William woke to the sound of his mother’s sobbing, two doors down. He could hear his dad talking to her.
He lay there wishing he could stay in his room; today they would be burying his brother, Ethan. He wanted to stay right there, in the comfort of his bed; it was his sanctuary. He had enough of his uncles and aunts, even his cousins, telling him it was a miracle he had survived the car crash. Everyone told him the accident was just an accident; no one caused it. William knew differently; he didn’t want anyone else to know, so he nodded his head yes, each time someone said this.
His mother had been walking around the house, like a dead person, picking up Ethan’s photographs from the piano. Each time she did this, the sobbing began again. Everyone ran to her bearing tissues and hugs. William found himself resenting his mom for doing this. She still had a son left. If it was a miracle, he was alive, so shouldn’t she be glad he was there?
His dad gave him the job of bringing drinks to all the people who had suddenly invaded their home. He was to ask them if they wanted anything from the kitchen; the table was laden with casseroles, cakes, and cookies. That was odd, he thought. Weren’t cookies for fun occasions like snow days and Christmastime? When you die, people bring over cookies? Thinking about this caused him to let out a strange laugh that frightened him.
“Oh, William,” Aunt Jean called from the living room. “Would you please bring me some of those chocolate chip cookies I brought?”
He stepped back into the living room and with a voice he didn’t recognize as his own asked, “Would anyone else like some cookies?” The strange laugh made another appearance causing some to look at him and murmur to one another.
He went back into the kitchen, took the plate of cookies and smashed it into the countertop. The plate shattered; some mourners to come in to investigate.
Aunt Jean bent down to pick up the broken plate and mumbled something about clumsy children. William tried to help, but she shooed him away as if he were a bothersome insect.
As he lay there, he thought about excuses he could give to avoid the funeral. He could fake a stomach ache or a sore throat and cough, maybe. Anything to avoid going to the cemetery. The door opened and his dad stepped in. It was time to go.
At the cemetery, his mother sobbed endlessly. Even his dad cried. William refused to look at either of them.
As the pastor spoke, his mind drifted back to that evening.
The car had been Ethan’s gift for his seventeenth birthday. William couldn’t wait for his turn; he had four years to go. It wasn’t new, but his brother was crazy about it. He’d keep it clean, wouldn’t allow William to eat or drink in it, and he waxed it every weekend. Ethan was proud of his new vehicle and used any excuse to drive it. That night like any other, he was happy to take his little brother to a friend’s house.
“Be careful, son,” his dad said as they were leaving.
Once they were on the road, William bounced up and down in his seat, happy to get out of the house. He looked at Ethan from the corner of his eye and noticed he was frowning.
“Son be careful,” William said, mocking his dad. “I don’t want to see my insurance rates go up!!”
“Billy, grow up.” His brother chided. “He was just showing us he cares.”
William was annoyed Ethan had called him Billy. It was a name he felt he was too old for and he had told Ethan not to call him that. So, he punched Ethan in the arm and cursed at him.
“Cut it out, Will!” shouted Ethan. “I’ll hit back and make you cry, you idiot!”
Now angry, William slapped at him. Ethan took a hand off the wheel and clouted William on the chest. Next, William smacked at Ethan’s face, blinding him to the red stop light. The car went through the intersection; neither of them saw the truck barreling down at them. It hit the driver’s side, crushing Ethan. William had a couple of scratches. The EMTs were the first to tell him how lucky he was. He wanted to know about his brother; they told him Ethan was fine. Ethan wasn’t fine. The impact had killed him instantly.
At the gravesite, each mourner was given a rose which they could keep or throw onto Ethan’s coffin as it was lowered into the ground. As William took his flower he noticed the richness of its deep red color. He ran his fingers over its petals liking their velvety smoothness. It was a beautiful rose and he thought about keeping it. Then he sniffed the flower and noticed there was no scent to it; this bothered him. He asked his father why the rose had no scent, but his dad told him to keep quiet, he might further upset his mother.
He turned the rose over in his hands, unaware of the tears leaking from his eyes.
“This rose is nothing but a fake,” he whispered to himself. Listening to the pastor, he clutched the flower in his hand so hard his nails caused his palm to bleed.
Suddenly sobs welled up from his chest; he backed away from everyone and stumbled. His dad reached out to steady him, but William slowly dropped to the ground. He wept beside his big brother’s coffin. The petals of the now forgotten rose escaped his hand and fell into the freshly dug grave.