There’s pink liquid in the soap dispenser. It’s not the automated kind where you stick your hand under and get a glob of foam—it’s the old-school kind where you have to press the button to get a gooey string of soap.
As I try to wash my hands, I can’t wrap my mind around the strangeness of a toilet in Warshire’s Funeral Home. It’s weird that I can pee, flush, and wash my hands while my sister’s body is lying in a box a few rooms away.
When I leave the dirty bathroom, Deja’s waiting outside the door. Like I asked, she’s wearing her thick, jet-black hair in a tight doughnut bun on the top of her head. There’s no makeup on her face either. The last thing I want is my uncles and cousins eyeballing her and asking who she’s kin to.
“You good, Beau?” she asks, leaning up against the wall.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say.
We’re both in matching baby-blue sweatpants with “R.I.P. KATIA” spray painted in pink and purple down the leg, and baby-blue hoodies with Katia’s face screen-printed across the chest. I drew the sketch myself a couple days ago, trying to copy my favorite tagger, Bexley O’s, style. I’m nowhere near as good as her though.
“I really don’t want to walk down this hallway,” I say, shoving my hands in my pockets and trying to remember how to breathe. Inhale, exhale.
“I know,” she says.
Dad’s old friend Wheeler is a goddamn liar. I’ve been to a few funeral homes and his brother-in-law’s has got to be the shittiest in Chicago. The inside is dark and outdated. Old musty rugs lining the floor, dingy brown walls that were probably white once upon a time, fluorescent lights with a bunch of burned-out bulbs that buzz like flies and leave most of the place in shadows. It’s a nightmare, but it’s free so we had to take it.
The worst part is this long creepy hallway that leads to the back chapel. It’s lined with mini chapels, three open caskets inside each one. All these bodies laid out in one place, the heavy scent of potpourri and death, it makes my stomach start to knot up.
“Hold on to me and close your eyes,” Deja says, holding her arm out like she’s my prom date. I link my arm through hers and let her guide me down the quiet hallway of death.
There’s gotta be at least twenty people in these rooms from when I counted earlier, but we’re the only live ones, and the light rustle of our sneakers on the carpet is the only sound I hear.
When Deja tells me I can open my eyes, we’re back in Katia’s chapel. There’s pink and blue mini spotlights that give the drab wood-paneled room some color. The obituaries are already laid out on the pews, although there’s at least fifteen rows and I doubt we’ll need that many.
“Dejanae, would you mind moving my car out front? I’m double parked, sweetheart,” Wheeler says. He’s huddled in a circle in the back of the room with my parents and, like, a dozen other people I’ve never seen before. They’re all dressed in black suits and dresses even though I told them Katia’s favorite color was blue. Disrespectful asses.
“It’s Deja. Give me your keys,” she says, holding up her hands as Wheeler tosses them to her.
“Be right back,” she says to me before kissing my cheek and turning to leave. It’s really not like her to be taking orders from anyone. The regular Deja would have told Wheeler to shove his keys up his wrinkly ass, but helpful Deja is doing everything anybody asks her to do today.
But I only came here for one reason: Jordan.
As Wheeler starts going over the order of the “celebration of life” with my parents, I walk to the front of the chapel slowly, like a bride about to meet the love of her life at the altar, but there’s no altar here. Just a closed white casket with shiny golden brass handles on the sides.
I walk up to the shining white box with my sister’s body in it and place my hand on top where her head is. Heat, vibrations, a genie to pop out and grant me three wishes? I’m not sure what I’m expecting to feel, but it’s like touching any regular old object. I don’t feel Katia’s spirit.
I don’t think she’s in there.
From the photo they keep showing on the news, Officer Peter Johnson looks like a stand-up guy, with his blond son on his shoulders and his blonder wife at his side. But I know he’s a cold-blooded murderer. It was 4:00 A.M. and he says Katia was trying to break into his house. Bullshit. All I know is the bullet entered her face just above her lip where her Monroe piercing was and came out the back of her head.
Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder, just as light and jasmine scented as Katia’s hands. I whip around, beaming, but it’s only Deja.
Just like that, someone turns the light off inside me again.
“Do you need anything?” Deja asks, leading me to a pew like I’m a glass figurine that might shatter at any second.
“I think so.”
“What? Some water? Coffee? I can run down to the Popeyes and get you something to eat. Tell me what you need.”
But I just shake my head. We sit down next to each other in the front pew, and I lean against her shoulder. I pretend it’s a dream, that any second I’ll wake up in the hospital after having hit my head or something. The doctors will say I’ve been out for days. Katia will be sitting in the chair beside my bed. She’ll look at me with her glowing black skin and fake gold bamboo earrings and say, “Beau, don’t you ever fucking scare me like that again!” Just like she said that one time I spent the night at Deja’s and didn’t tell anybody where I was going.
The cops asked us if Katia was on drugs, what she was doing on that street, why she would break into this cop’s house. We said:
we don’t know,
and she didn’t.
Because that’s what we know.
At least, what we think we know.
I keep my eyes shut as tight as I can, pretending to have fallen asleep on Deja so people arriving inside the chapel will leave me alone. It works for a while. I hear some of my aunts and uncles, sniffling and talking to Deja about me. I even let out a fake snore or two so I can keep my head pressed to her body and hear the deep vibrations of her voice as she explains to everyone that the past few days have been a lot on me.
“Poor baby, I know she’s tired,” Aunt Nisha whispers.
“That cop gon’ get what’s coming to him. Believe that!” Uncle Kolby says.
I hear a whap and then Aunt Rachel’s voice.
“Don’t talk like that! Last thing we need is your ass getting arrested.”
I hear Momma somewhere wailing and asking Jesus why?! As if he’s going to come down here with a flow chart and explain why Katia had to die. I hear Daddy say, “It’s gon’ be alright, baby,” but then he collapses into sobs. Then I hear three loud thumps and some gasps, but I still don’t open my eyes. I don’t wanna see any of this. I don’t want it to be real.
“Do you see him yet?” I whisper to Deja, my eyes still closed.
“He’s not stupid enough to show his face here. There’s these two goofy-looking white dudes standing near the door. Cops,” she replies.
“To catch Jordan?”
“It’s a few Onyx Tigers in here. Cops probably just here in case somebody in here thinkin’ about shooting.”
Katia and her boyfriend, Jordan, left the club together that night and Peter Johnson says he saw two people on his porch, but that the guy ran away before he could catch him. That was eleven days ago. No one’s seen Jordan since. And if they have, they’re not talking.
Way more people than we expected show up for the memorial: Grady Park people, Black Lives Matter supporters, a gang of bikers, a gang gang. There’s so many people that we run out of obituaries and Wheeler runs to print more. It’s standing room only, and there’s so many people that Mr. Warshire has to push all the other services back because there’s not enough room for any of the families to get in.
At 1:50 P.M., fifty minutes after we were supposed to start, the service finally begins. Deja moves to the pew behind us while I’m squished between Momma, Daddy, and the rest of our family.
“We gon’ be aight,” Daddy says, kissing me on the forehead and leaving a greasy smudge from his lip balm. But that’s just something people say at funerals. It doesn’t make me feel better at all.
I scan the room looking for Jordan, his block-shaped head and his signature fade, but he’s still not here. Officer Johnson’s on paid administrative leave. Our lawyer, this red-haired lady named Ms. Anniston, says the district attorney needs a witness testimony before he’ll even consider criminal charges. We need someone to say, Katia didn’t do anything wrong.
“In this here casket! This CASKET! In this casket is DUST!” the rent-a-pastor who came with the memorial package screams into the microphone. His brown bald head is already sweating, and he uses a cloth to wipe it.
I know it’s only Katia’s body in the casket, but it’s the body that she used to live in, the body that I touched and slept in a room with for sixteen years. He can go on somewhere with all that hollerin’, because there’s a big difference between Katia’s body and the dust that’s always on top of the blades of the ceiling fan in our room.
“We gon’ be alright, baby, we gon’ be alright,” Momma keeps whispering to me.
I should be crying, too, but I can’t for some reason. It’s like my ducts are all blocked up and the tears are dripping down my insides instead of my cheeks. Katia, why didn’t you just stay home with me instead?
It’s after the pastor sits down when the real clowning begins. They open the casket so people can stare at my sister, so they can see for themselves just how dead she is. Identifying her in the morgue with Momma was enough for me. She was gonna do it alone because Daddy didn’t answer his phone in time. But I didn’t want her to be in there by herself. Momma didn’t want me to, but I know she needed me to. That’s why I can’t look at Katia now. I can’t see her like that again.
The rest of my family gets up to stand in line for the viewing, and then Aunt Pepper faints in the center aisle. She did the same thing at Grandma’s funeral a few years back, complete with a pencil roll across the floor. People were already crying; now they’re screaming and wailing because grief is contagious.
“Lord Jesus, help her!” Aunt Rachel cries, cradling Aunt Pepper’s head as her brown eyes roll back.
An usher with big hips in a white dress and nurse’s cap runs over to help. Uncle Kolby gets Aunt Pepper back in the pew, but she’s gone limp and everyone around her uses their obituary to fan her sweating face.
Copyright © 2022 by Juliana Goodman