by Christina Carson
Death, the word that usually clears the room, only it didn't clear the room this night…
“Heh, Buddy thanks for inviting us to your place tonight”. Chip clapped Buddy on the shoulder as he and his wife Liz squeezed past him in the narrow entry way of Buddy’s apartment. “I've had it with the noise in that pub where we usually get together.”
“Can’t stand the noise, eh. You getting old, Chip?” Andy yelled from across the room.
“Well as a matter of fact, yes, and so are you.”
Andy chuckled. “Only in years, Chip. My inner me is as insane as ever.”
Chip rolled his eyes. Liz, ignoring them both, spotted Andy’s wife, Judy, in the kitchen. She was putting together some cheese plates with crackers as well as warming some finger food. They hugged like sisters. They were roommates their first year in university and unlike many of the girls forced into sharing a room with a stranger, Judy and Liz became fast friends.
That left only the other singles in the group to arrive, and for unknown reasons, they were always last. The group had suggested many theories as to why that was, most not at all flattering, but it hadn't daunted Susan or Zach and the next door bell was Susan standing in the hall, leaving Zach to arrive a good twenty minutes later.
It was an unusual group, seven people who deemed one another important enough to nurture this friendship over thirty years. Now in their mid-50s, children raised, jobs less riveting, ex’s banished, and futures less programmed, a new phase of life was upon them, the end game, and though they had shared their problems of smart-mouthed kids, financial worries, job losses and marriage break-ups through the years, they were loath to explore this stage of life in any way other than jokes.
As each grabbed a LeBatts Blue and scattered themselves over the chairs, chesterfield and floor, it was Zach who would speak the words that always started their evenings together. There had been occasional attempts in the past to drop this tradition, labeling it corny or childish. But, now that they were getting older, the ritual had strangely become infused with new meaning. Wherever they chose to meet, the convener stood, which quieted this talkative crowd, an often caught the attention of nearby tables. Then he or she would speak these same words they started with so long ago. Zach, who’d been a Fine Arts/Drama major and had gone on to stage and screen, was the convener this evening and everyone liked his delivery best. Zach stood and said in piglet’s high squeaky voice:
“We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet.
Even longer,' Pooh answered.”
Pooh & Company was what they called themselves back in the day, and Pooh & Company they still were. Yet, little did they know the further poignancy the quote would acquire before this evening ended.
With the gathering convened, small talk popped up in various groupings of the seven. They kept a serious line of chatter going until Chip said above the din, “Did you all hear about Richard?”
Richard had started with the group when they graduated from university. He brought his new wife Drew to it and stayed until his marriage broke apart. Everyone tried to get him back, but he plunged into his engineering career and began to travel internationally on oil and gas seismic crews. Chip had seen him a couple of times, but each time Richard was evasive and distant. Chip told the group he thought Richard was in trouble, maybe depressed, but it was impossible to follow up as he’d ship out and be gone again without warning.
“I ran into Toby who told me Richard had a heart attack last week and died on the spot in Kuala Lampur or some place in Malaysia.”
The group stopped talking, then intermittently murmured then sat quiet, then murmured again. They were at that time in their lives when death was a new frontier, one that was increasingly in their purview, and tonight, thanks to Richard, these friends crept a little closer to its edge.
“Is there anyone among us who believes they’re not afraid of death, their own that is? Just curious.” Susan, a professor of literature, asked the question and quieted the room better than an old schoolmarm wielding a ruler.
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