Issue > Fiction
Tyler Schwanke

Tyler Schwanke

Tyler Schwanke is a graduate student in the MFA program at Hamline University. He has been published in The Tusk, Storyteller and Rock, Paper, Scissors and is currently seeking representation for his YA novel. He resides in Minneapolis with his wife and dog.

The Funeral

Elyse still hadn't read the letter. It sat on the edge of her desk, unopened except for a tiny tear in the corner, the result of a passing moment of courage she'd had a few hours ago. A message from the grave. Who the hell even does something like that?

She took a drag of her cigarette, let it fill her lungs. Why hadn't Tom just given it to Karli to give to her? Why have it sent to her apartment? Unless Karli didn't know about it, unless he wrote it while she was home attending to the kids. That would explain why the return address was for his office and not his house. But even if he didn't want Karli to know, there were plenty of times he could've talked to Elyse alone at the hospital. What couldn't he tell her in person that needed to be told in a letter?

She stopped pacing and sat at her desk. Like a Band-Aid. Quick and painful. She picked up the envelope, opened it. The letter shook in her hands. It'd been forever since she'd seen Tom's handwriting, the sloppy cursive inherited from their dad.

Elyse -

You're going to be mad, but I need a favor. I've been meeting women on I'm not going to bullshit you. It's a website where men have discreet sex with hot college girls in exchange for money to go towards tuition. Or maybe they just use the money for rent and to pay for their bills and stuff. I don't know. Honestly, I never followed up. Below is my log in information. Stop payment for the women I'm seeing and delete my account. Karli can never know about this. Thanks. Oh, I also have an illegitimate Hispanic family in Florida. Please tell Salma that I've passed and little Jose that his father will always be with him.....just kidding. No illegitimate family. Just the college girls. In comparison it doesn't seem so bad now, does it? Lighten up will ya?

Three cigarettes and half a blender of margs later, Elyse was back at her desk, sniffing the nicotine on her fingers. It was a joke. Had to be. Tom wasn't perfect, but he wasn't a douche or anything. He wouldn't cheat on his family. And he'd always loved practical jokes. Like the time when they were kids and he put cellophane wrap on their parent's toilet. Their mom had been so upset when she came out of her bedroom, the back of her legs soaking. "I couldn't stop," she cried, which made the two of them laugh so hard they almost had wet legs of their own. If this was a prank, it was a good one. One last time to make her squirm on his way out. She typed in the website address he'd provided, fully prepared to see a giant picture of him smiling and giving her the bird.

The website pulled up. On it was a picture of a busty blonde in a short skirt, knee high socks, and a cardigan sweater tied up above her navel. In one hand she held a couple of oversized books, and with the other had partially pulled down a pair of nerdy black-rimmed glasses halfway down her nose. She stared seductively at a dark skinned man in a tailored suit with gray temples. Next to them read, Where Learning Isn't Just For The Classroom.

Elyse slammed her laptop shut. That fucking douche.

The landline to Tom and Karli's house was busy. Elyse scrolled through her phone but didn't have Karli's cell number, and it was too late to go over to her house. If the kids heard her they'd get all excited and they needed their rest for the funeral. All of this was moot though because even if she was able to get in touch with Karli, it's not like she knew how to break the news anyways. It required a certain finesse to tell someone that their husband of eight years and father of two little children had been paying thousands of dollars to screw barely legal teens, a finesse Elyse felt qualified enough to say she didn't have. She'd wait until after the funeral to tell Karli. A few hours later she went to bed. Her eyes didn't stay closed until the sun started to rise.

Like everything else in her sister-in-law's life, Tom's funeral looked ready to be photographed, liked, and shared across any and all social media platforms. Bouquets of white roses and lilies, held together by white lace, hung from the ends of the pews, and two oversized wreathes hanging on easels sat in front of the sanctuary. Karli and her two sisters stood in front of the wreathes. Elyse had never seen her in such rough shape. Stress lines cut across her forehead, her hair slick with oil as if it hadn't been washed in days. She barely lifted her eyes when Elyse gave her a hug, her whole body trembling as she cried into Elyse's shoulder. Behind Karli was a blown up picture of Tom's professional headshot the firm used that, from what Elyse could tell, had been recently photoshopped to give Tom the same hairline he had back in high school. Next to it was a bronze urn resting on top of a wood pillar.

"You smell like smoke," Karli said, taking Elyse's right hand and putting it up to her nose. "I told you the children have complained about that before."

"I'm just stressed," Elyse said.

"Do you think he would've liked this?"

"It's beautiful." Elyse gave the room a once over for Karli's benefit.

The sanctuary was half full with more people filing in. Standing alone in the back was a young woman, a sexy librarian type with cat glasses and hair pulled back in a bun. Was she family? Who was she here with? A few feet away from the woman was a brunette sitting by herself that Elyse also didn't know and on the other side of the sanctuary sat a pair of blondes with too much make-up that she'd never met before either. Were these girls from the website? Why hadn't she logged in to the website to see what the girls looked like? She was completely unprepared for this and could be responsible for ruining everything. Elyse looked back at the urn. Tom being cremated was for the best. She would've stabbed her brother in his dead, cheating face with a pen if it'd been an open casket.

She took her place in the receiving line and shook hands with people who'd come to pay their respects, a ball of fear lodged in her throat whenever an attractive younger female talked to Karli for more than ten seconds. When the last person passed through the line, the pastor came over and said they'd be starting the ceremony soon and that everyone should take their seats.

"I need to use the bathroom and get the kids from the nursery," Karli told her. "Sit in front with me. I want you nearby."

As Elyse went to sit down, the brunette sitting by herself in the back row of pews stood up and followed Karli out of the sanctuary. Elyse stopped mid-shuffle down the first row pew, her crotch inches from Aunt Barb's nose. She cleared her throat and put her hand up to her neck. "Need some water," she said down to Aunt Barb, then went back the way she'd come, which was a terrible inconvenience for Grandpa Lyle who had to momentarily squeeze between cousin Rachel and Aunt Debra on the pew bench so she could pass.

The church lobby was mostly empty except for a few stragglers trying to sneak in unnoticed. Neither Karli nor the brunette was in the first floor women's restroom and her niece and nephew were still in the nursery. Downstairs didn't prove any luck either as the only thing she found in the kitchen was plates filled with turkey sandwiches covered in plastic wrap and four different types of hotdish. Where were they? Elyse headed back upstairs when she heard a woman's voice in a raised whisper.

She stopped in the middle of the staircase. More yelling, louder than before. Two voices, both women, the second much younger than the other. Her heart rate accelerated. The voices led her to a classroom used for Sunday school where she hid behind the partially opened door. Karli and the brunette stood arguing in the middle of the room, small plastic chairs circling them, a picture of Jesus holding the Earth with the words "In His Hands," painted on the wall behind them.

"I can't believe you chose today to do this," Karli said.

"What was I supposed to do?" the brunette said, her pouty lips trembling. She took a step towards Karli, who flinched and took a step back.

Elyse gripped the doorknob. Poor Karli. Fucking Tom. Everyone gets a chance to romanticize about the dead. That's why people on Facebook always write, "heaven got another angel today," when someone dies, even if in reality it was some dude who was a homophobic drug dealer that never paid child support. The romanticizing was for those grieving, not the asshole six feet under. Karli would never get that now and it was all Tom's fault.

"Stop pushing me away," the brunette said. She put her hands on Karli's shoulders, rubbing her exposed arms. Karli closed her eyes. Was she embracing this? "I know you're in pain. Let me be there for you." The brunette leaned forward, tenderly kissing Karli on the mouth. Karli kissed back and ran her hands down the brunette's back. Elyse let go of the door and went upstairs.

Outside, in the back of the church parking lot behind, she ran behind the dumpster to have a smoke but started laughing as soon as she lit her cigarette. She should've been angry or upset that she'd been thrown into the middle of her brother's shitty marriage, but all she could think about was how funny Tom would've found the whole thing. Two spouses hiding secret affairs at a funeral, what are the odds? It's too bad they didn't tell each other. They might've had the same taste in women. Tom probably could've got a threesome if he'd only been truthful with his wife. Elyse tried holding the cigarette to her lips but her laughing wouldn't allow her to take a drag. He'd be so pissed about that one.

Finally she calmed down and lit a new cigarette. With Tom gone she was now the last member of her family. There was nobody else who'd remember the awful trip they'd taken with their parents to Disney World where it rained the entire time and everyone got food poisoning at Epcot, their mom's obsession with fondue that always made the house reek of burnt cheese, or the way their dad would smile and say, "ducks quacking," when a loud fart would slip. Things hadn't been perfect, but it had been all theirs. Family comes in all forms and now hers was a sister-in-law with lesbian tendencies and a niece and nephew who needed to know what a sarcastic, idiotic, brain-dead, chauvinistic, sarcastic, sincere and caring person their father had really been.

The church bells rang, the service about to begin. One final drag burned the cigarette down to the filter as the bells stopped. She couldn't avoid it any longer. It was time to go say goodbye to her brother. With the heel of her shoe she rubbed out the cigarette and went inside to wash her hands.


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