We had the wake three days later at our house. It seemed wrong, like the house we grew up in would have been better suited for it, the one with all the grass he used to mow and the swing set he built and the barbecue he used.
People started showing up at around two, after the service. Mom kept herself busy putting canapés on plates and talking to people, tilting her head to the side and saying thank you. She had bags under her eyes and between head-tilts she’d wink at me. Some kids from school came. You could tell their mothers sent them. The younger kids Mikey’s age came and clung to their parents’ legs in the backyard. Mikey tried to run around and play with them. He’ll be fine, I thought. Leon showed up at three. He said hello to me at the door and waved his white plaster arm at the other kids behind me. His eyes were a cold swirl of grey, and hollow like the quarry north of 19th.
He started chatting with the other kids and mom pulled us aside to give us both a big hug and tell us we could pour some rye in our cokes, which was odd given the circumstances of dad’s accident. Leon took the bottle and said thank you, and poured himself a glass low behind the counter. He walked back over to the group and continued his conversation, whispering in their ears and motioning to his glass. I poured myself a little rye as well, given the occasion.
People started to leave around nine when I was on my third or fourth. It made the coke taste like tin and my vision would lag behind when I turned my head. Leon had a few signatures on his cast by the end of the night and walked the last guest to the door for us as he finished his drink. In the kitchen he helped my mother load the dishwasher and I sat in the dining room, looking at a picture of my dad. He was clean-shaven and handsome, and wore golf shirts any day he wasn’t at work. He always smiled. He wasn’t a jerk. I didn’t understand why he was gone.
Behind the picture, through the French-door-glass, my eyes made out the shape of Leon’s cast arm around my mother’s waist and his lips near her ear, parted and speaking in a dark and distant whisper. I squinted and the image faded through the glass, and my tie became something too tight around my neck, and sitting upright became something too hard to do. I watched them, scowling, to see if he’d do it again, but I could’t. I squinted harder, angrier. I closed my eyes tight and kept picturing his hand, up around her blue waist, her hair up in a bun and the bags under her eyes tightening as he spoke to her. I fell asleep at the table and when I woke up I was alone.
Years later I would go through a period where I combed through every day of that summer with a hard, scrutinizing memory. One time, I came to the conclusion that if I had stood up for Leon the night in the parking lot, the night he got his arm broken, then we might have stayed friends, we might have grown up together, and some things might have been different. But I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of “growing up together” because, looking back, I thought that Leon and I were already grown-ups. Now and then I try to picture what Leon would be like as a grown-up, what that would mean, and I just can’t. I just can’t.