By David Rolland
It was my second time on an airplane. Really, the third, but round trips shouldn’t count. My first flight was when I flew to Vegas with that chick, Robin, before things went bad. In front of her I acted like flying was no big deal, but my legs shook the whole ride. When we took off, the skyscrapers of Manhattan looked like a board game. Then on the descent I was begging God to make sure we landed safely. On the way back after a crazy weekend partying I slept the whole way.
This time I was headed to Florida. My Uncle Lou died down there. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He got older and moved away and I still had living to do. Missy, my sister, thought it would be a nice gesture for me to represent our side of the family. She said she would go, but I was Uncle Lou’s favorite. Besides she had kids, so she got me a package deal. Rental car, airfare, and motel were all included. We split the fare since I live on a budget. Disability only pays me so much and Missy’s husband, Jim, makes a good living. He’s a good guy. I imagine if I had kids, he’d be their Uncle Lou.
I started thinking about how Uncle Lou really was my favorite. But hell, what did that mean? That he bought me the most toys? No, we had a bond. The way he winked at me after returning from one of his trips and the way he made those duck noises out of the side of his mouth until we fell to the ground laughing. Maybe I was his favorite too. Uncle Lou was a bachelor and he made a nice living in the garment industry. It’s a long shot I know, but maybe he left me something nice.
The flight landed and my stomach jumped. I walked off the plane. The guy in front of me got greeted by a whole big family. Everyone seemed really happy to see him. I watched him hug his kids as I kept walking alone. We were about the same age, me and that guy. It kind of burned that I could have been him, but I’m not.
I headed straight to the motel, watched a little TV, and then slept. The next morning was the funeral. I put on my suit. I tried to wash a stain off the pants, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I found the synagogue, but the service had already started. I sat in the back. There weren’t too many people. Mostly friends from his retirement community, I figured. The rabbi said some nice things about Lou. They were probably all true, but they also seemed like the kind of things that could be said about anyone. When it was all over my Cousin Barry gave me a good handshake. I hadn’t seen him in years. “It was good of you to come.” He told me. He asked if I was working.
I told him they had to operate on my back again in March. At some point the conversation kind of stopped. Barry said we’d talk more at the reception at his house. It was kind of funny that most of Lou’s family couldn’t go to the burial. We’re all Cohains, descendents of the priests, and according to Jewish tradition we can’t go to cemeteries.
So I headed to Barry’s house. I tried to stay out of the way as his wife and daughter brought out the coffee cake. People started arriving and everyone was really keen to find out who I was. Some of them knew me as Morrie’s son even though I’d never heard of them.
Then this lady went up to me. I say lady, but she was probably younger than me. I noticed her at the funeral. She was a little heavy, but there was something nice about her. And I was at the point where I took kindness where I could get it. “I’m Lisa” she said.
I wiped my hand off with a napkin and introduced myself. She asked how I knew Lou.
I said, “He was my favorite Uncle. How do you know him?”
She said, “He was my least favorite father.”
“I didn’t know Lou had any kids.” I said trying to remember any hushed discussions from childhood.
“ No? And yet here I am.” I’m not too good with people normally. That kind of situation was really out of my league. I couldn’t exactly change the conversation to be about good restaurants in the area. But like I said, Lisa was real nice. She could see I felt bad and she excused herself and said it was a pleasure to meet a new cousin.
I stayed at Barry’s house for a while. Everyone was telling stories about what a funny guy Uncle Lou was. He always had jokes and stories and was pleasant to be around. I kept my eye out for Lisa to hear her impression of Uncle Lou, but at some point she slipped out. It became night and I said good-bye to everyone. They all said I shouldn’t be such a stranger and I should visit the Florida side of the family on a happier occasion.
The next morning the heirs met at the attorney’s office in Pompano. One by one names were announced, “Barry.” “Donald,” “Missy.” I realized the attorney was saying the seven cousins’ names. “Stephanie.” “Joshua.” “Rita.” were to be left five thousand dollars each. Did I miss hearing my name? No, not by the way Barry was trying to avoid looking at me. I felt left out until I thought of Lisa. But then the attorney said my name. Uncle Lou actually did leave me something. His old watch, the kind you’ve got to wind every morning. It was gold and probably worth a lot, but it was the kind of thing you could never sell. Not when I remembered how excited I was as a kid when he let me wind it. All the cousins you could tell thought I got a raw deal, but hell, I needed a watch. I was late for his damn funeral. The rest of Uncle Lou’s assets went to diabetes research.
Later, I asked Barry about Lisa. He said the Florida relations knew her and tried to include her in family gatherings, but she pretty much always turned them down. He thought it was rude of her to leave without saying good-bye. I agreed with him, even though I didn’t.
My plane took off that afternoon. I tried sleeping, but my back wasn’t having it. I took a pill and watched the movie. I got off the plane and Missy and Jim were waiting for me with their two kids. Each of the kids hugged one of my legs. Jim patted my back and Missy kissed my cheek, then she started asking a lot of questions about everything. I answered the best I could, but there was a guy walking toward us that caught my eye. He was real tall and walked like he had some place to go. You could tell he was important. We were about the same age, so I thought how I could be him. But then I looked at his wrist and when I saw he didn’t have a watch, I was glad to be me.