After they had walked.
After they had walked, they drank soft red wine.
After they drank the wine, they ate. Sweet slices of pan de muerto with honey,
And, after they ate the pan de muerto, they danced.
“This is rich! Two men dancing in the middle of the afternoon,” said Sedge. “This is rich!” he said again. “That’s what me Mum would have said.”
They had gone back to Javier’s house. It was the day after the election though that was not why they had met on the beach or why they were dancing. Nor why Javier was wearing a mask, a COVID mask, a black one with the cadaverous white bones of a smiling skull face painted on the front, una calavera. It was the one he made for the Days of the Dead, on the weekend just past.
When they had gotten back to the house. Before they had the wine, Javier turned to Sedge. “I am sorry, my friend” he said. “Maybe we should not have walked all the way down to the inlet. Not today.”
“Maybe we had no choice,” Sedge offered. His voice as thin as a reed.
They had walked on the hard-packed sand as far south as the mouth of the intracoastal inlet. The closer they came to it, the more anxious Sedge felt.
They stood looking down at the water.
The tide was rushing out, forced, through the narrow inlet, pulling the water through in swift and strong swirling eddies. Coiling currents over and under one another.
Sedge could see how easily a person, a body, would be dragged down in an instant, below the surface, twisting and turning in the turbulence and carried out into the dark sea, possibly never to be found or perhaps, he thought, carried back somewhere along the long stretch of the shore by a reciprocating, incoming, tide, as had been Adelaide.
It was a year, almost to the day, since her body had been found on the beach. In her black bathing suit. The suit she loved, the one she wore in the picture he has of her on his phone, holding her glasses down at her side, rows of incoming waves behind her, standing in that quarter-turned, shoulders-back, way she did for photos. Her vanity showing. After which she put her glasses back on because she could not see more than a colorful blur without them.
The two of them, Sedge and Adelaide, had met Javier years back at a Ritmo 95.7FM fundraiser for Miami’s troubled Hispanic youth. He’d been the weekday morning man before the station was bought and went to all-day-cubatón programming and the youthful audience had become Latinx and Javier’s olden-days voice had aged him out.
They had become tight. The three of them.
After her body was found on the beach that evening, Sedge was beset with grief. So deep and so constant, it filled his days as completely as darkness fills a room when the lamp is extinguished. He wore his grief like a repellent raiment of rags.
At the sharp drop at the water’s edge, where the stream erodes away the sand, Javi touched Sedge lightly on the arm.
“Take this,” he said, separating a marigold from the bunch he held, carried from home.
Sedge took the flower as Javi tossed one and then another into the water, watching as each one was spirited swiftly away on the surface. He felt the near-weightless earthy vibrance of it, smelled its unmistakable pungency and, as Javi had done with the others, he tossed it into the stream.
“We do this to remember. To celebrate the dead,” said Javi.
“Yes. To celebrate their lives and what they have left with us. Siempre, always, una mezcla de la felicidad y la tristeza. The happy and the sad. So, we gather at their graves, or just together as we are now and we think good things about them and tell their stories. All of them. All the lives lost. Each one mourned. Those laid to rest and others who have never found a resting place. They all look to us to recognize them and to remember.
“How can I celebrate her death? What a horror that must have been. To die like that.”
“Do you know of any death, Sedge, that is not a horror?”
“And we celebrate that?
“No, of course not.”
“A person just like us who lived and died. As we will. Is that not what you want in some way. To have your life celebrated?”
Yes. The marigolds. We believe they have the power to open the door between the living and the dead, to bring their souls, their beingness, if you will, into the present moment. Your mom. Adelaide. A Salvadoran man with a family of eight who was disappeared. Trayvon and Breonna. A million people who had the COVID. My parents, who were Marielitos who climbed into a twenty-foot boat in the dark with one bag and held onto me and my brother for dear life. For dear life, and then…,” he said. “When we lose someone close to us, when we grieve in our hearts, and give room to the emptiness we feel, when we share that loss with others, we bring ourselves closer to them, both the ones we’ve lost and ones we grieve with. This is why we do this.”
“I am sorry for you. For them.”
“Listen to me, Sedge, I miss her too.”
“Not as much as I do.”
“Oh, no? How do you know that? You are not the only one to grieve for her.”
Sedge was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry, he said. “I don’t know. I cannot know. I should not have said that.”
“Nor should have I, Papi,” said Javier. “Let’s forget that. Come with me. We will bake some Pan de Muerto together and talk of other things. We will put aside sad thoughts and pray together for them and us, and dance La Danza de los Viejitos, for we soon will be little old men ourselves.”
And they turned back. The sun hard and warm on the back of their necks and they spoke of Adelaide and their parents and friends and even those who they had never known.