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Fiction: Eulogy by Marie Chow


First in a 3-part fiction series entitled "The Fourth Player"

Karen Jasmine Harper is dead. That’s what your mother calls to tell you. “Karen Jasmine Harper is dead,” she says. “Don’t you remember? That nice girl you used to date in high school?”

“Yeah, I dated Karen,” you say. You didn’t even know her middle name was Jasmine. You slept with her, but sex and middle names don’t always coincide. Except now she’s dead. You’re only twenty-four, which means she was only twenty-three. Dead at twenty-three and you didn’t even know her middle name.

Later -- you get to thinking. What did you ever really know about the girl? She wasn’t a virgin. You’re pretty sure you would’ve remembered if she had been. But only knowing that she wasn’t a virgin seems like not knowing anything at all.

Much later – you remember. You have one, and only one, clear memory of the girl. One day in class – biology or chemistry or some such bull – the teacher had started talking about whether toilets flushed clockwise or counterclockwise. She said clockwise, or maybe she said counterclockwise, it doesn’t matter. You just remember she said it with conviction. Like she’d actually spent time looking at the damned thing, examining it. The class had started arguing and finally the teacher sent someone to investigate.

He asked, “So how many of you actually look at it while it’s flushing?” You didn’t raise your hand, only a few brave souls did.

But she did. She said you really ought to look, because how else will you know if your pee is healthy?

“Yellow pee means you don’t drink enough water,” she’d said. “Clear pee means you’ve drank too much.”
You remember thinking how pathetic that seemed. So you fucked her. Your mom calls it dating, but you know better.
---

You learn about Karen’s death after church one day.

Mrs. Hansen pulls you aside directly after the service, taking one of your hands in hers and looping it through her arm.

“That Harper girl didn’t make it,” she whispers confidingly. “Didn’t you go to school with her? Karen Harper?” She pauses, squeezing your hand to reassure you. Looking down, you notice how pale her skin – which she always sprinkles liberally with baby powder – looks in contrast to your own, more yellow hue.

“It’s such a sad thing, isn’t it?” You nod and mumble, shifting your hand just slightly, trying to get it back unobtrusively. “You weren’t able to keep in touch with her much after she moved away, were you?” There’s just the faintest of shifts in her tone that lets you know exactly what Mrs. Hansen thinks about girls who move away.

“No, I really wasn’t.”

“I heard she was in a coma for almost six months,” Mrs. Hansen volunteered.

“Yes. I’d heard that as well.”

Mrs. Hansen waits expectantly, still holding your hand and patting it absently. She’s inadvertently rubbed some of her baby powder onto you, and it looks odd there, like someone who has bikini stripes showing against their tan. Then, finally realizing that you have nothing more to say, Mrs. Hansen murmurs and moves on, intent on spreading the news to a more receptive audience.

Later, driving home in your mother’s beige Volvo, you try to think about all the good memories you have of Karen. When you were little, your mothers were best friends and the two of you had been groomed to like one another. You’d slept over at each other’s houses, braided one another’s hair, and passed each other endless notes both during and in-between classes. You’d dreamt of becoming models together, of your faces, together, on the pages of Vogue and Cosmopolitan. You’d spent countless nights going over the details of how you’d each look, what you’d each wear.

You remember the first time you got your period; it was after you’d spent the night at Karen’s house. Your mother had been at work. So it was Karen you’d turned to, and, later, Karen’s mother who had nursed you through the experience.

The first time you’d both had a crush, a serious crush, it’d been on the same boy. But even that hadn’t affected your friendship, as the boy had chosen neither of you. You smile now, thinking about that boy. These days you can barely remember his name. These days you have trouble separating the good memories from the bad ones.

One especially.

You remember that day; it must have been towards the end of junior high when you and a group of your newer friends had gathered together in the bathroom between classes. You had turned to Karen, noticing for the first time how pretty her eyelashes looked that morning.

You asked, “Hey Kar – what kind of mascara is that?”

She’d turned and laughed, “You’re going to use mascara?” Since Karen had started blossoming early, you had become the flat, boyish one in comparison. Meaning she had started experimenting with makeup while you had merely looked on.

“Yeah, why not? I’ll try anything once, right?”

She’d looked at your meaningfully, “You have such beady little eyes,” she’d said. “Why bother?” Several of the other girls had giggled as she said this, as if it was a brilliant joke. You’re pretty sure you’d forced yourself to laugh as well. A few seconds later, you’d excused yourself and headed back to class.

You’d tried to forget. It was such a silly, small thing really. And you were sure that Karen hadn’t meant anything by it, not really. But you just hadn’t been able to let go.

You’d finally written it down in a note, trying to explain to Karen how you felt. You explained that you’d never told her, but that you’d always been sensitive about your features. You’d always felt different because Elko was such a small town, such a white town, and you were, well, not white – more yellow really, though you hated using that term even then. You explained that you’d always been particularly sensitive about your eyes, which were so narrow, such almonds compared to her pearls. You thought you’d told her once, or perhaps you’d merely assumed that she knew. You’d written it all down, every little detail about how you’d felt and how it’d hurt and going on and on until the subject had been completely exhausted.

You’d given her the note and by that night, Karen had come to your house, almost crying before she’d even started talking. Your mother, not knowing anything was wrong, assumed that Karen had merely come over for dinner and had let her into your room.

You’d been laying in bed, reading, and she’d come up right next to you.

“Mei – I’m so sorry. So sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. You know I didn’t mean it like that.” You remember she’d started crying, she’d been so upset.

“You know I didn’t mean it like that Mei. I’m sorry. Please say you forgive me.”

You’d replied that of course you forgave her. It was already forgotten. It was silly of you to have taken it so seriously in the first place. You’d hugged each other tightly and afterwards, you remember noticing how beautiful her eyelashes looked, with tears clinging to them. Long lashes, framing her wide white person’s eyes. You remember being angry that even crying, Karen was still prettier at it than you would ever be. You remember wondering when it had happened, when she had become the pretty white girl and you had become her shy Asian friend.

Afterwards things were never quite the same. She had tried to be more sensitive, but her efforts had only further aggravated you, showing you where all the little -- previously unseen -- differences between you were. You became jealous, suspicious, and, later, hypersensitive to not only the things she was saying, but also the things she wasn’t saying.

Now that she’s dead it seems ridiculous to dwell on such a small thing.

Except you do.
---

Oddly enough, even though you’ve visited almost every day, even though you’re on a first name basis with not only the doctors and nurses, but most of the aides and volunteers as well, it’s your would-be father-in-law who calls you with the news.

“Lenny...”

His voice breaks, and you know. It happened naturally, he tells you. There was no pain, he says. You’re not sure what happens in the rest of the conversation. You know that you make all the right responses, murmur at the correct moments, but really, you’re not paying attention. All you can think about is the fact that Karen is dead.

After you hang up, you decide to go for a drive. You try to cry, but you can’t. It’s not that you’re ashamed of crying. You cried when you heard about the accident. You cried the first time you visited her in the hospital and countless times since, at home, alone. You’re just all cried out.

Eventually, you end up at your old hang out, down by the bridge. There’s no one around and so you climb down to the stream and just sit there, gazing at the black water as it flows by. You try to remember the first time you brought Karen here, you try to remember your first kiss here, under the bridge, but it gets somehow jumbled up and lost with all the other times the two of you’d been here, all the other kisses you’d had.

You wish now that you had preserved just one of those moments somehow. You wish you had been paying slightly more attention so that you could remember exactly what she said, the words, the tone, and the little accents people invariably use. You wish, now that it’s too late, that you had more than just the vague feeling, the nebulous mood of the experience as opposed to the real thing.

You try to remember how she looked, in the moonlight here by the bridge. You try to visualize the precise angle she used to tilt her head back, how long her hair was, and exactly how she crinkled her nose right before she burst out laughing.

But mostly, what you remember is Karen in the hospital. Karen after the accident. Karen, in a vegetative state, with tubes sticking out of her. Karen, staring out of her wide blue eyes and blinking at you as if she recognized you. Karen’s lips, tilting up meaninglessly at the corners, stretching her mouth into a wide, vacant smile. That’s the Karen you remember now.

What’s worse – deep down, just barely identifiable but definitely there -- is a small sense of relief. You remember the doctor telling you that after the first two months, very few patients recover from a non-responsive vegetative state. You remember at the time, you argued with him, yelled at him, accused him of being harsh and cold, unfeeling and inhumane. You told him he’d been in medicine so long he’d probably forgotten that his patients weren’t just statistics, that hope shouldn’t be dictated by science, but by faith.
But as the months passed, his words had begun to echo in your mind, reverberate until you became torn, until the hypothetical became a near reality – would you take her off life support if it had been up to you?

You’re not sure what the answer is. You’d like to think no, but mostly, you’re just happy you were never asked.
---

“Karen is dead.”

You say it out loud as if to prove it to yourself, as if hearing the words from your own lips – through a voice so similar to hers -- will finally allow the truth of it to sink in. Your baby is gone. “Karen is gone.”

You go into her room and sit down on her bed – though really, it hasn’t been her room for years now, ever since she left for college. Jason keeps trying to get you to take it apart; he needs it for extra office space, he insists, but somehow you haven’t been able to let go.

“Not yet,” you tell him. “Wait until after she’s finished college, after she’s married.”

You laugh now, thinking about it. You’re so ridiculously grateful that all her furniture is still here. Karen had been barely eight years old when she’d picked it out and she’d spent most of her high school years bemoaning the fact that her bedroom furniture was still such a childish pink. But your budget had been tight then and so the furniture had stayed.

You lay down on Karen’s bed, facing towards the door. You want to cry, but at the same time, you want to make sure you hear when Jason comes home. He knows you’re spending most of your days crying. You know he’s hurting too. But for the most part, you try to stay out of each other’s way. The pain is too fresh to be shared right now, too personal to talk about.

You’d both tried, that first night, to console one another. You’d started off holding each other, silently, wordlessly. But finally, that hadn’t seemed enough. He’d started kissing you, or perhaps you’d started kissing him. You’re not sure. Maybe, subconsciously, you were looking for a way to reaffirm that fact that even though your baby was dead, you were both still alive. Maybe it was about the cycle of life and ending things they way they had began, with Jason’s seed in your womb.

Or maybe you’d both just been terribly, horribly lonely. In a way that couldn’t possibly be mended through words, so sex had been the next best thing.

Afterwards, he’d pretended to fall asleep, not realizing that after almost thirty years of marriage, you know all of his tells. You knew from his breathing patterns as well as the slight grimace at his mouth that he hadn’t really been asleep but had merely wanted to be alone. You’d decided to let him pretend.

You’d gotten up and gone to Karen’s room, just to sit for a little while, you told yourself, feeling slightly ashamed that you’d even allowed yourself to forget, for a few moments, that this was what tonight was really supposed to be about: Karen’s death.

You’d started crying soon after, and had eventually fallen asleep in her bed, clutching at her old pajamas.

The past few days, it’s become a bit of a habit. Jason comes home. You and Jason have sex. He pretends to sleep and you wander into Karen’s room. You know Jason disapproves. He thinks you’re allowing yourself to wallow, allowing this to become your drama, your misery, when really, you should be focusing on Karen, on the details of the funeral, the arrangements, the church.

He doesn’t tell you any of this, but after almost thirty years of marriage, you know. You look now, across the bed to where Karen’s trophies are. Most of them are small, and merely for participation – she was never much of a student, nor did she try, really. Only one of them is huge, dwarfing the rest.

You smile when you think about it now. You remember that championship, the state softball championship. All the girls had been outdoing themselves, trying to live up to the hype and the pressure. You remember how proud you were when Karen, who never, never caught anything – which was, of course, why the coach had kept her in right field year after year – finally caught that fly ball to close the inning.

Of course, it had knocked her down because she hadn’t just caught it with her glove, she’d caught it with her whole face, and had ended up with a blue eye and a bloody red nose.

You remember thinking, as you ran onto the field, “Just let her be okay. Just let her be okay. I’ll do anything, anything, anything, as long as she’s okay.”
---

What really holds you together are the details.

Ella’s been no help – quite the opposite, she’s been completely fucking falling apart. But not you, you’ve kept it together. You’ve done what’s needed to be done. So while Ella’s been crying herself silly sleeping in Karen’s old room and fucking Lenny’s been no help just moping around, cozying up to all the pretty nurses, you’ve been the one who’s held it all together.

You haven’t had the luxury of falling apart.

You’ve had to arrange the wake, the preacher and now the flowers. You’re not quite sure how a florist, who’s supposed to arrange flowers for a living, can screw up a simple carnation arrangement, but apparently, that’s what’s happened, and so now it’s your job to go and straighten it all out.

You remind yourself to stay calm as you enter the shop. “I ordered carnations.” you say.

“I’m sorry?”

It’s a pimply-faced teenager working at the counter. He looks like he’s barely old enough to be driving, much less arranging flowers. You think, of course he screwed up the order, he’s just a kid.

“I said I ordered carnations. Red carnations.” You remember the summer Karen worked at the local ice cream shop. She never screwed up the flavors of the ice cream, how much more complicated can arranging flowers really be?

“Do you have a receipt or something I can look at?”

“No, I don’t have a receipt.” You carefully enunciate each syllable, so that none of the meaning can be lost or misinterpreted. “What I have are red roses, that’s what I have. I have red roses when what I want to have are red carnations.”

“Look, maybe I should get a manager or something.”

“That sounds like a fucking brilliant idea.”

Fucking roses, you think, Karen’s allergic to roses.

---

Karen Jasmine Harper is dead.

You still think about it even though your mother called you with the news more than three weeks ago. You just can’t get over how strange it is – you fucked her, and now she’s dead, and you didn’t even know her middle name.


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