Closest Without Going Over
He’s that same Rocket, that same big-hearted swindler. When I arrive, he’s sitting on the back stoop of St. Luke’s funeral home, the one downtown with the Christmas lights, chain-smoking cigarettes and getting drunk on communion wine from the rectory. He was an altar boy as a child. Before he came out. Or, the priest came out. Or, we all came out and realized that there was more to the world than this town. A mire of strip malls and tract houses built on old Indian burial grounds. Rocket had once described the town to me as the gaping mouth of the concrete jungle where his mother’s womb ended. “The best way to play a wake?” Rocket says as I sit down next to him. “Give it the game-show treatment. When they open the coffin, think showcase. Barker’s Beauties.” He motions toward the window of the middle-class funeral home. Inside, people in suits are milling around his father’s body. Waiting to leave. Waiting to remember. Waiting to feel anything at all. “The hardest part?” Rocket says. “Bidding on the body. How much do I bid on my old man’s remains?” “Same rules apply?” I ask. “Same rules,” he says. “Closest without going over.”
Groups of his relatives—good Catholic people who, when they called me anything, had always called me “Rocket’s girl”—huddle by on their way to the parking lot. “Jesus, Gin,” Rocket says. “Is it still you? Are you still Miss GoodyGoody? I didn’t think any of the old team would make it.” “The truth is everyone’s from this town,” I say. “Or, one like it.”
The night we met, Rocket was sitting in the backroom of a downtown bar with Dolly drinking Jack and Gingers. Dolly could map out the whole country on a cocktail napkin. She too worked in the theater. “Where you from?” Dolly asked. “Florida,” I said. “To Florida,” she said, drawing the state and tucking it into Rocket’s pocket before raising my Maker’s and shooting it. Later, Rocket took me home. There was an eviction notice on his door.