Iowa Writes

LUCIA NEVAI
from “Interment”


It was a rough winter and a brief spring. Nina had just come back from her uncle's funeral outside Laramie. "He had a good life," she said. "A good life and a good death. He went in his sleep. He went in his sleep and two days later, he had a funny funeral."

"Funny," said Ron. The three couples were sitting on the screened-in porch having cocktails before going out for pizza. They were life-long friends. This was a mid-May tradition.

"Several hundred people with funny stories to tell, all of them laughing for an hour. I call that funny," Nina said. "The minister had to cut people off because he had another funeral service right after my uncle's. At my funeral, do you know how many people will have a funny story to tell?" Nina said. "Not one." She looked around. No one contradicted her. "It makes me wonder if my whole life is wrong."

She looked sincere. They wondered if she knew.

It was a rough winter and a brief spring. Nina had just come back from her uncle's funeral outside Laramie. "He had a good life," she said. "A good life and a good death. He went in his sleep. He went in his sleep and two days later, he had a funny funeral."

"Funny," said Ron. The three couples were sitting on the screened-in porch having cocktails before going out for pizza. They were life-long friends. This was a mid-May tradition.

"Several hundred people with funny stories to tell, all of them laughing for an hour. I call that funny," Nina said. "The minister had to cut people off because he had another funeral service right after my uncle's. At my funeral, do you know how many people will have a funny story to tell?" Nina said. "Not one." She looked around. No one contradicted her. "It makes me wonder if my whole life is wrong."

She looked sincere. They wondered if she knew.

Of the three wives present, Nina looked the most rested, perhaps because she didn't work. Her skin was smooth and olive, her hair prematurely white. The beautiful bone structure, the striking slenderness that made her a knock-out at twenty wasn't enough at forty. There was a slight hunch to her shoulders, a pulling away from people instead of an offering up.

"So, we drove to the cemetery," Nina said. Her voice wavered. She waited until she regained control, so she wouldn't sound laughable the way people who talk when they cry do.

"She missed her connecting flight," her husband, Derek said. "She had to sleep on a cot in the Chicago airport overnight. She was strung out. If the flight had gone smoothly, she wouldn't be as shaken as she is now." Derek had a bushy brown mustache. He always wore a beret. He needed something to cover his head because he'd lost his hair in cancer treatments. The beret and the mustache balanced each other out; without them he looked grotesque, shiny pink skin from scalp to chin. Derek had dealt with cancer heroically. Now he looked fake. He looked as if he were made of wax, a Derek candle you light by the wick of the beret.

"See—he always dismisses me," Nina said to her friends. It was true, but they were sick of hearing about it. "I'm not allowed to be legitimately upset by anything. Not even death."

"Why be upset about what we know is coming?" Derek said. He was playing the cancer card. His friends were immune—he played it too often. "Save that for the surprises in life," Derek said to Nina. He spoke too confidently. He had surprises. They were important and would destroy the marriage if Nina knew.

Nina's face grew lonely. She looked as if she was up against the wall.

Joe piped up in Nina's defense. It was his house, his porch where they met every May. "Let her finish?"

Nina's face went from lonely to vain. "We drove to the cemetery in one big, long, funeral train," Nina said. Her hand swept across the evening air in a single, stately stroke. "Two hundred cars, a hearse and the Wyoming sky." Everyone was touched by the image. "We all got out and walked to the grave. The Army Reserves sent out seven men in uniform to fire the 21-gun salute. You can have one if you served in a war. I kept thinking, I don't want to be buried in Pittsburgh, I don't want to be buried in Pittsburgh. And then I thought: why would I live somewhere where I don't want to be buried?"

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


LUCIA NEVAI

Lucia Nevai is the author of Seriously, a novel, published by Little, Brown. Her first collection of stories, Star Game, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Born in Des Moines, she now makes her home in upstate New York. “Interment” first appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of The Iowa Review.

This page was first displayed
on March 03, 2007

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