Better Left Unsaid
Lou was buried on a Sunday morning. The air was cool, the sky clear, and Arthur couldn’t summon the words to express his clouding thoughts. Matt was dressed in that black suit he’d always loved, his eyes staring, haunted and empty, as he carried his sister’s coffin. Arthur shivered, scuffing his toes through the grass. He didn’t want to watch the coffin lower and see the girl he once knew as his own sister sink into the ground forever. In all the whirlwind of the last few days, the gentle thud of the coffin touching the ground was a resounding thud of finality in the world. He didn’t want to listen to them talk, but he did, because how could he not? The earth was cold and caked under his fingernails as he scooped it up. It sprinkled down again from dozens of hands, pebbled chunks of dirt speckling across the glossy chestnut surface until they couldn’t see it anymore. She was gone, she was buried, and just like that the people were filtering away, chatting quietly.
Arthur kept his head bowed, incredulous fury stirring in his chest. How could they just all turn away and pretend everything was alright? He gazed at his grubby hands so he didn’t have to look at the hole in the ground. The stark line of groomed grass against shredded earth at the edge of the grave drew his eye and he knelt, dragging his fingers through the short blades. Footsteps rustled nearby; a familiar form dropped beside him and a hand rested on his shoulder. Mari didn’t look at him, but Arthur lifted his head and they watched Matt at the other side. Matt stood stock still, staring down into the grave with that same vacant expression. Arthur’s gut wrenched painfully.
Mrs. Walden approached her son, setting a hand on his shoulder. He jerked away, turning silently away from her and the grave, away from Lou, and retreated across the lawns to the parking lot. Mari leaned her head against Arthur’s shoulder, turning her face into the fabric of his jacket. She made a soft, keening little sob and Arthur swallowed back the lump in his throat.
The drive back was silent. Arthur would have wished for anything more.
Matt’s room was dark with the curtains drawn; they sat across from each other on the bed, their socked toes just scarcely touching. It was the sort of barely-there contact that Arthur needed so desperately right now, just enough to prove that Matt was there, Arthur was there, and they weren’t alone. No matter what, they still had each other. The black suit hung in the back of Matt’s closet, never to be touched or worn again. The sound of Matt’s soft breathing was choked and raspy. Arthur watched Matt’s face in the dark, saw his eyes open, and they looked at each other silently for an unending moment.
“What am I s’posed to do now?” It was the first time Matt had spoken since the funeral ended; his voice was raw and broken. Arthur didn’t quite know what to say. “How ‘m I—How am I s’posed to just…” Matt shrugged helplessly.
Arthur still didn’t say anything because nothing he could say could possibly help. Besides, he knew Matt wasn’t really looking for an answer. Arthur scooted towards him, taking Matt’s hand in his. All he could really do was just be there for him, now and forever after.
“How am I s’posed to just live?” Matt’s voice cracked, Arthur had to squeeze his eyes shut against the prickling tears.
“I dunno, man,” Arthur mumbled. He felt so cold, so empty, so at a loss.
Matt let out a high-pitched, wheezing little laugh. “I just keep thinking, you know? That this can’t be real. It isn’t real. She isn’t—she can’t be—” Matt choked on his words; Arthur lunged forward to cut him off, and put his hands on Matt’s face.
“Matt, hey, hey… Breathe, alright? I know it hurts, but you have to breathe… Please…” He couldn’t bear to see Matt like this right now, much as he understood, and God forbid he hyperventilate. Matt nodded, chewing at his lip, tearing the skin between his teeth. Arthur’s gut twisted with anxiety.
“I—I—I’ve never not had her,” Matt whimpered. He jerked away from Arthur’s touch and wiped at his eyes. “What do I do, man?” Arthur was always the only child of a single mother and had only ever had their little group. Now it was severed, and Arthur had the selfish audacity to think of how hurt he was, when Matt was suffering right before him.
“You just have to breathe, okay? I can go make some hot chocolate, just lie down, alright?” Before Arthur could even move, Matt’s rheumy eyes were on him, his hand squeezing Matt’s wrist. He shook his head desperately.
“Stay,” he croaked. Arthur would do nothing but obey. He settled back, taking up Matt’s hand again and just holding it, letting him have whatever kind of comfort he needed. “It isn’t fair,” he said after several minutes, pulling his knees to his chest. Tears were in his eyes, spilling over and dripping down his cheeks.
“I know,” Arthur murmured, stroking his thumb along the back of Matt’s hand.
“We’re just kids! It isn’t fair!” He was heaving wretched sobs now, eyes red and swollen, throat raw. “Fuck… Fuck! This isn’t fair!” His voice was cracking as he screamed, and he was sobbing faster than he could breathe.
Arthur was at a loss and he couldn’t think of what to do. He was crying too but he grabbed Matt by the shoulders and pulled him closer. Matt’s hands fisted in Arthur’s sweater and he could feel the damp spreading; maybe it was uncomfortable for the both of them, but he would never let go.
“We’re just kids, man…we’re just kids.”
“Shhh, shhh. I know. I know.”
“We don’t need this shit. We don’t deserve it. She didn’t deserve that.”
Arthur said nothing and merely held him, his eyes staring far, far away. “I know, bud,” he whispered.
“My baby sister, man,” and his voice cracked again. “My baby sister’s gone.”
They’d never speak of it again, and the next day Matt adopted a tough façade, brushing off the condolences and the pitying looks. He was more so angry than anything else and Arthur was worried, but they never spoke of it. Lou’s desk was empty and nobody could deny how their gaze would linger at her seat in every class, or how they all fell into an uneasy silence whenever an unaware substitute would call her name for attendance. They all felt it, but they never spoke of it, because for some things it didn’t matter how needed it was, you just couldn’t put words to it.