Jimmy Christie did not celebrate his sixth Easter with chocolate bunnies, nor did he hunt for colored eggs in the park with the other children. There were no jellybeans and yellow marshmallow chickens placed in a festive basket on the bedside table next to his bed. The mood in his parents house was sullen and somber, though he could scarcely comprehend why.
His Grandpa Gene had died on Good Friday. That puzzled Jimmy in many ways. He did not understand, exactly, what death was. His mother tried to tell him it was like sleeping, but then she started to cry, To Jimmy it seemed that death must be a sad sleep, because he had never seen her cry for someone sleeping before. He felt frightened. And why did they call it Good Friday? He saw no good that Friday, only tears.
And today, in the April spring rain, they were going to a funeral. He did not know of funerals either, had never heard the word until the day before yesterday. He knew it was not an Easter party, for this morning both his father and mother were dressed in sad black. His father was very quiet, with worry wrinkles embedded in his forehead. His mother’s eyes were bleary red from days of weeping. All for Grandpa Gene who was sleeping. Jimmy promised himself that he would never sleep again. He did not wish for his mom to cry for him that way. He could hardly bear to see her so sad. Jimmy felt sad too, but he did not know why.
His father helped him dress. In gloomy silence he pulled Jimmy’s blue blazer from the closet, unfolded a white shirt and black slacks from successive drawers of his dresser. Leading the child into the bathroom, his father solemnly combed the boy’s moistened hair. Jimmy sensed that his father’s actions were automatic. It was as if a ghost had entered his father’s body. Jimmy shuddered.
Jimmy looked up at his father, who had stopped combing and was staring at himself in the bathroom mirror.
“Dad, what’s a funeral?”
Shaking free from his trance he answered quietly. “Well son, a funeral is a church service for people when they die.”
“Why do I have to go to the funeral, Dad?” Jimmy asked, sincerely.
“So you can say goodbye to Grandpa.” his father faintly replied.
“Where’s he going, Dad? Is he going somewhere when he wakes up?”
“He’s already gone son. He’s dead. He’s not going to wake up. Today we are going to bury him.”
Jimmy tried to consider what not waking up would be like. This was quite difficult, for he could not remember what happened when he was asleep.
“Is Grandpa in the light that goes through the clouds?” the boy wondered, describing a recurring dream he had often had.
“Where did you get that?” The man smiled at his son, looking at him with wistful eyes. “I don’t know son,” he said, “I really don’t know. Let’s get you downstairs for some breakfast.” He patted the boy fondly on the back, guiding him out of the bathroom and down the stairs to the kitchen.
The two of them joylessly ate cornflakes at the kitchen table. Jimmy stared at the cartoon characters on the back of the cereal box. His father simply gazed into numb space.
“Is Mom gonna have breakfast, Dad?” Jimmy inquired.
“No Jim. She’s resting until it’s time to go,” he was told. Mary was very close to her father. His sudden and unexpected death had ripped a large hole in her life. He had doted unceasingly on her, his only daughter. She would not have married Joey– had her father disapproved. And papa was so ecstatic when Jimmy was born. In a world of proud grandfathers, surely none was prouder than Papa of her son. And though she still had Jimmy and Joey to shore her up, she felt herself caving in. She lay sobbing on the bed, breathing eratically, cyclically returning to a deep, devouring plaint.
Jimmy watched from the kitchen window as his father pulled the maroon station wagon from the garage. The boy tugged indifferently at the white lace curtains, whirling in an eddy of wordless confusion. He watched the rain bouncing in torrents atop the roof of the car, counting drops until he lost track. He thought of burying Grandpa. Dad had buried Smurfy in the backyard after he quit moving and got stiff. They buried the guinea pig, just like Grandpa.
Jimmy wondered if Smurfy and Grandpa were flying together on the beams of light together. He pretended the raindrops were beams of light, careening off the roof of the car. He could see Grandpa and Smurfy dancing and laughing in the rain. Jimmy smiled. Then his eyes saw his father emerge from the car, running hunched, toward the house through the downpour.
The drive to the cemetery was uninteresting to Jimmy. He counted the times his father had to stop the car for signs or lights. At the twelfth stop his father shut off the engine. Jimmy sat up on his haunches in the back seat and glanced out the window through the rain. He could see broad lawns extending off in all directions, newly budding trees dotting the premises. It was like a park, but there were no swings or slides– only thick, cold, gray blades of stone protruding from the ground.
Out the other window Jimmy could see a small crowd of people huddled around a large, shiny brown box– which looked like the cedar chest in his parents’ room. He could see Uncle Harry and Aunt Elaine, Uncle Paul, and George, the nice man who lived in the house next to Grandpa’s. They were all dressed in black, everyone was in black. The sky was black. Little light shone through. It was the dreariest of days. The rain continued to fall.
Jimmy’s father opened the passenger door for his wife, guiding her beneath an extended umbrella. Closing the door, he opened Jimmy’s door, helping the boy out of the car. Jimmy held tightly to his parents’ hands as the three of them approached the gallery of sad faces.
They moved in next to Uncle Harry and Aunt Elaine at the head of the grave. Harry put his arm around his sister and gave her a big hug, wearily grimaced in Joey’s direction.
Jimmy let go of his parents’ hands and began to bounce rhythmically to the words of the priest– who was delivering a monotonous eulogy about a man he hardly knew, to a congregation that knew the man well. Jimmy’s father placed his hands upon the bobbing shoulders below him, as the boy gawked at the blank faces encircling the brown box. He winked at the raindrops that caromed from the umbrella edge held high above him; dabbing at his forehead and eyes with his coat sleeve. He pretended to himself to be crying like his mother– for whom the rainwater was made salty by the depth of her sorrow.
He looked around, bored, for any object nearby upon which to engage his wandering mind. He stared ruefully at a large tombstone looming up from the ground behind him, wondering at the message inscribed upon its’ surface. He pulled away from his father’s grasp and turned to face the towering monument.
Jimmy’s attention was momentarily drawn back to the ceremony as the casket was slowly lowered into the ground. Gently he murmured “Goodbye Granpa Gene.” He turned again to inspect the object of his attent.
The earth trembled softly as the caretakers erected a tall stone cross at the head of Grandpa’s grave. Jimmy watched the action briefly, then wandered toward the tombstone behind the assemblage. Stealthily, he crept toward the tombstone not ten feet away– reading the individual numbers and letters.
As the workers began to drive the cross into place, swinging heavy rubber mallets, Jimmy felt the ground beneath him quiver. Suddenly the huge tombstone toppled over, slamming flat atop the boy. Not the slightest cry emerged from beneath the great slab.
His parents shouted in terror at the sound, turned to see their son gone. George, Harry and Joey ran to the granite marker, hysterically yanking at the impossibly dense stone. Soon they were joined by several other men who, in a volley of great strength borne of fright, hoisted the huge rock aside.
Astonished, the gathering stood agape in wonderment. For, no trace of Jimmy lay in the drenched sod. He had simply disappeared.
Briefly, the sun emerged from the clouds, glistening in golden rays upon the surface of the wet gray stone.