The funeral is a small affair, attended mostly by friends. The only members of the family present are Juteau and her uncle’s wife, who was his second wife, and therefore according to Juteau is to be referred to as Patty and not as her aunt. Family dynamics are always a tangled mess of secret pains and obscured loyalties, and I am in no mood to ask questions.
Bez arrives late and sits beside me as the service nears its end. She is dressed in black and I want to tell her that she is beautiful, but of course that would be inappropriate just now.
The night Juteau’s uncle died, I woke from a dark and foggy dream and rolled to drape my arm over Bez’s waist. I heard a soft snuffling and cracked my eyes open to find the tiger sitting on the floor on Bez’s side of the bed. It looked at me with dark and evil eyes and ran its tongue across its thick yellow fangs.
“Get out of my house,” I whispered. “You don’t belong in here.”
The tiger put its nose over Bez and sniffed her, inhaling deeping.
“You don’t belong,” I said again.
The tiger dropped slowly down to the floor, obscured by the edge of the mattress, but it didn’t leave. Instead it lay on the floor all night long, and I listened to its breath until long after dawn came.
There is no body for the funeral, only ashes in an urn. Juteau’s uncle was cremated yesterday, and his remains gathered into a simple urn, which now sits on a small table at the front of the room. Patty sits rigid and unmoving to one side of it, Juteau in a chair on the opposite side. The uncle’s friends are an odd mix of old burnouts and men in suits. The service is being performed by a woman with a thin face and a mass of white hair piled like whipped cream on a slice of pie. There is no religious overtone to the service, just lots of talk of life and shared love wrapped in thick slices of excess verbiage which make me want to roll my eyes.
Halfway through the ceremony, Juteau gets up from her chair and walks down the aisle to where Bez and I are sitting. “Let’s go,” she says, oblivious to the eyes of the guests and the pinched face that her aunt… Patty… now wears on her face. “This is bullshit and I want to leave.” She heads for the door. Bez and I follow her outside, followed by the whispers of the mourners. We get in her car and she peels out before I have on my seat belt.
Juteau puts The Velvet Underground on the stereo and drives much too fast, and soon we are at the ocean. She stops the car illegally and gets out, leaving the engine running and her door open. Bez exchanges a look with me from the front seat, then reaches over and turns off the car. We both get out, Bez pocketing the key and me closing both my door and Juteau’s, and we follow her to the shore. Juteau is undressing as she goes, kicking off her shoes, pulling off her shirt, unbuttoning and slipping off her pants without hardly a break in her pace, and leaving everything dropped in the sand behind her like a trail of breadcrumbs. She pays as little attention to the stares of people on the beach as she did to the mourners at the funeral. She walks into the Pacific wearing only her underwear, and after a moment, Bez and I strip down as well and splash out after her.
Juteau stops when she is waist-deep in the water, and we come up to stand beside her, Bez on the left, me on the right. The ocean is cold but it is a calm day, and the waves lap at us without malice. I can feel the current tugging at my legs, but it’s a gentle pull, and there is no sense of danger from below.
We stand silently for a few minutes and let the water splash against us. My skin is puckered with goosebumps and my teeth are beginning to chatter. Finally, Bez says to Juteau, “I realize you’re having some fucked up vision quest freak out kind of thing going on right now, but I’m freezing to death. Let’s get dressed and go get drunk.”
Juteau barks a sort of simultaneous laugh and sob and nods her head. I take her hand in mine under the water, and we head back to shore.