“Do you think your feet still smell when you’re dead?” All I can see is the top of his little head, hair glowing like raging fire under the warm lights above us.
My voice strangled, I half scold him; “What a thing to ask, Sam. Now is not the time.”
I instantly regret my reaction as his blue eyes turn to watery seas and his chin, a dollop of Jello. Peter’s mother stands to the side shuddering like a blanket being shaken. It’s hard to watch. Hard to comprehend. Hard to believe. It’s all just plain hard.
Peter’s skin is powdery and I can see they’ve tried to blend blush across his cheeks and up over his ears. A little of it has reached the soft, blond hair framing his face and turned it pinkish. Carmex sits thick on top of his slack lips.
He is not in a suit, but dressed in one of his favorite blue Superman shirts, the bright yellow “KA-POW!” on the front, making quite an impact on the guests. His hands are folded across his tummy, the left one, sporting a fat, wobbly, Superman style “S” had been placed on top of his right. I’d heard his mother had specifically asked them not to remove the black ink.
I grab Sam’s hand and although I’m trying not to let him see me cry, a tear darkens the red carpet as I look down to lift his chin.
“I don’t want to go any closer.” He says. “He wouldn’t want me to.”
I kneel down so we’re face to face. “You’ll regret not saying a proper good-bye, son. C’mon. I’ll be right beside you.”
He looks down again and this time, his tears make the carpet change color.
“But I already made his mom so sad. If she’s me…” His voice trails into silence but his tears get louder.
“No Sam, it’s not like that. Best friends fight. C’mon. Trust me. It’ll be alright.”
And even though I’m doing my best to sound reassuring, I am shaking inside. I have no idea how Pauline will react to us and the last thing I want is to cause more upset.
I steer him towards the coffin, but at the last minute he leaves me. I watch as he heads over to Pauline and tugs on the back of her flowered dress. She turns slowly and immediately drops to her knees.
I rush over to help her but she grabs on to Sam. Hugs him so tight I think he’ll pop open right there.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Kerry. I didn’t meant to…” He chokes.
“Oh Sammy. Peter loved you so much. I’m so sorry you had to see what you did and I’m…” she takes a breath, “I’m so very sorry he’s gone.”
Pauline held Sam for a smidge longer, patted his eyes with her hanky and then her own and told him to go say his good-bye.
Sam and I had spent many hours since Peter’s death, discussing why it wasn’t his fault. How kids tease each other and tricking Peter into letting him draw that “S” on his hand was just a joke among friends. I’d often heard Sam tease Peter about his smelly feet and told him many times to stop even though I could tell it was all in good fun. But when Sam had drawn the “S” and then teased Peter that it stood for stinky, Sam could never have known what would happen next.
Peter had chased him out into the street, but as Sam made it to the other side, he’d turned to see his best friend being dragged along the pavement by a silver Chevy pick-up truck.
This time, as we approach the coffin, he stays on course, a determined look in his eye. We stand a moment and I stroke his hair and rub his back. I do all the things mommies do in an attempt to make-believe things better.
Having held it in for so long, I lose my battle as I watch Sammy take a black marker out of his pocket and carefully write “uperman” on Peter’s right hand.