His eyes were downcast at this particular moment, features twisted into an expression of grief and remorse. He watched the coffin being lowered into the wet, clammy earth perfectly cut to receive it. There weren’t many people at the funeral of Porter Graemes: a buxom blonde with heavily pierced ears, two children and an older woman – presumably the grandmother – in tow, likely his family; Fred and a couple of other vaguely familiar faces; and myself. Given the lackluster nature of the curt obituary, I could only conjecture that the bright-eyed yet troubled boy I’d socialized with in my youth had grown up to accomplish little more than wasting space. He’d had more lines on his face than the average man of our generation: proof of his accumulated worries and hard-worn lifestyle. I could see from that single photo what had become of him: drinking, drugs and parties in his teen and early adult years followed by settling down with a family and little ambition to an empty, monotonous stream of meaningless jobs. He was, in the end, just the same as the rest of the human race.
Fred however seemed clean-cut and well off, as though he’d taken care to stay out of trouble and improve his health rather than resigning himself to a life of couch surfing. That he was athletic was no secret, as his posture was arrow-straight and his clothes seemed decorative nods to decency rather than a method of hiding a body he felt self-conscious about as was so frequently the case among his peers. Porter had been a willing accomplice to the trick which sent Fred to the hospital with severe anaphylactic shock, and although the two continued to be friends after the fact I puzzled over seeing him here now. Then again, I too had surfaced.
I wasn’t exactly sure what small spark of nostalgia had ignited within me and granted me the drive to stand watch over this pitiful procession of events in such dreary weather. Indeed, it seemed at once both cliché and cinematic, raining and grey as if it were film noir or the tragic ending to a war drama. Yet neither of these was appropriate for the useless, embalmed carcass already decaying on his final bed. His coffin was likely far richer a resting place than he’d ever known in his animate existence. Idly I pondered whether such a man had life insurance enough to cover the burial. He must have, however, as cremation was a far more economical option. Either Porter had possessed enough presence of mind to purchase appropriate coverage for such an event, or his family loved him far more than the now-faceless decaying matter deserved. Given what I knew of the man in his youth, one was just as likely as the other.
Sheer coincidence had sent me back to my old hometown. The Company happened to own a factory farm in the region and sent me to check up on some…aberrations…that the workers had begun to notice among the manufactured meat sacks cultivated there. Given that I was the lead researcher who’d designed the things to begin with, it was decided that I was the natural choice for this particular chore. I’d flown in that very morning, taken my time checking into my hotel, and opted to make my appearance at the cemetery as my initial meeting with the plant manager was a dinner engagement.
I’m certain that Watson somehow found a way to hold sway in the matter. He’d been less than excited when I’d been granted a key to the lab. Out of spite and general loathing I knew he’d jumped at the chance to be rid of me in the short term. But really, the man was dreadfully dull-witted. After all, had he sent one of his brown-nosed underlings in my stead he might have just uncovered my little creation’s secret. I was almost eager to see the factory, knowing that I’d find growths similar to that of Fred’s back in my study. Yes, I’d named my little creation after that very same gleaming specimen of a man who seemed to radiate legitimate mourning alongside his general beauty. His severe allergy – intense enough to have been proven life-threatening by my own experimentation – was his Achilles’ heel.
The final clods of dirt were tossed over the box as delusional, tired claims of Porter's salvation were uttered by a gravel-voiced old priest. Then came the few bunches of flowers, all grocery store purchases save the beautiful, snowy display touted by Fred (who else among this bunch would have been able to afford it, or have bothered). All stood in silence. I glanced over at the blonde whom I’d concluded was Porter’s widow, noticing her stoic yet severely broken expression as she attempted to keep her emotions in check. The smaller child, color-coded as the boy, did not understand the proceedings and whined plaintively out of physical discomfort given the inclement weather. The bigger one was of ambiguous gender, with shaggy hair and no particular color or accessory denoting it as a boy or a girl. It was as sober as its mother, though as the friends of the family all left it finally ran to the burial mound and fell to its knees, sobbing quietly and calling for its father. The mother's self-control cracked when the child did. She handed the boy to the grandmother before running to the androgynous child’s side, wrapping her arms around it as they wailed together.
Such was the time for me to take my leave. I hadn’t anything to feel sentimental for, and already obliged my nostalgia as far as my rational mind would extend such courtesy. My thoughts were already bent on the notion of a hot cup of coffee. I whistled to myself as I withdrew the key to my rental car, sauntering at what was for me a chipper gait in that general direction, pleasantly anticipating taking my leave the dank, moody outdoors. Nature was only interesting to me insofar as I broke it down and reorganized it. If it wasn’t in code format, under my knife or microscope I simple could not be bothered. Unlike Fred, I’d never been more physically active than my general health required.
“John!” I pretended not to hear him. The simpering fool seemed to feel the need to reminiscence with me for reasons beyond my comprehension. I unlocked the door to my vehicle, snapping my umbrella neatly shut and tossing it onto the passenger-side floorboard, slipping my key into the ignition while pulling my door shut. I was not rewarded with the satisfying slam I’d intended, however, as Fred materialized with his hand staying the entrance and his large umbrella spanning the gap. “John!” he said again, quieter now, his smile painfully brilliant and genuine. I stared up at him blankly, feigning ignorance.
“Excuse me, do I know you?” I hissed, my voice a mixture of indifference and irritation. I wanted to ensure that he understood that his continued presence was an imposition.
“You did in grade school.” His smile grew maddeningly wider as he extended his hand. “Fred Wilkes.” I looked at his hand, removing my glasses and making a show of wiping them.
“Ah yes. You were hospitalized.” His smile faltered slightly and I felt a twinge of cruel satisfaction, the corner of my mouth ticking upward slightly. “Can I help you?”
“I just thought we could catch up a little.” Idly I wondered if I could have generated some form of gas I might have administered to trigger his allergies. I’d have rather enjoyed watching his form crumple and gasp for air in my wake.
“We didn’t keep in touch for a reason.” I placed my glasses back on my face, feeling them immediately begin to slide down my nose again. I peered up at him with dead eyes over their rims, using the metal for effect. “Now if you would please—?” I uttered, gesturing to the hand preventing my door from shutting.
“…Yes, of course. Take care of yourself, okay?” He replied quietly, smiling again as he withdrew his hand.
I did not respond. Shutting my door at long last, the engine roared to life. I drove off, glancing up at my rearview only once to see his gentle expression trailing after me, an irritating reminder of my first failed experiment.