William stepped out of the passenger side of Hugh’s car and the two of them made their way up the walk and into the Stingers’ house, where a number of mourners had already gathered. Through the crowd, they saw Lester standing alone in a corner and they walked over to join him.
“Hey, guys. Thanks for coming,” Lester said, greeting them both with a hug.
“Of course. We’ll always be here for you. You know that,” Hugh said.
“Thanks. Hey, William, can you grab us a round of beers?” Lester asked, nodding toward the refrigerator. William turned, grabbed three beers, handed them around, and he and Hugh sat down on the couch on either side of Lester.
“So, how you holding up, buddy?” William asked, looking at Lester.
“As well as can be expected, I suppose,” Lester said with a shrug and a smirk. He shook his head and took a sip from his bottle. “It helps that we knew it was coming.”
“I would think so. I mean, I guess. I don’t know,” William said. He took a breath and looked around the room. “Where’s Barry?”
“Mingling. He’s better at that crap than I am. I don’t even know half these people, so he’s taking care of all that social shit,” Lester said. “And I’m sitting here drinking. So we’re both doing what we’re good at.”
“That’s good. You have enough to deal with. You shouldn’t have to worry about impressing these bunch of assholes,” William said.
“Come on now, William,” Hugh said. “They’re just trying to offer their sympathies to the Stingers.”
“I know. Bunch of cunts,” William said under his breath. He took a sip of his beer and patted Lester on the back. “Your mom was a hell of a woman.”
“She was. Tough as nails. Raised two kids by herself while working full time, and never complained. Not even once she got cancer.” Lester took a sip of his beer and nodded slowly as he swallowed. “Never made excuses either, you know? A lot of people want a simple solution, or a scapegoat. To be able to blame all their problems on society, or on one group of people or another. Mum always used to talk about how ridiculous this was, given that we all know it’s the Jews who are to blame.”
William and Hugh chuckled nervously. “That’s right,” William said, wincing. “Your mum was such a sweet lady. I always forget that she was also a horrible racist.”
“Yeah, you know, she seemed like a sweet old lady, but underneath that was a lot of anger at the way her life turned out.”
“But under that anger was a heart of gold, right?” Hugh said with an awkward laugh. Lester nodded contemplatively.
“Sure, sure. But underneath the heart of gold was more anger.” Lester took a sip of his beer and thought for a moment. “But under that, she really did love me and my brother more than anything. What can I say? The woman had a lot of layers.”
“Were most of them anger?” William asked.
“No, no. A lot of them were, sure. But there was also a good deal of hatred and resentment thrown in there.”
“That’s good,” Hugh said absentmindedly, pulling out his phone and checking it.
“What’s up?” William asked.
“It’s Amy. She and the kids will be here shortly.”
“Oh, they don’t have to do that,” Lester said.
“Yes, they do. They want to. You know how they feel about you, Lester,” Hugh said, putting his arm around Lester. “You and Barry are like family to us.”
“What took them so long?” William asked, looking past Lester at Hugh. “They were almost ready when we left the house, and that was some time ago.”
Hugh shrugged. “Apparently something with Gemma and her boyfriend. I didn’t get the details, but Amy and her had a bit of a dustup, I guess.”
“Gemma’s got a boyfriend now?” Lester asked. “I didn’t hear anything about this. When did this happen?”
“About a week ago. Hence why I haven’t said anything,” Hugh said. He sighed. “Amy isn’t thrilled about it, and I’m kind of hoping it will pass, but you know how kids are at that age.”
“Well, they’ve been dating a week, so they think they’re in love and want to spend every moment together.”
“So, what’s Amy’s problem with it?” William asked.
“I don’t know. She says she doesn’t trust the boy. I don’t like him either, but I don’t think I’d like anyone my little girl is dating. Objectively, he seems as alright as any other thirteen-year old.” Hugh took a sip of his beer, hesitated for a moment, and took another sip. “Frankly, though I think she won’t say it to spare my feelings, I think Amy’s afraid of Gemma becoming sexually active.”
“Your little girl is growing up,” Lester said, smiling, shaking his head, and shrugging. “Did you think she’d stay young forever?”
“No. To be honest, I’m not sure I really want to think about it though.”
“I can see that,” Lester said.
“She should try anal,” William added.
“William!” Hugh said harshly while Lester looked at William with wide eyes, raised eyebrows and an amused look on his face.
“She just turned thirteen.”
“So?” William said. “It will be good practice. Plus, it’ll make her the most popular girl in school.”
Hugh took a deep breath and started to say something, but was stopped upon seeing his family walk in. He got up and went to greet them, and Lester turned to William.
“Yes, Lester? What is it?”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re an asshole?”
“No, no. Just my dad, my mum every day of my life growing up, every girlfriend I’ve ever had.” William shrugged as he took another sip of his beer. “And pretty much everyone I’ve ever met at one point or another.”
“Ugh, it’s in a church?” William said as they pulled up, his face distorted in disgust. “Why’d it have to be in a church?”
“Because it’s a funeral?” Lester said, getting out of the car that Hugh was driving. The three of them had ridden to the church together, with Hugh’s family going separately, and Barry arriving earlier, since he was to give the eulogy. “Besides, you know how religious mum could be.”
“Yeah, William’s mum too. Why do you think he hates religion so much?” Hugh said.
“I always assumed it was for the same reason he used to leave multiple choice tests blank instead of guessing,” Lester said.
“It’s not that. I just don’t see why I constantly have to have religion shoved down my throat,” William said.
“You mean by going to a church once or twice a year when someone dies or gets married?”
“William, don’t start,” Hugh warned. “Now isn’t the time to revisit the issues you have with your mother.”
“I told you it isn’t that,” William protested. “I just don’t like churches. That’s all. They’re oppression palaces.”
“Right. Never mind the soup kitchens and homeless shelters they fund, house and staff,” Lester said, rolling his eyes.
“I know. Fuck that shit,” William said, looking at the large building in front of him with trepidation. “Bunch of cunts.”
“Anyway, shall we, gentleman?” Lester said. The three of them entered the church and made their way to their seats, with Lester stopping a couple of times to shake hands or hug another attendee. They sat down and waited until the service began.
The service went smoothly until it was time for Barry to give his eulogy. He approached the pulpit, took a deep breath, and began. “Thank you all for coming today. It’s fitting that we are saying farewell to my mother in this church. She loved this church, and she loved the people, and I know that a great many of you today were friends with my mother due to your mutual involvement in this church, and for that I thank you. For your friendship to my mother, for your support during her illness, and for your support today.”
Barry smiled sadly and cleared his throat. “What to say about my mother? She wasn’t a fancy woman, or a glamourous woman. She was never rich, at least not materially. She had her faults, as do we all, but at the end of the day, she was a good woman. A solid woman. She raised two boys by herself, while also working full time to make sure there was always food on the table. And I think that’s the best thing that can be said for her. No matter the situation, she did what she was supposed to.”
Barry paused, took a sip of water, and continued. “Even though life was never good to her, she never complained. Never took the easy way out. After my dad left, it would have been easy for her to fall into despair. But she had two young boys, and it was her duty to take care of them, so that’s what she did. She toughened up and went out and took the first job she could find. She had no skills and no experience, and the pay was minimum, but she not only went to work each day, she came home, took care of her kids, and found time to help at the church on weekends.”
Barry sniffled, and wiped a tear from his eye, his voice beginning to crack as he continued. “And she was like that right up until the end. I remember when she was first diagnosed with cancer. We were sitting around that night. All of us were in shock, so to speak, and she leaned over to me. You know what she said? She asked if I was alright. She had just been given a death sentence, and she was more concerned about how I was taking the news than herself.”
Barry sobbed a little, and excused himself for a moment. Drawing himself back up to the pulpit, he continued. “And that is the best way to summarize her life. No matter how poorly fate treated her, no matter how hard things got, no matter how much pain she was in, she always thought of others first. She could be a hard woman, a tough woman, but that was because that was what she needed to be. She was not a remarkable woman, but she was the woman she needed to be. She was your friend. And she was my mother. Thank you.”
“Another round, Dave,” William said as the barkeep came to clear their glasses.
“Sure thing, William,” said Tommy, picking up the empty pint glasses on the table. “You guys seem to have quite the party going on tonight. What are you celebrating, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“My mother’s death,” Lester said solemnly. Tommy’s face fell, and Lester started laughing along with the rest of the table. “I’m just fucking with you. We did just come from her funeral though.”
“Oh, so she is dead, then?”
“I certainly hope so, or we just made a massive mistake,” Lester said. “No, seriously though, she’s really fucking dead. We checked like, I don’t know, three times, maybe.”
“Well, I’m terribly sorry for your loss,” Tommy said, nodding his head solemnly. “I’ll get those drinks right out to you.”
Tommy took off, and Hugh turned to Barry. “So, now that your mum’s gone, have you decided what to do with her house?”
Barry shook his head. “No, though it’s funny you mention that. Lester, you know the Bensons, right?”
“Sure, the family from next door,” Lester said, shrugging. “What of them?”
“Well, they were at the house today, before mum’s funeral.”
“I know. I saw them. I remember avoiding talking to them. What’s your point?” Lester asked as Tommy returned with a round of beers.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” Tommy said, distributing the beverages. “This round’s on the house.”
“Oh, thank you so much, Tommy. You didn’t need to do that,” Barry said.
“It’s the least I could do.”
“Why are you calling him Tommy?” asked William.
“Because that’s his name.”
“No. His name’s Dave.”
“My name’s Tommy,” said Tommy.
“Shut up, Dave,” William said.
“Anyway, thanks again, Tommy,” Barry said. Tommy smiled and walked away, and Barry continued, “So, the Bensons were there, ostensibly to pay their respects.”
“That is typically why people go to funerals from what I understand,” Lester said.
“I said ostensibly. They asked in passing, I think they were trying to be coy about it, but they asked what we were planning to do with the house. They even offered to help us out, if we needed some assistance in keeping it.”
“That’s oddly nice of them,” Lester said, holding his beer to his mouth. “What’s their angle?”
“I think it’s that the Talbots on the other side want to buy the house for their mother to move into. Well, one of their mothers, anyway.”
“So, you know how those two families get along.”
“No, I don’t,” Lester said, casually shaking his head. “I go out of my way to avoid knowing anything about any of our neighbors. You know that.”
“Right,” Barry said. “Basically, I think the Bensons are offering to help us out because they want to make sure that the Talbots can’t buy our house.”
“Ah, it’s nice to see that neighborly kindness is still in vogue,” William said, smiling as he took a sip of his beer. “It’s always nice to see neighbors coming together in difficult times to screw over other neighbors.”
“So, did you tell them to fuck on off?” Lester asked.
“Yeah, pretty much. I didn’t quite put it that way…”
“But I told them that mum had owned the house outright, and that she left it to us in her will.”
“You guys are going to stay there, then?” Hugh asked.
“Don’t know. The funeral was just today. We haven’t gotten that far,” Barry said, taking a sip of his beer. He thought for a second, looking into his drink. “I don’t know if it’s more respectful to her to stay there, or to leave and move someplace else. We have a lot of memories in that house.”
“I don’t think your mum cares too much, one way or the other,” William said. “On account of being dead and all.”
“William,” Hugh said, slapping his friend as he scolded him.
“No, I suppose he’s right. Even if she were here right now, I don’t think she’d care one way or the other. Still, I feel that we ought to do something, you know? Something to honor her memory.”
“Like what?” Hugh asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should get the team together and volunteer. Like at a cancer ward for children or something,” Barry said.
“Where did you get such a stupid idea?” William asked. “Did you just combine the fact that your mom had both kids and cancer and roll with that?”
“No,” Barry said defensively. He took a sip and shrugged. “Yes. What of it?”
“It’s a terrible idea. We’ll catch their cancer.”
“I don’t think that’s how cancer works,” Hugh said. “It isn’t contagious.”
“Oh yeah? If it’s not contagious, then how did all those kids catch cancer in the first place?”
“Smoking, probably,” Lester suggested.
“Anyway, we get the point, William. If you don’t want to volunteer with us, just say so,” Barry said.
“I don’t want to volunteer. And neither do you,” William said. “The only reason you’re suggesting it is because you’re six beers in. As soon as you sober up, you’ll realize what a stupid idea it is. It will be terrible depressing and require more initiative and effort than you have. I just don’t see any way you think hanging around with dying kids could be fun. This is all just drunk talk.”
Barry took another sip and pondered William’s comments for a moment. “So? You’re probably right. I’m never actually going to do any of this, but so what? At least I’m talking about it. And it makes me feel better about myself, and my dead fucking mum, so where’s the harm? Besides, drunkenly talking about improving the world is easier than actually doing anything about it.”
“Yeah, that seems to be the attitude of most people,” William said, pushing his seat back and standing up. “I’m going to get another round. Who else wants one?”