by Karen Pielke

Rosemary stood in the parking lot smoking cigarette after cigarette. The anxiety contributed to much of the uncontrollable shaking, but it was frosty out tonight. Very cold for it being only October. She kicked at the loose gravel and tried to stamp her feet, but she was still too inebriated to be able to maintain her balance. She fell off of her shoes; stockinged feet landing on the worn pavement, and causing an instant run up to the middle of her right calve. So much for her attempt to sober up. She was beginning to look like the way she felt. She looked over at the light coming through the glass doors that she was supposed to enter and knew she shouldn't go in there as drunk as she was. The sleazy establishment across the street probably had quite a few customers such as herself, maybe the director was used to it, too. It was definitely an appropriate location, though. The American Dream at work.

Was it just a coincidence that the moon was an incredible shade of golden orange tonight? This particular hue was mesmerizing; tiny wisps of clouds crossed in front of it. It sat – no, hung -- so near to earth, that it appeared more tangible to her than what was going on inside.

She knew she was going to have to go inside soon. The viewing was almost over and the steady stream of family members and friends was beginning to decrease. Rosemary took one last drag off of her cigarette and crushed it carefully under the toe of her high heel. Pushing a piece of Wrigley's into her mouth, she wrapped her arms around her middle and headed inside.

Rosemary opened the door and went inside and tried to pull herself together mentally in the way that one physically straightens clothing when getting out of the car. The heat took care of any sobriety that she had achieved while standing in the cold. It sunk into her skin, increasing her circulation and making her once again decidedly drunk. The man who was attending the guestbook tried to offer her a pen to sign in with, but Rosemary looked away from him and headed into the main room.

It was a huge auditorium, complete with track lighting and speakers that hung in each corner. Rows of empty folding chairs led the way up to the front of the room with only a few occupied by remaining family members. Up at the very top of the room sat the casket, surrounded by flowers and various plants. A few candles were lit, each within a small glass globe.

The anxiety that she had been fighting all night came upon her quickly; crawling up the back of her legs and settling in her stomach. Rosemary had never seen a dead body before, and wasn't sure if she ever wanted to. Especially now. Especially Zora. Slipping off her high heels, she padded over to a chair that was hidden within the shadows and sat down.

"Oh, God," Rosemary thought. "This is awful." Sitting there, hidden in the dark she began to think that it would have been better to have stayed home. She had spent the entire weekend stuffed into her yellow vinyl bean-bag chair watching the same movie over and over again; ignoring the phone and any other interruption. At least then she was sober. She probably should have stayed there. After all, she had spent most of her life being the one that always does the sensible thing. Always organized, always dependable and reliable. She hadn't even called in to work this weekend to see if they might have needed any extra help. Rosemary had always done that; no matter if she were scheduled off for that day. Meeting Zora had changed much of that. Zora came into her life when the monotony was beginning to affect even her. One day, this tall and striking woman came into the front of the restaurant, smiled at Rosemary and said, "Can I have a double mocha? And make it like me." When Rosemary looked puzzled, Zora placed her arm on the counter and laughed a little. "You know – dark. Like me, huh?" Not knowing how to respond, Rosemary just nodded and turned to make the drink. Later, when Rosemary was taking her break outside, Zora came up to her and began talking. She told her to take her hair down. Told her to breathe.

So that's what Rosemary was trying to remember how to do. Breathe. The idea of seeing the most vibrant, most alive person she had ever met….well, not alive was more than she could bear. She didn't want the confirmation. It seemed better to just wonder for the rest of her life. To hope that it was all a mistake, and that one day Zora would come walking back in. Then Rosemary could give her hell for disappearing. Could yell at her. That had to be easier than the truth. If she went up there, how could she pretend any of that might happen? Anyway, to see Zora trapped in a box was not Rosemary's idea of closure. She didn't even want closure. Fuck closure! She got up, and started walking over to the door.

The man that had been trying to offer her the pen was standing in the door way now, talking to a woman dressed in a creamy tan suit. Zora's mother. She was beautiful. Classy and exotic, similar to Zora, but different too.

"Um…hi," Rosemary looked down at her stockinged feet and dropped her shoes.

"Hello," Her mother extended her hand to her.

"I'm Rosemary…a friend of your daughter's." She slipped her feet into her shoes, straightened up and took her hand.

"Oh, yes. She mentioned you." She smiled. "I'm Denise. Thank you for coming."

"Thanks for having me." Rosemary bit her lip. "I mean, you're welcome." She stood there for a minute, wondering what to say. "Excuse me." She turned around and went back in.

Rosemary couldn't stand the anxiety any more. It traveled around her body, making her shake, much more than being nervous had. She placed her purse on a chair, the gum and a comb falling to the floor as she turned away and headed up the isle. She didn't notice.

Rosemary could see that Zora's head was slightly raised, a small section of hair was now visible. She breathed in, and took a step closer. "There she is……" Rosemary spoke aloud. For a moment, she couldn't do anything but look at her friend. Then all the emotion that she had been holding inside all evening – all weekend -- flooded into her. She felt it in her toes; it made her knees weak and her stomach lurch. "That's not her….that isn't really her…" She reached down and touched Zora's hand, folded in a pseudo-natural position. It reminded her of an old doll that she had when she was a child, a Stretch Armstrong. So real, so unreal. She started crying. Not soft, simple sadness crying but hard, lusty sobbing; the kind that people cry when the relief of something is so strong that words or thoughts aren't even part of the communication. It felt primal. Rosemary looked up at Zora's face. Her make-up was so thick Rosemary thought that she could sink a nickel into it. But this was not her friend. This wasn't the woman that came over to drag her out of the house just to see a sunrise and then to have coffee at the park because it was so pretty early in the morning. Or the woman who said to her, "Yeah! Go to Nova Scotia! Why not?" when Rosemary thought that maybe she should wait. This wasn't the woman that loved her for no reason other than that she was Rosemary, special because she just was. This is the outside of a person, she thought. This is not my friend.

© 1997, Karen Pielke

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Well Met, Zora, 18 March 1997