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Everyone Continued to Sing

Story by Josh Denslow (Read author interview) March 27, 2012

art by Sharon McGill

I went with Alicia to the funeral. I was convinced that if she saw the depth of my emotions, the poise with which I carried my grief, the delicate way I bowed my head in the pew, she might fuck me. Or at least let me feel her up. Marvin would have wanted that.

Marvin was black but he didn’t like black girls. Not the way I did. He called me Squid because he saw one on the Discovery Channel once and it was white and had a big head. Alicia called me Squid too, but it sounded okay when she said it.

Alicia worked the register at the exit to the garage, and she saw Marvin and me every time we pulled out a car. Some guy had left his Rolls Royce overnight, and I really wanted us to drive it to the funeral. Marvin used to take CDs out of the cars and rip them into his laptop and then put them back. Neither of us ever stole change, but once Marvin grabbed a picture of some white guy’s wife propped on the dash next to the speedometer and switched it with the picture of some other white guy’s wife propped on the dash next to the speedometer. Marvin did a great impression of the face the white guys would make when they finally noticed.

Alicia and I took the el and walked the three blocks to the church. She wore a gray wool skirt with a matching wool jacket even though it was almost eighty degrees. It was hard to imagine the streets covered in snow anymore unless you looked at Alicia with her arms hugged underneath her breasts. “I don’t want to go in, Squid.”

Everything I thought to say sounded fake, so I said, “This is fucked.”

She sniffled, the same way she did three days ago and then she got out of work because of distress.

A cloud passed over the sun and everything went gray like Alicia’s wool ensemble. The last time I worked with Marvin, I caught Alicia reading a book in the booth. When I pulled up in a dented Buick and asked her to open the gate, she stashed it under the register.

“What are you reading?” I had asked.

The fluorescent light above her was much more than she needed, like she was in a refrigerator. “A romance novel.” She hurried out a laugh as if she was trying to beat me to the punch. “I like to read about people going at it.”

What happened to Marvin is that someone knew he had a pocketful of tips every night and they robbed him. They also hit him in the head with a bat thirty-three times. What I didn’t expect to see when we pushed through the heavy wooden doors was an open coffin. In every memory I had of Marvin, his face is now transposed with this reconstructed face, his eyes closed, his cheeks puffy, like someone had stretched his skin over another face and everything got lumpy. It was easy to pretend it wasn’t him.

Alicia and I were holding hands, but I couldn’t remember how that happened.

We sat two rows behind Bossman and he looked at us and he seemed genuinely sad. Considering how much he hated Marvin, I was surprised. It’s one thing to hate someone, I guess; it’s another to see his mangled, dead face. I wondered if I looked that sad. Were my eyes conveying the same level of despair and disbelief at the cruelty of the world? I let go of Alicia’s hand.

A skinny preacher began talking effusively about the afterlife, his hands held above his head, palms open like a stereotype. Real preachers probably see all the same movies we do. “Don’t be sad for Marvin,” he commanded, and I thought about the time Marvin told me he’d gotten his girlfriend pregnant and then she had an abortion. I thought about how if she hadn’t done that, then Marvin could have left something behind. Something that could go on to do better things than us. Something that would always remember him in the right way. The true definition of afterlife.

When the singing started, I was startled by its exuberance. After my grandmother’s funeral, everyone just sat around and cried. These people seemed overjoyed, even a little excited. Heaven must be a kick-ass place. I was sorry that I hadn’t listened to what the preacher said about it.

Alicia was singing too but she was horrible. Mucus bubbled in her throat and in her nose and her voice was higher as if the sound was trying to dodge it. But her eyes were shining and she was smiling and her white teeth flashed in time with the song.

The preacher closed the coffin and a few lanky black men, presumably Marvin’s brothers, began to wheel it out. Alicia leaned over and put her face in that sensitive spot where my neck meets my shoulder. “Take me home,” she said. “Stay with me. I can’t be alone.”

And that’s when I saw the roach. It ambled across a bible sitting face up next to me on the pew. It stopped next to the word HOLY like an exclamation point. It looked at me, its head tilted back, its antenna swishing. Marvin told me once that he had seen a roach crawling across the headboard of his girlfriend’s bed. She’d already fallen asleep and he watched it for over an hour to make sure it didn’t go near her. Marvin did a lot of things I didn’t understand. Maybe he was still trying to explain it to me.

I tilted Alicia away from the bible. I didn’t want her to see the roach. I couldn’t let her see it.

Everyone continued to sing.

About the Author

Josh Denslows stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, Wigleaf, Used Furniture Review, Black Clock, and Twelve Stories, among others. He plays the drums in the band Borrisokane.

About the Artist

Sharon McGill’s stories, comics, and book reviews have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Harpur Palate, PANK, Opium, and New Letters. As a founding member of the journal Monday Night, she has designed and illustrated its pages for over a decade. Her web site is sharonmcgill.net, and she blogs about writing and drawing at McGillustrations.


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