He didn’t understand what to do. Jacoby was at a loss for words, though his mind was on a never-ending marathon. One sentence racing right past the next.
This isn’t happening. I’m dreaming. Everyone’s lying. This is all a nightmare.
He believed, if he closed his eyes, if he curled his hands into tight fists, squeezing them so hard that his stubby nails would bite into his palms, he would wake up. He would be ten again, sitting in the living room of his parents’ trailer. It would be a hot, blistering day in Arizona. One where all saliva in his throat would instantly dry up. No amount of bittersweet lemonade by his mother could ease the discomfort. Sweat would pool at the center of his back and the dark blue cotton t-shirt he wore would be sticking to his damp skin. Jacoby would not complain, though. He would never complain because then, he would be a bad child. He would not live up to his mother’s standards. If he could be good, then he would be praised, and his mother would come home.
Jacoby opened his eyes and returned to the present day. No longer was there the hot and dismal trailer park he grew up in. It was replaced by the cold, air-conditioned room that still dried his mouth. The sounds of the television he watched and the sounds of the occasional breeze outside were discarded and overtaken by the whispered voices and quiet whimpers that turned his stomach over. Buzzing sounded in his ears; a million wasps that that attacked his skin. Jacoby turned away from the casket. He often liked to think himself an intelligent, calculating human. Someone of sound mind and body with a mental maturity beyond others in his twenty-year-old age group. And yet, when he looked on at the corpse, the body that lied inside the wooden box, a prison cell lined in white silk that felt of cold water on the skin, he didn’t see someone left to peace. Jacoby saw the cold, the absent, and the silent. It drove him mad, and he found an inexplicable leakage falling from his eyes.
Jacoby did not know what to make of the tears. He never cried. He never liked crying or showing the weakness. Tears meant he was a bad child. Tears meant he was trouble and now he could not stop them. If his mother ever saw, her face would contort. Fire would light in her eyes and venom would leak from her tongue as her lily-white complexion would shift from a light pink to a red. Her lips usually painted in a soft pink would twist into a frown that held Jacoby’s heart in an iron grip.
— Stop crying. Why are you crying? What reason is there to cry?
It was a trick question. There was never any good reason to cry. Jacoby swiped at the salty beads of liquid as his feet carried him further away from the small, crowded room. He found himself leaning over a white porcelain toilet bowl. The foul acidic contents of his stomach—the breakfast that he’d scarcely eaten this morning—swam around the toilet, a murky green and brown mixture of watered-down color. Sweat beaded at his hairline and his eyes stung from the putrid stench. His sight blurred and he scrambled away from the toilet until his back pressed against the door that separated him from the rest of the world. Jacoby breathed, he tried to regain control of his stampeding heart. He tried to control his emotions. He tried to do a great many things—all of the lessons he’d learned through the years from his mother, his father, his friends, the trailer park in Arizona. Don’t cry. Man up. Be silent. Be a good boy. Don’t complain. Go along for the ride. Smile. It was a never-ending list of requirements that he found his body took comfort in. It was the ordinary. It was the familiar. This, he could live with. These rules, he could live by. But what was happening now, the casket outside that housed an unmoving, cold and lifeless corpse; a face he didn’t have the will to conjure to his mind. This, he could not deal with. He didn’t understand how to deal with it. There was no rulebook on mourning that he’d been given. There was no step-by-step guide that he’d been told growing up. His mother had never mentioned death to him. She had never mentioned anything to him if it didn’t pertain to the rules or some kind of order. His father had, once. Jacoby vaguely remembered the conversation had in one of his father’s regular drunken stupors.
— Everyone dies. Me, you, that bitch who left us. Even her no good lover will go and burn in hell.
He’d fallen back into his worn green chair. The reclining part had long since been broken and every movement on it made the house fill with a squeal. His father had looked down at Jacoby, dark eyes clouded over with truth and alcohol. Everything in the trailer had been clouded over with alcohol. That and cigarettes. Jacoby remembered the smell. How different it was from the outside. It was suffocating. It held his body hostage in a haze of darkness and pain. It pressed down on his lungs and forced him to take in the toxic fumes. Welcome us. They would say. Welcome us into your body and we will make the world better. Prettier.
His father had taken another drink before he’d leaned forward. The springs in the chair squealed underneath his weight.
— Let me tell ya something Jakey. You and me and all this godforsaken world? We’re all goin to Hell. Me for being a shit excuse of a husband. Your mother for being a shit excuse of a wife. You for being a shit excuse of a son.
His father had released a bark of laughter. He’d sat back in his chair and continued drinking, nursing the glass bottle with all the care in the world. It was a care Jacoby had never experienced from the man.
— Yep. Hell. Yep. You ain’t special. You ain’t good enough for nothin’ else, but I ain’t either. Ain’t no one good enough no more.
Jacoby’s soul had cracked at the words. He hadn’t been good enough, though he didn’t know why that had come as such a surprise. That was why his mother never returned. That was why his father only looked at him with cold eyes. There was no room for love or kindness or even pity or hate. No, he never hated Jacoby, his father just simply never cared and perhaps that was worse, Jacoby had thought. Perhaps that negligence, the honest dismissal was what hurt most. Jacoby liked to think that rather than choosing the dismissal voluntarily, his father had lost the ability to care.
Jacoby blinked. He came back to the present. He was still sitting on the cream tiled flooring in a tiny bathroom stall with vomit sitting in the toilet. His tears had stopped at some point and an exhaustion now wrapped his body in a weighted blanket that made every movement feel like an impossible task. He flushed the toilet and left the stall just as a man entered. It was someone he remembered, vaguely from the park he’d grown up in. A kindly old man now, but someone who used to be young with a boisterous laugh. A man that always looked upon Jacoby as a family member.
Greying hair peppered over the man’s scalp. Dark black half-moons hung from under hazel eyes. His skin was wrinkled and there were aged dark patches speckled on the pale surface. He no longer stood straight as Jacoby remembered, now there was a slight hunch to his back and a limp in his step. The whites of his eyes were red from tears.
The man whispered the word though it stung Jacoby like a wasp. Jacoby turned away from the man. He scratched at his wrist and bit down on his bottom lip. Words escaped him as they often did.
— What are you doing here? What are we doing here?
The poor soul of the old man went on. Jacoby remained where he stood, at the entrance of the stall. He did not offer words or comfort or a shoulder to cry on even when he saw the tears pooling in the man’s eyes. Jacoby was not one to give solace to others. He lacked any type of sympathetic bone or molecule known to man. He didn’t just hate crying, but he hated seeing others cry as well. It reminded him of the quiet nights at home, when no animals would be making noise outside and everyone had been dead to the world in the trailer park. On those nights he could hear it. The sounds of his mother weeping in the kitchen and the loud snores of his father in the bedroom beside his own. One did not care about the world. The other cared too much.
— Oh, little brother.
They were not brothers, but the man had often referred to him as such when Jacoby was younger. He would entertain Jacoby for hours, teaching him how to play soccer or helping with his homework. He would always be smiling and he would always praise Jacoby when he completed a soccer move properly or answered a question right.
Jacoby’s lips parted and he swallowed a ball that had been stuck in his throat.
— What’s going to happen now?
It was the first time he’d spoken since he’d woken up. His voice was raspy from little use. His words were broken. He struggled to sound like the man he knew himself to be. The man did not answer and Jacoby did not get upset. Neither of them knew what would come next. Neither of them knew what the future held. The man continued to cry. Jacoby stood by for a while. Needles stabbed into his heart with every whimper. His toes curled with every sniffle. His stomach dropped lower and lower with every tear that glided down the old man’s face. It was as if insects were feasting on his insides. A million little creepy crawlies that ran amok. Jacoby could not take it any longer and he turned and left the bathroom.
He walked back into the reception area with no real aim. He assumed that was normal. It had become even more difficult to form a single thought now. His vision continued to blur and he continued to scratch, deeper and deeper into his right wrist. Anything he’d felt earlier had eased out of his system. It left him with nothing but a dull numbness.
— Have you seen Jacoby yet?
— No, I don’t think I’m ready to say anything.
Jacoby walked by these people without a second glance. He wasn’t much ready to hear what they had to say. He came upon the grim viewing room once more. Flowers, intricate bouquets of marigolds, red tulips, and carnations decorated corners of the room, the sign in table, and all around the dark brown casket. The overhead lights gave the death bed a godlike, mystical glow as if death were some blessing that all should be praising. It seemed as if more people had crowded into the small space. Bodies pushed against one another, moving like one massive life form. They undulated. They mourned. They cried. Their fake sympathy stained the air like a putrid stench that clamped around his throat with an iron grip. He was back in that trailer. Back in the dark. Back to being a boy that would never be good enough. Jacob was back in a house with a mother that was scarcely there. He was back in a house with a father that didn’t care. He was back in a house that a mother had abandoned. He was back in a house that would never be a home. He opened his eyes and looked on more at the people. No one here cared about the deceased. They cared about what the deceased had left behind. Jacoby was not wrong or egotistical when he’d said he was an intelligent, calculating person. He was and he had been successful for it. He pushed into the mass of people and made for the casket. People he didn’t even recall, faces he didn’t recognize, all of them expressed their grief and their goodbyes. Their voice trickled into his; crisp, sobbing, venomous, sneering, laughing, mocking. They bombard the inside of his skull. He pushed them aside, though none of them paid him any mind. None of them looked his way. No one batted an eye and, when he finally reached his destination he looked on at the body within the silk lined prison. He looked down at himself.