If you missed the beginning of Hashtag Barry's story, you can check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
And now, we are pleased to present Part 4...
For as long as Hashtag Barry could remember, he had only been confronted with the death of animals and plants. Plants dying never really bothered him except for that one time that he was responsible for caring for the class’ cactus and he overwatered it or possibly didn’t water it enough, he wasn’t sure. That was the last time he was asked to participate in extracurricular activities.
Animals dying had become an unfortunate reality that surrounded him, and while he wasn’t comfortable with it, the idea had burrowed so deeply under his skin that it hardly ever rippled anymore.
His grandparents died when he was a baby. He had seen characters die in TV and movies, had read about people dying in books, both fiction and nonfiction. They talked and wrote papers about dead people in social studies and history classes all the time, and yet, Brad dying was different, more surreal. This was someone his age; someone he knew. Hashtag despised him, but he never wished for him to die.
The only other time he had felt this proximity to death was when he was a child and sitting in the back seat of his parents’ sedan. They were zipping along the highway at a considerable pace when the tires caught an unseen patch of ice. Through the window, Hashtag saw the world twirl to the left, then the right, and then full circle leftward again, all the trees and sky a blur until his vision settled on headlights shining into his wide-open eye.
When the car finally crashed into the median, bits and pieces of silver paint and metal strewn about the road and grass, steam and smoke fuming from the hood, they all opened their doors and stood staring at the wreck. His mother covered her mouth and just kept crying over and over, almost pleading to the air, “Oh thank god, thank god, we have done too much for it to end right now, like this, oh thank god, thank god.”
Hashtag Barry and Squeaky sat on top of a large rock, legs swinging back and forth under a gigantic maple tree. In the short distance, concentric circles of people adorned in black surrounded a closed casket. It was not raining, the clouds were not swirling, the was wind not stirring, nor was the the landscape engulfed in a monochromatic depression.
“I expected it to be a lot darker,” said Hashtag Barry, somewhat disappointed. “You know, like in movies, with the weather matching the mood, but this is just… sad.”
“Yeah,” Squeaky replied, his hand extended outward over his forehead casting a shadow onto his glasses, “you’d think the sun would have some respect for our dearly departed.”
“And us!” Hashtag exclaimed, fanning himself with his tiny right hand to no avail. “It’s so hot! Who decided that we should dress up for these things anyhow? It’s not like he’ll ever know.”
“Same people who decided what dressing up was in the first place, I suppose,” Squeaky surmised, tugging at his necktie.
“I don’t remember it ever being this bright and still here ever before,” Hashtag said. “There’s usually at least a light breeze. This is ridiculous.”
“Perhaps this is nature’s way of paying respects,” Squeaky replied. “It’s taking a break from moving. No wind, no clouds, just sun and heat. I wish I had ice cream.”
“You always wish you had ice cream,” Hashtag scoffed.
They watched silently as a woman fell to her knees, hands clinging onto tissue stuffed into her face. Another person’s hand was on her shoulder. The casket was slowly lowered into the ground. A splash of water and dirt arced in the air, seemingly weightless for a short moment before collapsing. Everyone lingered, shaking their heads, extending hands, and saying words.
Hashtag folded and unfolded his arms as he kicked his legs back and forth.
“So,” Hashtag broke the silence, “they really don’t know what happened to him yet, huh?”
Squeaky stared ahead blankly, “No, apparently not. At least that’s what they’re saying or what anyone’s heard from the news.”
“That is strange, though, isn’t it?,” Hashtag asked. “I mean, if it were a complication from the surgery or surgeries or whatever, someone would know something, right? Someone would have said something.”
Squeaky lowered his hand, and looked at Hashtag, “I suppose. But they might just want to have all the facts gathered before saying anything definitive. You remember that time I accused Ms. Hess of rigging her test and suddenly there were so many rumors and because of all the rumors there had to be parent-teacher meetings and Ms. Hess had a meltdown and so there had to be an entire school meeting but it just turned out I cheated off of the wrong cheat sheet and that’s why I did so poorly?” Squeaky sighed, “I know, I know, that doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
They were suddenly both acutely aware that someone was standing next to them, staring at them.
They simultaneously and slowly turned their heads and watched as she pushed her dark hair behind her ears and adjusted her sunglasses that poorly concealed her wet eyes. Hashtag lowered his head. She lowered her head and spoke softly, “Thanks for coming. I know he would have appreciated it.”
Hashtag looked up at her, “No problem, Kelsey. Of course.”
She turned and walked toward the parking lot, head still lowered, gaze averting anything but the grass and dirt beneath her. Overhead, a cloud cast a long shadow across the cemetery and a cool breeze pushed through their bodies.
Hashtag and Squeaky waited until after everyone else had left before they heaved themselves off of the rock and onto the soft ground and walked silently to Hashtag’s house. The lights were all on and the the door creaked as Hashtag pushed it open.
“Oh hey guys!” Hashtag’s mom greeted them at the door, closing it behind them. “Are you okay? Do you need anything? Water? Soda?”
“No Mom we’re--” Hashtag started.
“You have any milk?” Squeaky interrupted.
Hashtag shot him a glance.
“Coming right up!” she exclaimed and danced into the kitchen.
“Thank you, Mrs. Barry,” Squeaky called after her, and then said to Hashtag, “You know, milk is the best thing next to ice cream.”
“I know,” Hashtag groaned. “You may be surprised to find out that you’ve told me that before.”
Hashtag’s mom reappeared with two glasses of cold milk, carefully placed coasters on the coffee table, and set them down. “All right,” she said, “here you go. You guys hang out here while I go make some dinner. Squeaky, will you be joining us for dinner?”
“If there’s room at the table, I wouldn’t miss it!” he declared.
“Oh, of course. Anytime, you know that,” she said before gliding off into the other room.
Hashtag awkwardly plopped onto the couch and begrudgingly sipped his milk, “I can’t believe we have to go back to school tomorrow. It’s going to be so different. I mean, I know that he wasn’t in school when he was in the hospital, but now he’s just… gone.”
Squeaky picked up his glass of milk, chugged it in one go, wiped the residue from his face, and paced the room, “Yeah, unless someone else picks up the slack, you might actually be left relatively alone.”
“Dude, that’s weird. He’s dead.” Hashtag said somberly.
Squeaky began picking up knickknacks and pictures from around the room, “Oh, I know. My bad. I was just trying to lighten the mood.”
“This whole thing is just strange, is all,” Hashtag replied. “I just feel, I don’t know… uneasy. Or something. You know what I mean?” He looked up at Squeaky, but he wasn’t listening.
Squeaky was holding up a framed photograph to his glasses, scrutinizing the image. He removed his glasses, squinted, put his glasses back on and asked, “Hey, what is this picture of?”
“Huh?” Hashtag swallowed some more milk, “That picture? I think that was when we were on vacation at the shore. I was so little I don’t even remember that trip.”
Squeaky gave Hashtag a long sideways stare, “Okay, but then what the hell is this?” He pointed at the image.
Hashtag carefully set down his glass of milk, stood, and walked over to where Squeaky was shakily holding the photograph. Hashtag stared at it, squinting and scrunching his nose. “What is what?” he asked, frustrated. “It’s just me and my mom and my dad on the beach.”
Squeaky rubbed his glasses and looked at it again. “Oh, I guess it must have been a smudge on my glasses or something. I thought there was something behind you.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)