Dad was waiting for us when we got home. He was sitting at the kitchen table with a beer when we came in. He looked tired.
“How was it?” he asked, his expression somber, twirling the glass of beer in his hand.
“Horrible,” I said, thinking it couldn’t have been anything other than horrible, after all. The cold drizzle outside had worked its way into my bones. My eyes were burning, felt hollow. But perhaps worst of all, I still couldn’t believe she was gone. I couldn’t accept what I’d seen, and it made me angry. Angry at the impossibility and misery of it.
Mom laid her purse on the entryway credenza and entered the kitchen. She slipped into a chair next to my father and laid her hand over his arm. He hadn’t been able to leave work to attend the wake because of an afternoon meeting that could not be cancelled. I wondered, though, if his absence had more to do with his habitual boycott of all religious and social rituals and services. He never attended anything of that sort: Sunday church services, weddings, funerals, holiday church services. He always had something pressing happening at work whenever those events took place, leaving Mom to act as a kind of ambassador on his behalf. The only things he’d ever made appearances at were sports and musical events his children were participating in.
Kori and Billy sat down with them. Billy folded his arms on the table and laid his head on them, giving an exhausted sigh.
“Here,” Kori said, taking a photograph out of her purse and holding it out to me. “I took it at the beach in June. Thought you might like to have it,” she said sniffling.
I took the photo, my face puffy from crying. “Thanks,” I said, starting to cry again at the sight of Eva’s face there.
Kori pulled a little roll of tissues out of her pocket, handed me one, peeled one out for herself, and tucked them back into her pocket. I imagined she would be a good mother. She was always prepared with helpful little items. Extra Kleenex, bottles of water, snacks, blankets, whatever. One of those people who thought of things like that. I bent to hug Kori, said goodnight to everyone, and went down the hall to my bedroom.
Taking Kori’s picture to bed with me, I put my head on the pillow and propped the photo up next to me on my lamp. It was of Eva and me together earlier that summer at the beach. Blonde, standing with her left arm draped over me, a happy smile on her face, Eva looked so vital and permanent. So real.
I started to cry again, my mind reeling at her absence. Had she been real? Was any of this real? Rolling everything over again and again in my mind, I tried to breathe. An accident with the car, her wheel coming off, and a large delivery truck hitting her Civic. I couldn’t get my head around it. Perhaps because I hadn’t seen the car. Maybe because I’d had to take Mr. Verdano’s word for it. It didn’t seem possible. With school just two weeks away, this couldn’t have happened. I told myself it was all just a bad dream. That I would wake in the morning and Eva would come for breakfast.
I held that in my mind, repeating it like a mantra. This is all just a bad dream. Eventually I fell asleep, the photo beside me.