He sees me coming. We share a perfunctory hug, then step back from each other. After a moment, he clears his throat awkwardly and asks how I'm doing, how my job is going... if any boy – and he says it, “boy,” like I'm still in high school – has managed to catch me yet. The image of a deer getting its neck snapped by a Siberian tiger flashes across my mind.
Trying not to grimace, I mutter something about there being a guy, but he disappeared from my life rather abruptly. A pained, guilty expression flashes across my father's face, and I realize he thinks I'm referring obliquely to him. I almost want to leave him with that thought, but I'm too honest for it. I explain that I meant a guy I'd met just a few months ago, but who I hadn't heard anything from in several weeks. He looks relieved at that, though still a little guilty, and excuses himself after a few more weak attempts at small talk. I can't say I'm upset to see him go.
I turn back to see Mom heading for her car. The mourners are already starting to break up, some of them getting ready to go to an informal reception at my uncle's house. There are comments passed back and forth about getting hot dogs and baked beans and other summer food ready, but the unspoken promise is that of alcohol. Beer for most, harder liquors for others. Especially those, like Mom, who've been in the middle of all this for a lot longer than the rest. I catch up to her and kiss her cheek once more, then tell her to go on ahead – I'll catch up. I don't tell her how, just that I will, because I need a moment alone – really alone – with Gram. She understands that, at least, and goes on.
It takes nearly ten minutes for everyone else to clear out. The casket's still aboveground when they go, though, so I take my precious moment alone and kneel beside it in the grass. I put a hand on it and remember a conversation we'd had when I was just eight years old and visiting Gram and Gramp on summer vacation.
What do you want to do when you grow up, Gram had asked, as if I knew anything about college and careers and retirement plans. A little girl intoxicated on hero comics, I'd waved the latest issue of The Raptor at her and said, I wanna fly!
Slowly, with exaggerated care, I kiss my fingers and press it to the side of her casket. My voice a little shaky, my throat finally tight with real grief after that sudden memory, I say, “I wish you could've seen it, Gram. I can fly.”