Head bowed, he breathes deep and chokes on the odor of flowers, the subtle cloying scent of lily and sharp tang of lilac settling on the back of his tongue.
She’s next to him, holding his arm; he can feel the soft swell of her breast against his tricep and the sturdy warmth of her body molded against him from torso to calf. She breaks away as the double doors open, twining her fingers with his, and guides him down the aisle to the resonant thrum of organ music; his gait hitches right along with his breath.
At the front of the room, he finally raises his head, falters and loses a step, shiny black shoes scuffing the threadbare chapel carpet. The coffin, draped in flowers, sits on the middle of a dais with lights beaming down on it; if he didn’t know any better, he’d think he was staring at the opening scenes of some play, but the bowed heads of people in the pews, the whisper-soft sobs and rasps of tissue against wet cheeks remind him that this is reality.
She slides onto the hard wooden pew reserved for family and he follows her, looks at her, waits for her to tighten her fingers around his hand and then he turns his face forward—breathes out, breathes in—and whispers: Goodbye, brother.