Margot Cominsky stood around the corner from the funeral parlor. She’d tried standing right outside the door, hoping for a breath of air that didn’t reek of carnations, but she was immediately taken for the welcoming committee, and strangers kept hugging her and cheek-kissing her and grabbing her hand. “We’re so sorry.” “So young.” “Too soon.” What was she supposed to do, thank them for their profound and original words? We’re all fucking sad, people. Look at where we are.
Inside the lobby, it had turned into a regular college reunion, but of course, no one recognized Margot. Not one person. Not the girl who lived next to her and Kara freshman year, not what’s-his-name who did the lighting for The Women, not even that mediocre soprano they’d only cast in Oliver! because Margot thought they needed some fresh blood. And who wasn’t tall and thin and blond? That little twig who’d understudied for Kara in Cabaret looked exactly like the girl she was fifteen years ago. Whereas Margot looked like she had eaten the girl she was fifteen years ago—and followed that up with a hearty dessert.
There was a time she felt certain she’d keep up with this crowd. They’d be her friends forever, she thought. But as soon as Margot moved back to New York, she lost touch with pretty much everyone. Except Kara.
Had Kara really kept up with all these people? Well, Kara could say hello to a person she hadn’t seen in five years and make the girl feel like a long lost friend. Even if Kara hated the girl—and she totally hated Francis, who was now passing in front of Margot attached to a short man who looked way too young for her. Kara would have had something to say about that. Francis looked good. Unfortunately.
Margot pulled out her phone. No little envelopes. No message lights blinking. She clicked through her photos to find the image of Mike, and in her head she kissed him. Then she typed: “At K’s funeral. Feel fat and angry. Wish you were here.”
Seconds later, from Japan, came his reply: “But looking BEAUTIFUL no doubt. What R U wearing?”
Margot looked down at her innocuous navy dress and replied, “Hot pink tutu. You?”
The phone vibrated again: “Loin cloth + cardbord Burger King crown. XXOO. ”
Margot smiled. “You’d fit right in,” she typed.
The parade of black and grey and navy from the parking lot across the street was starting to pick up. Only a few minutes before the big show. Margot didn’t recognize most of these people. The older ones might have been friends of the family or people who went to their church; the younger ones probably went to high school with Kara. And junior high. And elementary school. Everyone in Greenwood Park knew everyone else. Or was related, Kara used to say. They probably reserved the third weekend of each month for a real good town funeral, something everyone could enjoy.
Margot hadn’t seen Kara in two months, which seemed kind of silly, considering they only lived an hour apart. But it was a long hour between Brooklyn and Long Island, and everyone was so busy these days. There was work, and—well, they talked more often, of course. Kara had heard all about Mike, all about the horrors of dating a man in the military. “When you meet him . . .” Margot had said so many times. It was hard to believe that would never happen now, that Kara would never meet Mike or their children. The children Margot hoped they’d have, eventually.
Margot had met Mike two years ago. She’d helped cater his brother’s wedding, and there Mike was, this big hunk of a guy, biceps thick as cantaloupes, face like an oversized cherub, sneaking into the kitchen for an extra helping of potatoes or to check on the groom’s cake. Margot fell for him instantly—women always did, apparently—and for whatever reason, he fell for her too. Then, five months after they met, he was stationed overseas. In Japan, thank God, and not Iraq or Afghanistan, but still. By now, she’d had more email exchanges with the man than live conversations. But they were in the home stretch—just seven more months and he’d be back. “And it does feel real,” she’d told Kara. “Sometimes
it’s funny how life works out.”
Or doesn’t. “Kara girl, what did you go and do?” she mumbled.
Kara’s stepfather had called with the news. As soon as he’d identified himself, Margot knew why he must’ve been calling. It was just a question of how and where. An overdose. At least she’d died in her sleep.
Margot excuse-me’d her way back through the front doors and kept her eyes down as she crossed the lobby with its heavy drapes, burgundy carpet, and fake antique chairs. She passed through the wreaths and floral arrangements, passed clusters of mourners saying mournful things or laughing awkwardly. People were starting to take seats in the next room, and in there was the box. It was open. She’d heard people saying it was open.
When she crossed the threshold, the first thing Margot saw across the room was Kara’s hair. It fell in familiar dark brown waves below her shoulders. Margot took a few steps forward. Kara’s eyes were closed, and in a way she did look like she might be asleep, though her arms weren’t sprawled all over the place. They were folded tight to her body, her hands gripping a strangely inappropriate bouquet of spring flowers in what looked like a fucking doily. Margot dropped her eyes and tried to suppress a laugh. Kara wouldn’t have bothered trying. Daisies and baby’s breath. A little snort of amusement escaped.
Margot turned. “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” she muttered.
“It is you,” he said.
Standing beside her was Brad Mitchell looking not a damned thing like Brad Mitchell. The face was the same, but everything else had turned all country club. The hair was parted to the side, a shiny black instead of blue or green or magenta. The face was clean shaven. He was wearing a black suit, and everything looked crisp and tailored and not stolen from the drama department’s costume shop. He didn’t look like he was carrying a joint anywhere on his person.
Brad drew her into a tight hug. He even smelled good. Eucalyptus and mint something. “I see you bathed for the occasion,” she said.
“Very thoughtful of you.”
“I’ve been trained.”
“Well . . . you look good,” she said.
“So do you.”
He stood there for a minute, smiling like the goon she remembered, as if he was all dressed up to play a romantic lead, complete with shoulder pads in his suit and mousse in his hair. He could’ve been a politician. For all she knew, he was one. It was crazy how easily you could lose track of people you used to see every day. Margot hadn’t heard anything about Brad in years, not since Kara said he was getting married. Margot checked his hand. Yes, wedding band in place.
“Wow,” he said at last. “I’m really glad to see you. I mean, I can imagine events I’d prefer.”
Margot scanned the room. “I can imagine funerals I’d prefer.”
WILLIAM CONESCU was born in New York and raised in New Orleans. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. He is the author of the novels Kara Was Here and Being Written, and his short stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, Green Mountains Review, and other publications. William lives in Durham, NC.
Excerpted from Kara Was Here, by William Conescu, copyright © 2013 by William Conescu. With permission of the publisher, Soft Skull Press.