Orange & A Funeral
by Ali Berlow
The grieving, they give off a smell. An odor perceptible only to the bones of the unaffected, it is the hardened scent of inevitability undiluted. The person wearing this scent is marked as an active member of a club that no one wants to join but everyone’s already been signed up for.
Who knows why she grabbed the orange off the kitchen counter on her way out to her father’s funeral. Orange doesn’t go with black unless it’s October. The word itself is an outlier, rhyming with what? Nothing. But there it was in her hand. Too big to fit into her clutch that contained the requisite tissues and Altoids and not much more. People are afraid of you when you lose a parent, she thought, gazing out at the rest of the world speeding by from the backseat of the car.
It was a lovely frock she was wearing. High heeled, in nylons, she decorously showed the nape of her neck, dressing up in his honor. This would be a memorial service in six acts. Her privilege was a front row seat.
And so it began with the dissent chords of “Fanfare for the Common Man” rising up into the triangular spires of the church, the prelude to remembrances of a life. The music began the work of turning flesh into a cold bronze metal bust sculpted by selective memories, collective tales full, tall and generous. Because that’s what death does—mythify.
Sitting on the hard pew she perfumed herself to try to outwit grief by throwing it off her scent. Through the eulogies she waged on with the science and mystery of smell, taste and memory, digging into the orange with her fingernails and bringing it to her nose. Anxious and poised to kick off her shoes, she quivered, wanting only to run away and into the bracing spring air to figure out how to live on without her father.
Instead, she conjured a master sculptor’s studio in which apprentices made quick work, fast chiseling into form the bust of him. “Deeper set the eyes. Square off the chin. His mother had Indian blood in her.” The master barked to his tyros. “Leave some hair, not bald. Set the lips, show no teeth…”
Another daughter took the stage. This one spoke in a Chinese accent and quoted Robert Frost. More memories infused the air around her. Some from her younger tomboy self, nine or ten years old, when she made a fort behind the Christmas tree with blankets and couch cushions. Oranges wrapped in green tissue paper from a gift box. Her father peeled one for her into a spiral, one fell skin! And handed both back to her—the freed pulpy fruit and its slinky rind. She took the treasures back into her lair and feasted under colored lights, quilts and pine. Bites of orange and bits of dark chocolate.
Another eulogy. This one in a Nigerian accent. She learned there would be a community center dedicated in her father’s name in his kingdom’s village. Meanwhile, the sculptor’s studio was hard at work to keep pace with the service. His image had to be finished as the last word was spoken, the church organ declared it so, and the audience was released. With the penultimate act in play, she smelled the perfume of wood smoke, his woolen hunting coat. Leather and rawhide strung snowshoes on crusty spring snow, pruning saws in hand, dog by our every stride. Homemade root beer. The ozone of thunderstorms and digging night crawlers for fishing. A dictionary and a red pencil. Sauerkraut. Family and friends around the dining room table and afterwards dessert—glasses of vanilla ice cream with a pour of emerald green crème de menthe for everyone.
The ceremony was over and there it was. The sculptor’s magical art and duty had been fulfilled. The bronzing of his image was sealed tight, the burnishing replete. Now anyone could find him, should they want to pay homage in the patina of years to come. Though the daughter, she now understood how to always find him in life.