The Funeral for the Man Who Nobody Knew

February 1st, 2008 · 2 Comments

The whole town attended the funeral for the man who nobody knew. They filed into the funeral home and didn’t say a word to each other.

A maid found the man who nobody knew at the Motel 6, floating in the pool with a dragonfly sitting on his head. She called the police.

The officer who fished him out looked him in the face for a long time. He thought about putting the man back in the pool and letting him rest there forever, but he didn’t. He fished him out and went home, less capable of being alive.

And though he had a face and fingerprints and a body, everything that represents an identity, it soon became clear that nobody knew the man floating in the pool. He had no identification on him, nor did anyone come forward and claim him as a relative or friend. He had come into the world as a responsibility to everyone else. He had come into the world as weight and space.

The man’s face was waterlogged, so the funeral was closed casket.

A local man built the casket. He sanded the wood and stained it. He thought about getting into the casket himself, but he didn’t. He just nailed the casket together and looked at his work.

The man who nobody knew brought with him the responsibility of building a casket. Brought with him the expenditure of hours, sweating in a garage and nailing wood together.

At the funeral, a woman sang an elegy. The woman who sang at the funeral lived alone. She sang a song about missing the people you care about and while she sang she thought that maybe that kind of song was inappropriate since no one would miss the man who nobody knew. In fact, being missed was all he was until he turned up dead. She thought about taking the man’s dead body home and setting him up on the couch and singing to him. Setting him up with pillows under his arms, singing quietly to him and kissing his face and making him feel less unknown. She’d put her lips against his swollen blue face and taste the chlorine from the pool and the many many years of air the man had swallowed. She made up some of the words during the song because she was distracted.

The funeral home was packed and everybody wore clothes that made them uncomfortable. Sweat brought their clothes close to their bodies. Somebody in the crowd silently thought to herself that her makeup was seeping into her pores, making her uncomfortable. She thought maybe looking pretty means feeling uncomfortable. She kept looking at her cell phone but nobody called her anyway so her eyes were repeatedly upset. Some mascara went into her eye and for a second the world looked black.

The man who nobody knew caused everyone to make sure they looked a certain way at a certain time in front of certain people. He was an event.

The sign out front at the funeral home said, “Funeral today for the man who nobody knows.” The letters that spelled the message were conceived long before the man who nobody knew lived and died. They have always meant the same thing but they were conceived to be used in that moment.

And everybody inside was worried about the traffic after the funeral. They were worried about having to donate their money to pay for a spot in the cemetery. They wanted to burn his body and toss the ashes onto the ground because the earth was already clogged – nobody wants to permanently host a guest they don’t know. And they were worried about one day soon taking the place of the man who nobody knew. They were afraid the man who nobody knew would tell the worms they weren’t far behind.

They were so worried that they didn’t hear most of the song that shook the air and set the man who nobody knew to a lower level of quiet, known as unknown, low like the stratum of dirt reserved for him in the cemetery in between people who were known by many or even just one another.

But the dirt between them shuffles into place the same way and the air above them likewise.

You will never be missed.

Tags: 2008 · AP Issues · February 2008 · Fiction

2 responses so far ↓

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