There was the completely avoidable car accident that resulted in the death of our friend Jonah, then there was the funeral, followed by the reception at his mom’s townhouse where everyone kept crying and Jonah’s attractive sister Leah went around making wildly inappropriate remarks about hand-size being indicative of something else to all the guys in his inner-friend group. After the reception — once we’d extricated ourselves from the thick carpet of sadness covering every inch of Jonah’s mother’s living room — we went to McGilligan’s for the After-After Party, even though there was only one after.
The bartender let us have the room in the back. There were five of us in all, not including girlfriends, who didn’t count, and who spent most of their time outside smoking like they were thinking of quitting. Jonah should have been our sixth but he’d recently fallen asleep while driving down a sleepy street going all of 15mph when his car lazily jumped the curb and a low-hanging branch crashed through the windshield and impaled his neck, killing him instantly. He hadn’t suffered. We had that much to be thankful for, though none of us were. We weren’t there yet. The whole thing was so fucking stupid, Sam said, miming getting a branch through the neck. Sam did ROTC for a few weeks back in college and because of that, thinks he’s earned the right to gallows humor. He hasn’t, but no one ever calls him on it because of his mental health issues. What he was trying to say, I think, was that Jonah’s death lacked irony. Nothing was found in his system. The only thing he was guilty of was being too tired to drive.
Brian said it would have been more appropriate if he’d died skiing. Jonah had been a decent skier but was always overestimating his own abilities. Over the years, he’d fractured both arms, both wrists, his left leg twice, and rolled his ankle so many times it was essentially putty by the end. He should have gone out like that, we all agreed, on a mountain, in a blaze of glory, doing what he loved. Somebody brought up Jonah’s sister and the hand-size thing, and we went around the circle, touching palms. Sam had the biggest, it turned out. There were muted congratulations. He’d slept with her, Sam said. Jonah’s sister. We all made a face. Jonah had made us promise back in college the night we came back from the bars the night before Thanksgiving and found out Leah had gotten hot while we’d been away that we would never sleep with her. He must have picked up on how nice to her everyone was being all of a sudden because after she went up to bed, and after we’d retired to the basement for ping-pong and more drinks, Jonah interrupted a game he was winning to tell us all in no uncertain terms that Leah was fucking off-limits. Understood? We agreed to a man never to go near her, and we meant it. Now Sam was trying to convince us that Jonah had been joking when he’d said it. I forgot myself for a second and asked Sam if lying had been a part of his ROTC training as well, or if that was something he’d picked up after, in an online course perhaps, in how to be a total fucking shithead. He went quiet after that.
The ladies came back in and Stacy, Brian’s girlfriend, bought everyone two rounds of shots, which none of us needed but all of us did. They stayed and we went around the circle telling favorite Jonah stories. When it came to me, I confessed that I’d slept with Jonah’s sister too. She’d come up to New York one weekend to visit a friend and we ended up meeting for a drink and afterwards, back at my place — Sam interrupted to say we didn’t need the details. Stacy asked Brian if he had ever slept with her, and Brian put up his hands like he was being held up and I reached out and touched my palm to his and Sam touched the other and all the guys burst out laughing. It was good to see Sam smiling. Stacy said we were all a bunch of very large assholes and led the ladies back outside.
Brian asked if anyone had posted on Jonah’s Facebook wall yet and that kicked off this whole discussion about social media etiquette, especially as it pertained to the recently deceased. Jonah’s name didn’t come up again after that until the very end of the night, when someone said he’s really gone and we all kind of looked around for a second.
Justin Klose earned his MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington. Originally from Philadelphia, he currently resides in Los Angeles, where he is working on a novel and several scripts.