I am late for my own funeral.
The quick staccato of my heels on the tiled floor softens as I slip into the service. The only empty seat is in the front row, so I lean against the wall beside a planter of lilies. Their stench floods my nose and nearly chokes me.
The elderly pastor, who congratulated me on finishing first grade so many years ago, is in the middle of a lengthy prayer. As a child, I squirmed and thought about the promise of McDonald’s after the service, but now I find a moment of solace in speaking to God. A quiet island in a storm of secrets.
I close my eyes against the familiar forms filling the seats—my children, my husband, the officers from the station downtown—and whisper a prayer of my own.
My black purse weighs on my arm. The contents: a tube of lipstick, L’Oréal Sparkling Rose; three tissues, generic from Walmart; a tin of wintergreen mints, half empty; a burner phone with only one contact; and a one-way ticket to Moscow.
My husband takes the place of the pastor at the small podium. The sight of his face nearly causes me to lose my resolve. I wrap my fingers tightly around the gold bracelet on my wrist as if it can keep me from sinking.
His words barely register in my mind. My husband is talking about another woman. She was vibrant, with a taste for Dr. Pepper floats and sci-fi movies. A few weeks ago, I was her. Now I lean against the wall, my lungs clogged with lilies and secrets.
The funeral wears on, voices cracking and noses running. My purse vibrates. I don’t move.
Only when people begin streaming past me, do I head towards the door. Once again, I’m rubbing shoulders with those I used to call friends. They see right through me, not even noticing my presence.
My husband and kids flank the door, talking quietly with the guests. As I pass, I keep my gaze straight ahead, but he grabs my hand.
“Thank you for coming.” His grip is as firm and gentle as it was on our first date. July 3, 1996, the night Independence Day released, he’d held my hand as we exited the theater, the glossy sheen of butter still on our fingertips.
“Of course,” I reply, my well-practiced Russian accent covering the catch in my words.
He doesn’t release my hand, studying my face. “Do I know you?”
I slip my fingers from his and shake my head. As he turns to thank the next person, I slip a piece of myself into his pocket.
I rub my empty wrist as I head from the darkened funeral home into the brilliant parking lot. Sitting in my mother’s driveway on a chilly December evening, his 1990 Toyota Supra idling lazily, my fiancé clasped a gold bracelet around my wrist. At his touch, my heart stuttered.
Now, I wonder how it can keep beating.