough to believe he had died; the man’s diet was a mess, he drank cheap whiskey by the gallon and smoked unfiltered cigarettes. Who smokes unfiltered cigarettes?
No, Big Mike’s ticket was bound to be punched and it was a massive stroke that did it. But being dead and being gone had turned out to be two different concepts for Michael. How do you deal with a force of nature just being gone?
He worried about his boys; this was a first funeral for both of them. Little Mike especially for he had worshiped his granddad like a drunken god. Mike had named his firstborn Michael James Winslow III but it was Mike Sr. who started calling him Little Mike. Of course, with Big and Little taken Michael II was stuck with Junior. He would not miss that.
Little Mike stood near a table that was full of flower arrangements. He was trying to act cool or as cool as a fourteen year old can be. The boy looked bored and aloof and Michael knew it must be and act. He knew also that he couldn’t make his son deal with it if he didn’t want to. He had tried this morning to talk to Little Mike but the boy had rebuffed him. Michael sighed and scanned the room to find his youngest son, Paul.
Paul was half hiding behind a garish funeral home lamp. He was only six and Michael wasn’t sure how much of this he really understood. The boy hadn’t even lost a goldfish yet. There hadn’t really been much time to talk to him and Michael watched him now. Paul was staring at the front of the room where Big Mike was laid out. Michael crossed the room to his son but the boy’s intent study of his grandfather’s corpse didn’t waver until Michael spoke.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “How’re you doing?” Paul just shrugged.
“Do you want to go up and take a look?” Michael said. “Say goodbye?” The small boy got a thoughtful look on his face. He often got those before speaking and Michael just waited.
“Do I have to?” Paul finally said.
“No,” Michael said, “you don’t have to. But it would be nice and I thought you’d want to do it before it got crowded in here.”
“Okay,” he said after another pause for thought.
Michael took his hand and they went to stand by the departed. Michael looked at his father’s corpse telling himself again that he was really gone. He watched Paul to gage his reaction.
The boy looked at Big Mike in his blue suit but he seemed more curious about the coffin. He ran his hand over the rails and the lining and gave a gentle knock on the lid. His small fist made a tinny ring for the coffin was aluminum as specified by Big Mike. Paul’s face took on the usual thoughtful look and he glanced up at his father.
“He’s dead right?”
“Yes, Paul,” Michael said.
“When you’re dead you can’t breathe, right?”
“No you don’t breathe anymore.”
“How’s he gonna blow it?”
“Blow what?” said Michael.
“Paul what are you talking about.”
“Well,” Paul said, “when I asked Little Mike what happened to granddad, he said he just blew a casket.”
“No, he…” Michael looked from his younger son to his older, then to his dead father. “He meant to say…”
Paul’s look of intense thought stayed while Michael stammered. In fact it grew more intense and Michael finally stopped trying to explain. Instead he started to chuckle. Once he started to chuckle he couldn’t stop it and he just let the laughter come as he kneeled down to hug his son.