by Felicia Mihali
Linda Leith Publishing, 2014
By midnight people start leaving the house. I suddenly remember Adam. I grab my bag, put on my shoes and leave without saying goodbye. So many people are lining up to kiss Dora, and I can’t wait. I ask Marta to make my apologies for me.
The rain has stopped. I take a deep breath, hoping to smell flowers, but all I can smell is the wet earth and the snow. Winter may still make a comeback.
Adam is watching TV. When he hears the key in the door, he comes up the stairs to greet me. He doesn’t really remember the reason I’m late. When I tell him, he asks me about the place this person occupied in our life. This remains Adam’s greatest concern, to know exactly what our life consisted of. Was this Virgil important to us? Did we really like him? Are we really affected by his death?
I sit down with him on the sofa and explain that Virgil was our neighbour, that we spent the last ten years together, ever since we bought this house, that in summer they used to invite us to their pool, and that sometimes we went for walks together in the park.
He says nothing and bends his head. He needs time to figure this out before asking another question. I admire his prudence.
He finally asks if Dora and Virgil were happily married. I say they probably were. People are happily married when they can’t imagine living alone any more.
I ask him if he ate, and he says yes. I then suggest we brush our teeth and go to bed. I’m exhausted.
The next day, we try to get back to normal, but it’s impossible. By noon, we’re all back in Dora’s living room, sacrificing our bank of sick days and our holidays to hang around and listen to the same stories.
Immigration had, until now, spared us this kind of experience, but Virgil’s death is adding a few new twists to our migrant existence. We learn that the corpse goes directly from the morgue to the funeral home with a stop en route for the embalming. We have to find a Catholic cemetery willing to accept the Orthodox, which is not the case in every neighbourhood. And we discovered there are catering services offered by countless companies that can spare us, the women, the job of cooking for well over a hundred people.
We know how to party, how to celebrate birthdays, marriages, and baptisms, but we don’t know how to organize a funeral. We make mental notes, learning as we go.
It’s a challenge to find a priest. Virgil was a non-believer and profoundly disliked our black-robed servants of God. We figure we have to care about doing things properly to save his soul.
It turns out that at a recent commemorative feast for the mother of a friend, he got talking with a young priest who charmed him not with his faith, but with his good humour. We decide to find out who this good shepherd is and from which of our seven churches. Nelly’s future mother-in-law takes charge of this, shutting herself in Virgil’s office to make phone calls. When she finally finds our good Samaritan, she comes out with the phone for everybody to hear the situation.
The priest has a baptism on Saturday, but he could do the funeral too, if we agree to postpone it by half an hour. We happily agree, relieved to be able to tick off another of the tasks on my list.
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