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After the Funeral

Maliha Mannan

In a city not unlike some metropolis, I sit in a dive bar with an empty glass, glass to lips, untouched, refracted neon lights from a billboard outside, make blue-green patterns on the countertop to my right. A man in his fifties sits to my left, in silence, nothing to eat or drink for him, a bottle of something long emptied, melancholy spreading over us like a virus ravaging a city, not even the hum of music to soften the weary souls gathered after dark, the bartender breaks silence, won't you now leave?

He looks at his hands, the man next to me, hands that resemble another's, beloved to him, beloved to many. He brings them to his beautiful face and breaks down into tears of anguish, hiding olive skin behind olive skin, black and white stubbles, won't you now leave—says he. 

There is a dead body in a field nearby, one twenty years younger than mine, I sit next to this man now, a man older than even me, but I cannot look at his face, a face that looks so much like him—the one we buried, the one we lost to a sick whim. I miss him, the one who had taut skin, and his eyes that twinkled every time he looked at me, even when the tumors in his head made him queasy. I feel him shiver through bouts of hiccups, wonder about the last time I grieved a loss of someone so loved, and know in my heart there never was some such. Not a son and not an aunt, not a father and not a caretaker, a mother long forgotten but not forgiven, gone and lost never to return. Not a single tear I've shed in all these years, some forty-eight past, and now he looks at me, pulls my face to his, and with a soft kiss, his trembling ones to my chapped lips, he says, won't you now leave? 

We wear matching clothes, my black against his black, glistening with perspiration, our bodies touch, the night chill not enough to cool the hot breaths of us, in this dingy bar. I sit still and refuse to leave, for am I not owed an apology? But I don't say it, for he has also given me everything nobody ever did. He gave me the love of my life—a life that he brought to life, it matters not the trivial pain he caused us both, me and his progeny, and now I forgive him, for the pain I feel, must be that much more intense for him.

He once professed his love to me, the man who now sits next to me, I turned him down for my love was not his, already spent on another man, one much younger who resembled him. He hated us, cursed, and left our lives, gone until now, until a sickness took the love of my life. I cannot look at his face, the man’s next to me, their likeness makes me dizzy, I want to nuzzle up to him, I want to seek his warmth, knowing all the while, the one I truly want shall never return.

The man I married lies in a field nearby, his body twenty years younger than mine, yet here I am, full of life, his father's body sits next to mine, still alive, shivering quietly as though we're trapped in a chilly winter night, inside a hot and humid bar way past its operating hours, the lone bartender stares with his tired eyes, the man I loved rests in a field nearby, his father holds me close and whispers—won't you now leave?—for the umpteenth time.

Maliha is a Denver-based writer of essays and short stories. Their words have appeared/forthcoming in Porter House Review, BULL, Splice Today, Uppercase magazine, and elsewhere.
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