The Body of Lisa A. Segal
It was nearly time to start the service and they were all standing in the foyer of the Shalom Memorial Funeral Home, pretending they cared more for each other than they really did.
“The Rabbi is going to ask if we want to see the body,” Leah said.
“It’s not for me to say. I’ll do whatever you decide,” Leah’s husband David told them.
“I can’t do that,” Hayley Elle Urman Segal replied in a whisper.
The room was carpeted, like all of the rooms in these places, to keep the sound of footsteps down so everything could be nice and quiet for the dead. Only a few chairs were strewn here and there, each with a tissue box alongside. Leah knew that she was in charge now. Her Uncle Bob, Hayley’s dad, was stuck in Denver due to inclement weather and since he had already asked her to be the one to deliver a eulogy, she figured that made her the matriarch in his absence. She wasn’t surprised. Her cousin Hayley was not known to be responsible, grown up or anything resembling a leader. At least, Leah thought, Hayley Elle hadn’t brought along her two grubby little children, the older one who used to have his hands constantly down his pants, even at the dinner table. Leah shuddered at the memory. Guess it’s true that you can’t choose your family.
“We are nearing the time when guests will be arriving,” said the Rabbi, who had glided into the room. “I can take you back to the room now where your grandmother’s body is. You can be with her one last time before we close the casket.”
“I would love to Rabbi. David, can you join me?” Leah said in a hushed monotone that felt appropriate for the surroundings. She threw a glance to her cousin, who had already begun to shrink into the background. Hayley was a tiny woman of around 30. When she was born they say she could practically fit into the palm of your hand. Now that she was no longer a child, Hayley resented her small stature and high voice. No one took her seriously, not her Dad, not her cousins, definitely not her in-laws. They thought they could raise her children better than she could. Blood rose in her cheeks just thinking about it. Well no thank you. She was not going to go sleep tonight with the image of grandma’s shriveled face in her mind. She flipped her cousin a half smile and fled down the hall.
“If anyone arrives while I’m in there, please welcome them and make some conversation. Anything!” Leah called out after her.
“That girl has been the same way since she was 4,” Leah whispered to her husband. “No backbone and no courage. Now she is apparently buying land in Oregon and going to raise chickens. I mean, she’s not buying the land, Uncle Bob is buying it. Just another trust fund hippy egg farmer!”
She imagined the life she could have had with a dad like Uncle Bob, who invested in every stray idea, no matter how hare brained. He was a sound investor except when it came to his family.
Leah and David followed the Rabbi’s dark suit jacket through one dimly lit hallway into another, stopping in front of a taupe colored door which was almost indiscernible from the taupe colored walls. A color that could not offend even if it tried. The Rabbi pushed open the silent door and they walked into the chilled room. A few rows of chairs were lined up along one side. For who, David wondered? The family he had married into was tiny and only a handful were still alive. Plus, Lisa was 101 so he thought it unlikely her peers would be banging down the doors to give their respects.
She hadn’t been the most likable woman in the world in his opinion. The first time they met she insulted the size of his nose. Right there in front of him at the dinner table. Only it was in Russian so he couldn’t be sure. The second time he met Lisa they had to correct her misconception that he was an Italian Banker. No, in fact, he was an Italian-American Baker. Yes, like bread. He could still see the horror on her face. Her grand-daughter would be marrying down after all.
Leah’s fingers grazed his as they stood before the casket. “Doesn’t it matter that he makes me happy, grandma?” he remembers her telling Lisa that day.
The casket was a simple pine box and the body was wrapped in a white gauze in accordance with the Jewish tradition. The body was meant to easily fade back into the earth from which it came. The body, the body, the body. Leah’s fingers tightened around David’s hand, fingernails boring into his palm. He winced ever so slightly.
“Are you ok?” he asked, peering out of the side of his eyes at her, not turning his head from the body.
“I don’t know. Is he gone?”
“The Rabbi? Yeah, he’s gone. Just us and grandma.”