Caris Underground by Susan Jane

by Susan Jane

Caris, you idiot. How many times did I tell you that it would kill you?

You thought you weren’t pretty when I told you that you were. You thought you weren’t skinny, when I told you that you were.

And now I am standing here with your bloody relatives, and they are all sniffling and snot-nosed but I am not, I am furious. I am wearing this ridiculous dress that used to be yours, that one-hundred-percent acrylic number with the empire waist that gave you a necklace of tiny pink pimples. Remember? When it no longer fit you, you gave it to me. Thanks a bunch.

I placed a glossy eight-by-ten of Marilyn in your coffin, right under your folded hands, the one you love where she’s sitting on the beach cross-legged, smiling and laughing at the photographer. Yes, I touched your hands even though I was scared to, that’s what a good friend I am. Your fingers felt and looked like cold wax beans. And your fingernails were longer and pointier than two nights ago when I saw you. Do they grow even after you’re dead? I read somewhere that they do. It made me think of Chris Sarandon in that movie ‘Fright Night,” when he has the really long nails. Remember we watched it that time we slept over your grandmother’s house? Well that’s what yours reminded me of. Vampire nails.

And your face, Caris. I swore it wasn’t you when I walked in, that I had gotten the rooms mixed up. I even said out loud, That’s not her, but the look your father gave me told me it was. I recognized the jewelry as yours, that silver friendship ring I gave you. And the hair was yours, the same shade of albino blonde that made everyone look at you when you walked into a room. But that face; it was not yours. It was ghostly and gaunt, bones draped with skin and nothing in between. Powdered with morticians’ makeup, heavy on the blush. If you could only have seen yourself, looking like a reposing Anorexic Barbie, I’m sure you would have laughed.

Your casket is blue, shiny; kind of classy. Inside it’s all quilted cream satin, cradling you. It’s filled to the brim with mementos; photos and notes. I want to push them all aside, climb inside and curl up next to you.

I wonder where you are right now, and for the first time in my life I hope there is a heaven. Did you find Marilyn there? Maybe she greeted you at the gates, a gorgeous red smile on her lips and angels’ wings rustling on her back. I can picture her in a slinky white dress, her breasts spilling over like scoops of vanilla ice cream. She’d take your hand in hers and the two of you would giggle and talk like old friends. I think this could happen. I imagine that in heaven, people are all the same.

You thought that Marilyn was the most beautiful woman that ever lived. You have all her movies on tape; you watched them over and over. But she was all soft curves and lush padding, couldn’t you see? She didn’t weigh ninety-eight pounds like you did. No, Marilyn was round, healthy, alive. She had a woman’s body, not the stick figure of a ten-year old child.

You should know that your mom is not holding up well. Her nerves have gotten the best of her. During the mass, your father had to hold her wrist, some kind of acupressure deal to keep her from vomiting. At one point, when they were wheeling your casket down the aisle, she started to wail. She sounded like a braying donkey, and everyone got upset all over again, because grief is contagious.

Outside on the church steps she grabbed me and hung on for dear life; her nails scratched my arm and I bled, but I didn’t complain. Her breath smelled like morning and cigarettes and Sambuca and she left lipstick smears all over my neck. I hugged her, hard, until my arms hurt. I told her I loved her and that you did too, and that it wasn’t her fault. She couldn’t make you admit you were sick.

I’ll tell you one thing, Caris, you didn’t look good. No matter what you thought, or what people told you, you didn’t. At Jamie’s wedding, you imagined you looked as if you’d pranced off the pages of Allure, but no. You looked like a trailer-park bride living off of Basics and caffeine and corn dogs. You were in front of me in the bridal party procession, and I could count every vertebra in your spine, right through your skin. I never wanted to. But it was there, your disease, right in my face, and I couldn’t look away.

Right now I wish we were never friends. I think back to the day we met. Phys-ed class. We both forgot our gym clothes and had to sit in the bleachers, remember? We were supposed to be studying, but instead we made fun of everyone while they played kickball. The two of us giggled until our stomach muscles clenched in pain. I guess I fell in love with you on that very first day.

I knew you were leaving me, when you came over six days ago to watch a movie. I took one glance and knew. You stared at me blankly with those giant copper penny eyes, rimmed with pink. I saw that you were fading away. I cried then and tried to hold you, but you turned and walked out the front door. You said you wanted to be by yourself.

Caris, I wanted you to need me all this time, but you didn’t.

They say you died of heart failure. Your body couldn’t perform the simplest, most elementary of functions anymore, because you never fed it. I suppose that part of you knew this could happen. It was the chance you took for being able to wear a ‘zero’ stitched into the label of your jeans. Maybe you imagined they’d find you in your bedroom, draped provocatively over your Laura Ashley pillows, phone clutched in your hand, Marilyn-style. One atrophied arm tossed back dramatically over one shoulder, and a chunky lock of your beauty-school-discount platinum mane tumbling past one closed peeper. You probably figured it would be glamorous, enchanting.

But it was nothing like that. I saw you, curled up like a giant bloodless insect your hospital bed, tubes spilling from your nose and mouth. That’s where your heart stopped, at eight-forty-two in the morning when you were supposed to be in class, with me, listening to Professor McGuire ramble on about physics and pick his teeth with his fingernails.

You are supposed to be here with me, right now, and this should be someone else’s farewell party.

This room at the funeral home is starting to empty out. The lights will go off and people will go home. They will leave you here in your fancy padded box, in the dark, alone.

Then will you call out for me, sweetheart?

1 Comment

  1. eva feld

    The last paragraph did not make sense. The funeral mass was at the church. Why would the casket be taken back to the funeral home and not to the cemetery? Why would they leave the casket at the funeral home after the service? Doesn’t make sense to me.


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