Excerpt from “End Credits"

The pills nestled comfortably in his pocket. Noah imagined their bright red color pulsing with a warmth that spread throughout his body, and wondered how many it might take to put him beyond warmth and cold, beyond pain and anger. In the thin sunshine of late winter, he hugged Cal’s urn tightly against his body.

No one else looked uncomfortable, but it seemed to Noah that the damp chill had risen from the hole in the ground in front of him and had crept over the frozen grass to swirl its way up his legs and insinuate itself under his parka. Now, it was working its way to the tip of his nose and the ends of his fingers. With silent apologies to Cal, he wished Suzanne would hurry up and be done with it.

The low murmur of her chanting was not encouraging, nor was the feathered stick she was vigorously brandishing over the hole, or the slow pace of the shuffling step with which she circled around it. Noah wondered if her toes were getting frostbitten through the thin leather of her moccasins. Had he actually once been married to her? It had all ended years ago, of course, but still it was difficult for him to match this thin, hawk-nosed gray-haired woman with the boyish, quick- witted girl of those long ago days, the days of candles stuck in Mateus bottles and giggling, stoned lovemaking. He clutched the urn, drawing it even closer.

They were all being so polite. Richard and Everett, huddled together in their matching dark coats and patent leather gloves, wore matching expressions of forced interest. Everett, whose fifty-odd years had frayed the edges of his patience more than Richard’s forty-five, was having the more difficult time of it. The slight twitch over Everett’s left eye was long familiar to Noah after a dozen years of friendship as a sign of an impending outburst, and he found this irritating. Richard was still there, standing beside Everett, wasn’t he? All Noah had now was the urn. He tried not to look cross as Everett twitched away.

“You can’t let Suzanne stage-manage Cal’s service!” Everett had exploded on the telephone just two days after Cal had died. “All those earth spirits and Mother Goddesses. I bet she’ll even complain about the Feng Shui of Cal’s grave, for Crissake!” Noah didn’t mention that, just a month ago as Cal lay dying, Suzanne had, in fact, suggested another location, higher up in the pasture rolling away up to the house, but Cal wanted the beech tree and refused to listen to her. Later, he’d been too weak from the cancer to whisper more than a hoarse, “The beech tree, dammit!”, in Noah’s ear. But it was Richard - genial, wide-eyed, thoroughly reassuring Richard, to whom Noah had turned more than once in upsetting times - who had offered to dig the hole himself. The hole was precisely where Cal, in stronger days, had built a little pile of rocks after careful consideration of alternate spots, a little monument to mortality in this rural corner of Westchester County.

Now, Noah suddenly noticed, Suzanne had ceased her shuffling and chanting and was advancing toward him. But she merely took the urn from Noah and moved to Miriam and Lou, Cal’s parents, who had arrived from Florida in time to be with Cal at the end. Miriam stood with her thin raincoat pulled tightly around her, wisps of her gray hair waving in the wind from under her scarf. Lou, having grown up in Michigan, more sensibly wore an anorak that smelled of mothballs. His arm protectively sheltered Miriam’s shoulder. Noah, suddenly remembering the comfort of Cal’s arms, resented even this simple gesture. He felt for the pills again.

Suzanne held the urn toward Miriam. “Do you release the spirit of your son, Calvin Dudley to...”

“Dubinstein, dear,” Miriam said quietly. “No stage names today, please. Dubinstein.”

Suzanne was only momentarily nonplussed. “Do you release the spirit of Cal Dubinstein, known to the world as Cal Dudley...” -

The cork on Noah’s bottled up anger finally popped. “Jesus, Suzanne! Just use the real name!”

“This isn’t for the rest of the world,” Everett muttered, his eyelid now twitching violently. “It’s for us.”

“Why don’t we just move on,” Lou suggested wearily. His stout body seemed to be sagging everywhere, even his wispy gray hair lifeless in the breeze. 

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