.The funeral was on a barren day in October. Red, orange and yellow tears from the sweeping fall trees painted his coffin, which reflected the dim sunlight without enthusiasm. It reminded me of a sun burnt rainbow floating in an ebony lake. Feet shuffled and crunched the earth; a sound louder than Hell's bells on a black Sabbath. Wind blew wisps of dark hair over my face and I pretended the ends were Tommy's fingertips doing a tap dance over my goose bump arms. My eyelids drifted closed, breaking me off from the black veiled ceremony around me. With my eyes squeezed shut, I strained my ears against the breeze and listened. I wanted to hear him calling for me. But, all I heard was the preacher's voice; solemn and disgusting in the thin air.

"This I declare, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…"

I gazed down at my atramental, knee high combat boots and shifted uneasily. The thick soles sunk slightly in the soft ground and a mental image of 2 dry sockets staring up my dress from 6 feet below, made me squirm and pull my raggedy, old World War Two arm jacket securely around my small body. Maybe this cemetery was overflowing with lost souls, forever confined in the cage of the block long graveyard. Maybe their souls would never be released under the eyes of God, for they had sinned and this world really is what Hell has become. They probably had to crawl over and around each other whenever they wished to roam; spirits stacked miles high but only a few hundred yards wide. The thought made me shiver with nauseation.

Clicking my tongue ring absently against my teeth, I looked up at the sky. Dark clouds rolled along drunkenly, but made no sound. I stared at them as hard as I could, remembering what Tommy had said not even a year before.

"When I die, I'll send the rain."

Now the storm clouds seemed to be stuck in jumbled confusion, unable to decide if they wanted to let heir water babies fall from their bursting wombs or wait for a better day. The longing that engulfed me made me unable to think straight. I just kept staring at the spot of sky directly above my head, biting my lip so hard the warm, metallic taste of blood washed the tip of my tongue. Dad whispered something to me but I didn't even blink. I felt as though if I stopped concentrating on the rain falling, Tommy would fly away and I would really lose him.

The sounds of dirt dropping onto hollow wood, made vomit push its way into my throat. I swallowed it back down as my chin quivered and the clouds began to smear across my vision. I knew no tears would slip. I hadn't been able to cry since the moment I found Tommy. It only would go halfway, and then my eyes would dry, but the lump in my throat would only grow heavier under the weight of my not fallen tears.

Dad put his hand on my shoulder. I wanted to push it off and move to stand next to Grandma Autumn. I wanted to put her leaf thin hand in mine. I didn't have to look at her to know what she was doing. She was gazing across the row of headstones, her dark eyes somber and full of revolt. She believed that under Catholic rituals, Tommy's spirit would not be welcomed away properly.

Grandma Autumn believed firmly in the old burial ways of the ancient Choctaw. She told me that when a loved one died, the corpse was covered with animal skins and bark, and then laid down on a platform near the family's home. Around the body were placed food and water, clothing, and carefully chosen tools and belongings which the spirit would need for its journey to the other world. Sometimes a dog or even a horse would be sacrificed so the spirit would have a traveling companion.

The corpse would be left upon the platform for a period of four to six months, giving it time to decompose. And then after it had rotted to a certain extent, a bone picker would be summoned. During the burial ceremony, the bone picker would peel the putrefied flesh off the bones of the deceased and then cast the skin into a fire. Once clean, the bones were given the relatives. The skull would be painted with vermilion and the bones were delicately placed in a coffin. The casket would then be carried to the village bone house and placed neatly in with the other coffins. After all that, there would be a great feast.

I told Grandma Autumn people stopped practicing that ritual 200 years ago. But apparently her family still did on the Choctaw reservation where she grew up. I didn't bother trying to reason out the logic of how they got away with it. Instead, I simply believed in what she told me, and wished I wasn't standing in the middle of a cemetery, on a cold day in October, being chastised by Father Peter for not believing in resurrection.

After searching the sky for what seemed like decades, I dropped my chin close to my chest and snuck a glance at my grandmother. She wasn't my Father's mother. My Mom wasn't there. The anguish of this reality was bold and fragile on Grandma Autumn's wrinkled face. Again I wished to be her little dandelion grandchild; gripping her fingers and daring her to smile.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Tommy's casket was almost gone into the earth now. Dad let out a low sob and Grandma Autumn seemed to bristle at the soft sympathetic murmuring and sniffling of the funeral party. I stared vacantly at the white roses being placed on Tommy's head stone.

Tommy Parker


"The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the Devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride."

The Hunter S. Thompson quote was the only thing I even remotely liked about what was scripted on Tommy's stone. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was his favorite movie and book, and he was forever saying that line as though it summed up his entire life. Dad and I both agreed it was appropriate. Even if it wasn't, we knew Tommy would laugh when he saw it from whereever he was.

He was completely gone now, 6 feet into the ground. I stared down at the charcoal death chamber. Tommy was really in there his chocolate hair combed neatly and his eyes shut gently in eternal sleep. I began to feel queazy. He wouldn't be at home when I returned. He wouldn't be sitting there yelling at me about losing the remote or eating all the icecream. He would never smile at me or protect me from the world again. He'd be here, in a box, the grass above him being trampled and peed on by dogs. Little kids would sit on his headstone and the flowers we left would wilt and crumble into nothing. No one would notice the twenty year old boy buried in the cold dirt. Turning into dirt. And bugs. And maggots. Alone…

Lighting a cigarette, I turned away from my father's glare and the curious glances of my relatives and Tommy's friends. I wandered towards the hearse we'd rented from Morson Brother's Funeral Home. My hot pink fish nets were the only bit of color I could see for miles and I watched the way they moved over my legs as I strode slowly along.

Just as I reached the car, something splattered onto my cigarette, dousing out the embers. I tilted my face up and a raindrop kissed my cheek and another dove inbetween my curling lips. Then with a sigh and a shake, the clouds broke wide open and it began to pour.

It didn't stop for 3 weeks.