Life After JulietBy: Shannon Lee Alexander
For those who can see the Thestrals—carry on, always
You may think you know me,
but you don’t. I am yet to be made
It’s a small church. Everything in this town is small—everything but the mountains that frame it. Those are giants bowing before the sky. But the church is small, and everything feels too close. I can see every brush stroke on the painting of The Last Supper hanging above the altar. I’m choking on the scent of the lemony polish that’s been used on the great oak doors at the back of the church. And I feel as though I could reach out and touch Charlotte where she’s lying in her coffin. I could take her hand in mine. I could hold it. But I don’t. Don’t really want to because while the body in the coffin may look just like my best friend, I know it isn’t.
The fingertips of that body are free of charcoal residue and ink stains. The lips on that body are smiling—too pretty, too perfect. Charlotte’s smile was always a little crooked and almost always accompanied by laughter. The raven-hued curls on the girl before us are all in place. My Charlotte’s curls were a beautiful mess.
But the biggest hint that we’re all being deceived is that the body lying in this coffin is much too still to be Charlotte. Much too still. In the short year that I knew her, I never saw her be so still. Charlotte moved like the wind, pushing and pulling whatever was in her path, bending life to her whims.
Charlotte’s body was alive. This one is not.
The woman at the altar asks if anyone else would like to say a few words. I look at my older brother out of the corner of my eye. Charlie’s tall frame is squashed beside me, his knees pressing into the back of the pew ahead of us. His head is bent so low that his chin rests on his chest, a golden blond lock of hair across his forehead. He’s concentrating on a difficult task—holding himself together. I think he has counted every thread in the weave of his dress slacks. His jaw tightens, and I know that he will not be saying a few words.
He’s barely said anything since day one, the day we had to start over, the day Charlotte died. That day he had words to say, but I think he was on autopilot, an adrenaline rush, shock, whatever you want to call it. It’s not every day a boy gets a phone call in the earliest hours of morning telling him that his girlfriend is dead.
He’s said four words today. “We’ll be okay, Becca.” Then he hugged me before opening my car door.
Thank goodness Charlie’s friends James and Greta rode along with us for the funeral. Charlotte will be buried here in the mountains, in her old hometown, four hours away from where we live. Four hours is a long time to survive on only four words.
No, Charlie won’t be saying anything at this funeral.
“Anyone?” the woman asks again.
Around us, the small crowd shifts in their seats. I have something to say. I’m just not sure I have the courage to speak. I lean forward in my seat. I take a deep breath. My heart flies, and my fingers feel electric. I have something to say.
When I stand, Charlie glances up. His eyes, underlined with dark circles, search my face. I touch his shoulder as I step over him. He watches me down the aisle. I’m doing it. I have something to say, and I’m going to say it.
But when I get to the coffin, I falter. This body is not Charlotte. This body is—I look at the woman standing to the left of the coffin. Her hands are loosely gripping the podium. She’s so calm. She smiles at me, and I know it’s meant to be encouraging, but a flicker of rage dances inside my chest.
How can she be so calm? This body is all wrong. This body is a joke. This body is not Charlotte. It is nothing.
I’m choking on the syrupy sadness in my throat. Behind me, someone is crying. I move away from the coffin with the too-still body and take the three steps up to the podium. The woman welcomes me, opening her arms to me, embracing me before stepping away so I can say my few words.
From here I can watch the sea of sadness as it rolls in waves across everyone’s faces. My brother is no longer counting threads. He is sitting tall, watching me, his golden hair catching fire in the red light from one of the stained glass windows. He has things to say, too, but no way to say them. I will say the things. I will be brave.