An Incident at the Funeral – Part Four

Several weeks before her funeral, Victoria Tucker had begun to notice the telltale changes in her body. She had somehow known from the very first, though she had continued for a time in a kind of quietly willful denial of it — as if by assiduously enough ignoring these unpleasant symptoms of an underlying state, both they and it should up and vanish. But the life in her had already been sown to the life in her, and its growth was stubborn, persistent, no longer to be willed away. “I knew it, uncle,” she said, as he listened on in silent preoccupation. “I knew what had happened, but I didn’t want to admit it. It was like… like there was this little voice in me, telling me what had happened, and I just went on pretending it wasn’t saying anything. It was too complicated, I guess. Too hard. Everything had been going so well, you know, and I was just a girl — my whole life ahead of me, isn’t that what they say? What life do they mean, I wonder? I’ve been asking myself that a lot, lately. What life, what life… But at the time, I thought the same thing, ‘My whole life ahead of me’; and this, of course, played no part in any of my plans. Or I guess it did, but only years down the line, when I was a woman. It was all too early, that’s what it was, just too early. As if things like this can be planned! But that’s what they tell us, it’s even in the name — you know the one. You have to plan. These things come later, when you’ve decided. Your whole life ahead of you. I don’t think even they know what they’re talking about, uncle. These’re just words. But anyway, I went on pretending, just acting like nothing was different, like nothing had changed. But really everything had changed.”

So she proceeded, until the worry of it became too strong for her to bear. She broached the matter to her best friend Sandra, just so, in passing, as though it were a matter of as little concern as the weather, the local news, their schoolwork. She didn’t speak of her suspicions about the cause of all these things, only listed these changes she had noticed. Like it was a common cold, something to be treated, something that would go away on its own or with the right medicine. Sandra, however, a girl of some innate sensitivity, had immediately intuited her friend’s true doubt, and had pressed it out of her. It was Sandra who had urged her to get the test.

She remembered especially how her boyfriend, Cory, had taken the news, sitting down heavily and putting his beautiful hands over his face, slowly shaking his whole strong body somehow as if to thrust off this business and to put it behind him. How much had that first moment conditioned everything to follow? That powerful form, reduced to so pathetic a posture as this! She felt somehow that she had wronged him, compromised his entire future. (At that time, the possibility had not even entered her mind that there might be any course but to let matters proceed by their natural line. Had she not been raised on those premises?) She felt she had lain a tremendous burden on his shoulders, or delivered him a terrible blow, that he could never quite pick himself up again after this. He had this idea of his future, how he would emerge in the world, whatever course he chose to take in it, as though success were a fruit just hanging there on the tree of life and waiting for him to leap up and pluck it. And here she had set such a weight on him, dragging him down for the remainder of all his days, so that he could not, could not —

He had recovered swiftly, to his credit, and put down the crushing adolescent disappointment that had first seized him — a product to be sure more of the world in which he had lived his entire life, than anything necessarily connate to him. After several moments he suddenly let his arms drop from his face, his elbows on his knees, and looked at her, craning his face upward. Seeing her own expression of frightened and pained worry, he rose and went to her and took her in his arms, and promised that it would be alright, that they would make it alright. That, too, had been wrong in its way, though the intention at least was sound; what she had craved to hear, like everliving water to slake her terrible thirst, was a word of simple joy and thanksgiving, a sign that what had come into the world was not an unwelcome intruder there but was even an adornment to their joint existence, if an unexpected and premature one. What could he have known of all that, however? Still so young, poor Cory, still so inexperienced in things of the heart. A lady’s man, as the saying had it, always such a great success with all the girls, but so ignorant of what was in a girl’s heart. A good boy, but silly still. He had imagined she must feel about all of this as he felt, and he had acted on that premise. It was not his fault if he had done more harm than good in it.

They set some vague plans for the future. Marriage, naturally, was inevitable at this point, and the sooner the better. They would have to talk to their parents — had she told hers yet? No? He was the first to know? — to begin arranging everything. It was best if she went to her own before anything; then he would follow suit. After that they could start as well to worry about the practical details. Where they would live, how they would make enough money to get by. Surely their parents would help them here. And while his own family was of solid but modest means, hers at least was not lacking in resources to dedicate to the cause of establishing a new family. They might even move into her parents’ house to begin; there was room enough in that great old mansion. They could not depend on such charity, of course, in the long run. But to start… And as for school, that would have to be seen, as well, and depended of course on their parents’ reaction… — So one thing at a time. Her parents must know.

Yet she put it off. She was not even sure why. It was of course not an easy thing to tell them, and she had her share of natural trepidation — but should she be so reticent as all that? Days passed, and the hardest thing, apart from wondering about their reaction, was telling Cory again and again that she had not had the chance to speak to them. The chance! As if there were some circumstance just waiting to form spontaneously around her in which the words could flow out easily. As if it were not even her duty to make that circumstance. Did she know, even then — did she have some premonition somehow what their answer to it would be? What it would cost her? Not the full extent, of course. No one could have imagined that.

“No one but some demon,” she added strangely, and her uncle looked up at her. He had been staring down at the ground as she spoke, almost grown even numb to her words, merely letting them wash over her. But this last sentence had a coloration to it that seemed to paint a bright line through her tale. Her expression had grown strange — distant, once again, as it had been before; preoccupied somehow with something not present, as though she were staring right through the skin of things, staring at what lay beneath. “Oh Uncle!” she cried suddenly, and hid her face. He thought she would cry; he made a move to rise, but she continued on at once. “We just don’t know, do we?” she asked, looking at him, articulating every word. “We know nothing about any of it. It’s strange that we’re here, sitting here in this garden, and we can’t see any of it. And yet it must be that they’re all around us, even now… Maybe it’s best that we can’t see.” She shuddered, and looked away.

He was on the verge of speaking, of asking — but she went on suddenly, directly recommencing with the tale where she had left off, almost as if she had not interrupted herself at all. “I finally got up the gumption to do it,” she said, her voice normal again, her expression sad, wistful, but present. “I asked them to sit down with me in the living room, and I told them what had happened.”

Part Five of “An Incident at the Funeral” can be read here. Part Three can be read here.

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