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Six weeks was an unusual amount of time between death and funeral, but Jack had spent all of that in the hospital recovering from the surgeries to repair his injuries. The two most visible were the brace on his neck and the cast on his left leg. He sat alone in the front pew, his leg stretched out in front and the wheelchair folded beside. Jack stared at his life sealed tight inside two ornate boxes of metal and wood. The world around him faded, an ephemeral swirling mist whose only solid objects lay directly ahead.
Everyone agreed the caskets were a beautifully matched pair, much like their occupants had once been. Family members passed by tsk-tsking at the sheer waste of two lives, turning their heads in weepy empathy to where Jack sat alone in his misery, a few whispering to others about his appearance. All lingered at the shorter of the two closed caskets–one closed in sympathy, but this one in sheer necessity–and patted Jack on the shoulder as they made their way to seats far from the grieving husband and father. No one sat near. None dared.
Jack didn’t care. He was thankful for the space, and preferred the cold flask in his coat pocket for company. Refusing pain medication from the start, he convinced a kind-hearted nurse to supply him with what he needed. The man, Jack was sure, now regretted that decision. Too far gone to worry about propriety, he lifted the flask to his lips and took another long swig as family and friends walked past him shaking their heads.
“Fuck you,” he whispered. That defiance in the face of their sorrow comforted him in some twisted way, and he gathered strength from it, searching for more. A man and woman shuffling to the display offered him what he craved. It took him a few seconds to place their faces, but he recognized them from the hospital. They had intruded there as well.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he shouted, not realizing he had stood. He was hobbling forward before he could stop himself, the cast cracking under the strain, and with his good arm grabbed the man by the lapels of his suit. He shook the man with feeble strength as the woman cried, and several mourners scrambled to stop him before he did something worse. “You have no right!”
“I’m sorry Mr. Montgomery,” Mark Peters said, holding his hands up in surrender. “We only wanted to pay our respects.”
Jack released him and drew his fist back, but Mason grabbed his arm from behind and held it firm.
“Don’t, Jack,” he whispered in Jack’s ear. “You know Beth wouldn’t want this.”
“Fine,” he said, relenting but not relaxing, “just get them the fuck out of here.”
Mason pulled Jack away from the parents of his family’s killer, and placed himself between. “Maybe you should leave,” he said to Mark.
“I understand,” he said, head hanging, hat in hand. “Just know we are sorry for your loss.”
“Shut up! Just. Shut. Up.” Jack spit each word, a cobra’s venom of deadly accuracy. “I didn’t lose anything. Your boy stole them from me.” The crowd of mourners gathered around them now, some nodding in anger while others wrung their hands. Mason stood at the center of this critical mass, one hand splayed on Jack’s chest and the other inviting the couple to leave.
The man nodded and said, “Come on, Betsy. We should go.”
As they started out, the people parted before them, a gauntlet of angry faces. Betsy stopped and turned, her voice breaking, “We’ve all lost something, Mr. Montgomery. Only a month ago, we buried–”
“How dare you compare your loss to mine!” Jack yelled, slapping Mason’s hand away. Several of the gathering, including Mason, stepped back from the hurricane-force winds of his fury. “Here,” he said, tears streaming down his cheeks, and grabbed a wreath of flowers. Fire exploded along the scar on his left arm as he threw the wreath at the couple, and bellowed “take these to your boy’s grave. May he rot in Hell!”
Betsy sobbed as the wreath hit her, and she staggered back into her husband’s arms. Anger, red hot, flushed Mark’s face, but he said nothing. His mouth a tight line, he gathered his wife to him and ushered her out the door.
“Maybe,” Jack yelled at their backs, “if you had raised your boy right, none of them would be dead right now.”
The air pressure dropped as everyone gasped, but Mark and Betsy only hesitated a step before leaving the sanctuary.
Jack, weeping and dizzy from the pain, stumbled back to his seat and grabbed his flask. He sat with a heavy thud, took a long drink, and said, “Show’s over folks.” He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his suit, “Sit your asses down and let’s get this shit over with.”