I couldn’t take another minute and strode out of the showroom, through the empty chapel space, and past the girlfriends, who took up their sobbing when they saw me. I felt jaded, bitter, brimming with disgust at everyone around me. I didn’t know how to get past it, how long it would last, or if, now that I had come to this place, I could ever go back to caring about anything.
Corabelle’s father caught up with me in the parking lot, jerking me back by the arm. “Don’t you walk out of here right now,” he said. “She needs you.”
His face was hard, and I could see the change in him. He was being forced to be strong. His quiet kindness evaporated in the face of protecting his daughter.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said. “I was just sick of coffins.”
He sighed. “I don’t think she’s up for any more decisions. Why don’t you sort through the pictures for the slide show?”
“She’ll want to do that.”
He laid his hand on my shoulder. “Right now, she needs you in her corner. I saw Maybelle through a lot of hardship. Four miscarriages. Her mother died two days after one of them. She acted like she didn’t want me, but I finally figured out that it was because she didn’t have any way to put into words what she needed me to do.”
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t fix this.”
He ran his hands through his thinning hair. “Neither could I. But walking away breaks it even more.”
I sank down on a concrete bench outside the door. “I don’t see how things could get any worse.”
His lips pinched together like Corabelle’s did when she was concentrating. “Nobody can walk these paths alone. Even if it seems she doesn’t need you, you have to stay by her side.”
“She doesn’t even want to talk to me.”
“The moment that she pushes you away is exactly the time when you should hold her even closer.” He stood up. “I’m going to get us out of here for a while. Why don’t you bring her over to the house? We’ll pretend to eat something.”
He opened the door to the funeral home, and I forced my body off the bench and back inside. His hand clapped against my back as we headed through the building. “My Corabelle doesn’t choose lightly. I know you can do this. For her. For all of us.”
When we got back to the coffin room, Corabelle was holding a silver urn. “Maybe we should cremate him. Then we can keep him with us always.” Her eyes had this shell-shocked look about them, both seeing and not seeing anything in front of her.
“You wanted a grave to visit,” I reminded her. “You were worried about having the ashes move from place to place.”
“You’re right. I did want that.” She set the urn back on a shelf. “There is no good way to do this, is there?”
She turned to me, and finally, I was able to hold her in my arms for a moment. The salesman led her parents back into the chapel and we were alone, the empty boxes propped open around us, revealing their silky interiors. The air smelled of pine and fabric and a stale sort of newness, like a car that’s been closed up too long on the lot at a dealer. “Did you go with the blue one?” I asked.
She nodded against my chest.
“Like the ocean,” I told her, and her shoulders heaved.
I hung on to her, the only things upright in a room full of horizontals, the boxes for the living to lay their lost.
The morning of the funeral was stupidly beautiful. Birdsong, sunshine, a warm breeze off the desert. I wanted to pummel Mother Nature for thinking it was okay to celebrate spring on a day like today.
Corabelle sat on the end of our bed, holding a black dress in her hand. “It doesn’t fit,” she said.
I stood at the mirror working on my tie for the hundredth time. I hated these things. “It will be fine,” I told her.
In the mirror I saw her list forward, and I whipped around to catch her. “Are you okay?”
Her belly heaved with tears that were all dried out. “My boobs are leaking.”
I sat on the bed next to her. “What will make it stop?”
“I don’t know. They gave me a pill to dry them up but it’s not working.”
Her bra was soaked. I headed over to the dresser and pulled out a new one. “Didn’t you get some of those pad things?”
“In the nursery. But I can’t go in there.”
“I’ll do it.” I laid the bra next to her.
I didn’t really want to go into Finn’s room either, but I guessed this was what Corabelle’s father had talked about. Doing what needed to be done. Be there for her. Getting the pads would upset her. Not getting them would too. I just had to accept the no-win situation for what it was.
The door stuck, and I had to push to get it to open. The movement of air made the butterflies on the mobile over the crib start to dance.
The wall was lined with our drawings of the sea, carefully stored by Corabelle’s mom until a month ago. We’d tacked up the yellowing paper covered in crayon to remind us of where we’d been, where we were going. I didn’t know what we were doing now.
Most of the consumables we’d bought already were in a little changing table one of our neighbors had loaned us. A package of newborn Pampers. Wipes. Corabelle’s parents picked up things here and there, and we tried to keep it all organized, knowing that when Finn came our system would fall apart to late nights and exhaustion.