Bob was running a little late, and he feared he had missed the ceremony entirely when he pulled into the lot adjacent to the cemetery. There were plenty of open spaces, and the plush grass was sparse with people. He hurried from his car and paused at the gate. A modest casket was being lowered into the earth and a familiar face watched it descend. He limped his way across the grass, taking care to not step on someone’s bones.
The gathering of people was small, so small it could barely be called a group. The priest, a young man who looked absurd in his trimmed goatee, prattled on about death as though he knew first had what it was about. Bob wondered if he was old enough to have seen a family pet buried. Brian took his eyes off from their departed friend and saw Bob. In that moment, Bob saw his own mortality looking back at him. Brian was crippled and frail. His shoulders were permanently hunched forward, and his knees were stuffed in front of him on his wheelchair. His eyes, once so blue and powerful, had faded almost completely away. There was a look that consumed those eyes, not one of remorse or sorrow, but of fear. Brian wasn’t seeing one of his few remaining friends being buried, he was seeing himself being put into the ground.
As the ceremony carried on, that moment of reality setting in and neither of them found the way to shed a tear. Fear had stopped up all the floodgates.
When it was over, the two came together beside the hole that would forever hold their friend. They tossed small handfuls of dirt into the black place in the ground and looked on at the mortal veil that was coming undone around them. The priest offered his condolences, but neither men heard what he said nor honestly gave a shit for what he had to offer. Behind them, a woman wept quietly and the wind kissed the coloring trees. A large leaf from a nearby maple swayed back and forth in the air and found its way into the hole.
“This is what it comes to,” Brian said. “Waiting for the final winter to take.”
Bob nodded in silence.
“Two wars, two wives, seven children, and sixteen grand children,” Brian continued. “I’ve seen ’em all through and through. Cancer came and went. That damn car crash that took my legs.” Brian shook his head. His heart ached, and his eyes yearned to cry, but there was only that numbing fear that remained. “I thought for sure I was gonna die in that foxhole with ya, Bobby. Ya know the one in Korea?”
“I know the one,” Bob said.
“I thought those zipperheads were gonna shell us all.” Brian grunted a laugh that sounded thick with pain. “Ya know what’s gonna get me in the end?”
Bob shook his head.
“Low blood pressure. Ain’t that just the cruelest joke of ’em all?” Brian watched another leaf fall from the sky. “I’m just gonna keel over and die of a tired ticker.”
Bob looked down at the casket in the ground. It suddenly looked very familiar. “Either way, we still wind up dead in the foxhole.”
The sun drifted down and around the arc of the world, and the two men held onto each other for support once more, like they had done once before when they feared their lives were coming to an end.