These are the men who will bury him. The four men in this pleasant basement on a perfectly beautiful June day. They will rise from the comfortable circle they have formed and grab the gold handles of his casket, pick him up, carry him, lay him in the earth.
He knows that. They all know that, promised it to each other ten years ago when they, in their mid- and late-fifties then, had formed the group. Before the prostate cancer, before a heart attack, though not before the drinking and the depression and the divorce. One day at a time, he had made it to another Tuesday. Here he was again, maybe for the last time.
He looked at the chair he always sat in, the well worn beige cushions, the square table next to it where he always set his glass of water. His spot. They each have their own spot, kept them most weeks: Gordon likes the couch, Phil the rocker, David the straight-backed chair. Walking to his spot, he can feel the death in his bones, in the lining of his lungs. He should talk about that tonight. He doesn’t want to. Never, nowhere, not even here. He is a proud man, still. Despite all the circles he has sat in, all he has shared here, there is still a part of him that has secrets he will go to his grave with, secrets he can’t himself put words to, secrets that circle around him in his dreams before skittering off like bats into the black night.
Walking to his spot, he can feel the death in his bones, in the lining of his lungs. He should talk about that tonight. He doesn’t want to.
But this secret, perhaps the deepest, the heaviest, he felt with every step, every breath now.
He sinks into the chair. For a second, he feels no pain, as if the cushions have drawn it all out of him. Then it kicks in again. Hard. He wipes his face, feels the cold sweat on his hand, closes his eyes.
When he opens them, the men are all there, in their spots. They look at each other, meet eyes, nod ever so slightly in the way men nod when they respect each other.
Before he even says the first word, a great sob erupts from his chest. Everything breaks free – the pain, the sadness, the fear, the joy.
The four men are by him now, touching him. Hands on his chest, on his shoulders, one on the crown of his bald head, telling him they love him.
These are the men who will bury him. They will rise from this circle and take the gold handles of his casket, pick him up, carry him, lay him in the earth.
And as the tears slide down his face and he feels the warm hands of his men on his body, he realizes he has never felt lighter, more alive, more loved in his whole life.