In that room, it was only men.
It makes sense in a room where bodies burn – just men.
We came in behind the moss-green curtain, following the casket, men and boys. We came in, but we didn’t walk. Walking is something you do on your own – just two feet. We had twelve feet, and eight feet. We hung from each other’s shoulders and stained each other’s lapels.
My memory of the screaming has diminished; I can’t remember the texture or nature of it, just that it carried us. Few of us had ever actually wailed before (except as children) but here we had to. Here, we had to see what the hospital hadn’t shown us, what the eulogies had kept hidden.
We also had to do our job. The man who walked had a job to do as well. He knew about the feel of the casters on the floor and the heat of the green-enameled furnace. He knew about death, but not our death. He knew the song, but he couldn’t sing with us. He did his job and we waited.
Before we came to this room, my uncles did for him what my mother and aunts would soon do for my grandmother. They bathed him, preparing him. They washed the man who had stretched a family across an ocean and carried it, cupped in his hands, into two new generations. The man who waited with us when the whistle blew and we came out, dripping.
Behind the curtain, behind the man who knew our song but was deaf to it, we followed the casket. Inside, weighted by dozens of thick and dewy marigolds, he lay cleansed and prepared as hand lay upon hand, lay upon hand, lay upon bright red button.