Charles Augustus Goes to His Funeral
Darkness still covered the sky. 5:15 came way too early. Charles got up as usual and did his routine—put on his slippers, his robe, and marched into a cold shower to wake up.
Charles had decided long ago that cold water would be the best antidote for his daily hangover. He didn’t care a bit if snow fell or if the sun baked the shack he lived in with his wife. The water’s frigid temperature always snapped his brain back to normalcy despite how many shots of tequila he had consumed the night before.
A groan coming from the bedroom filled his ears. Teresa, his wife, was getting up. The left side of her face looked swollen with a reddish and purplish bruise on her cheeks.
What had happened to her? Catfight?
He stared at her from the bathroom. She lowered her face and trotted towards the kitchen.
Super weird. How come a woman with stability like her can be hurt like that? Did she have a lover who did that?
He searched his brain to make sure nothing out of the ordinary happened last night. His last memory was his shot glass full of tequila.
He smiled. Tequila always gave him a laidback and good mood.
Charles shifted his thoughts back to today. He needed to think straight and get ready for another day managing his employees at Great Leaf Landscaping.
He arrived in the kitchen and a web of tension caught him off guard. The air was thick of negativity. He felt stuck under the terror and fearful look of his wife. Her hands shook as if she were terrified of him. Not a word came out of her mouth.
He ate his eggs and picked up his lunch. He approached Teresa to kiss her good-bye, but she crossed her forearms in front on her face with the intention of protecting herself.
What in the world is happening?
Charles wanted to ask Teresa what was going on, but he decided to wait until later. He left puzzled, not understanding the reason for her behavior and her black eye. She better come up with a good excuse. He wanted to kill the man who had abused his wife.
He turned on the key and set his truck in motion. The radio instantly started playing Carlos Vives and Shakira. La Bicicleta was one of his favorite songs.
Thank God. The cheerfulness of the melody wiped the heaviness away and Charles felt his body vibrating in unison with the chords.
That song captured him to the point he wasn’t paying attention to the driving. The light ahead of him instantly turned red before he could blink. He stepped hard on the breaks and the tires screamed. Too late. A semi-truck was making its left turn. Charles veered the wheel to right, but the impact seemed inevitable. Too late, too late.
Blue and red lights took over the intersection. Charles crawled out of the truck from the passenger seat door.
“That was close,” he said.
“What do you mean?” A young blonde girl dressed in white asked him.
“I almost died,” he answered.
“Huh?” She rose up one of her brows.
“I was in that truck,” he whistled. “Close call.”
“I think you need to get closer to see what is really happening,” she smiled.
Terror sent chills up and down his spine. Why would this young girl say something like that?
But curiosity took the best of him. He approached the scene right in time to see firemen cutting the driver’s side with a saw to retrieve his smashed body from the car’s fuselage.
“What?” He couldn’t believe it. “Did I die? No. How could I be here? I-I can still touch myself. No.”
“The touching thing is temporary.” The young girl said from behind him.
He turned around with his eyes as wide as a full moon.
“Who-who are you?”
“Sorry, I must have lost my manners. I’m Angelina. I deal with transitions.”
“Are you an angel?”
“Kind of. No wings yet. I’m working on my wings degree, though. In two years, I’ll be a messenger. That’s what I really want to do.”
“I’m dead and you’re telling me of your aspirations?” He threw his hands in the air.
His indignant look made her laugh. “You will get used to being dead. Honestly, you were already dead. You just didn’t realize that.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but she held out her hand to stop him. “Don’t go on complaining. You had one shot at your life and you chose to love just one thing.”
“I’m running out of options. What was it?”
“You don’t even remember. Do you?” Her face burned with dissatisfied anger.
His silence answered her question.
“Alcohol. You were a functioning alcoholic with major dissociation problems.”
“Me?” Her words punched him in the gut. He didn’t like Angelina nor this whole transition thing. He wanted his life back and his tequila.
Tequila. I need that now.
“Sorry, buddy, no alcohol after death.”
“Did you-did you just read my mind?” He touched his temples and inched closer to her.
“Part of my training is to be in sync with the recently deceased. That means reading minds. In your case, it’s pretty simple since you were an alcoholic.”
He curled his hands into fists. Angelina looked so pretty with her big almond eyes and long curly hair, but she sure was annoying.
“Don’t even try to attack me. I have guardian angels big enough to pin you down onto the ground for eternity. You wouldn’t want that.” She smiled. “Would you?”
“I’m starting to think that if heaven has a bunch of people like you, I’d rather go to hell.”
“Well, all can be arranged, Mr. Augustus.” She touched her headset as if she received instructions.
“What’s happening?” He asked.
She held up her index finger and signaled for him to wait. “My boss has been listening to the conversation. He thinks you’re ready for your destination.”
“Hell? I want to go there. All the tequila of the world within my reach.” He rubbed his hands and opened a big smile. “I also heard that Satan’s little assistants are gorgeous and killer women.”
“You bet they are.” She rolled her eyes and touched her headset again. “Yes, boss. You heard it right. Okay, no problem.”
“So, what will it be?” Anxiety bubbling up inside. Or whatever that was he felt inside. Do people have feelings after they are dead? So much to figure out.
“Just follow me, Mr. Augustus.” Angelina held her notebook close to her chest and walked in the direction towards the church he and Teresa used to attend.
The accident had happened right in front of it. Charles looked around and noticed how fast the scene had been cleared up. No more fire trucks or police officers on the location. Just a regular day in the neighborhood.
A sudden feeling of uneasiness swelled up. By that point he had answered his own question: dead people felt things. Fear grabbed hold of him unexpectedly. He didn’t remember the last time he was afraid.
“The alcohol kept you from feeling emotions.” Angelina turned around and stared into his eyes. “You never dealt with your pain nor gave any of yourself to your family.”
He lowered his head.
“You were a walking dead, Mr. Augustus. Your love affair with alcohol cost you your family and friends.”
They walked into the church just to find a small group of people sitting on the pews. A coffin remained closed and a small picture frame with his photo in it was placed on a side table. It didn’t take long for Charles to notice the minimal effort his family put into his own funeral.
His wife and two daughters wore pale blue dresses—cheerful and unusual for funerals. Instead of heaviness, they glowed like if they had just been liberated from major bondage.
Puzzled, he turned to Angelina, but she spoke first. “You will understand everything in a minute.”
“I know. You can read my mind, but I also have another question. I just died. How can I come to my funeral minutes after the accident?” He scratched his head.
“After death dynamics are tricky to understand,” she shrugged. “Like one day is like one thousand years and vice-versa.”
“Traveling in and out of time is one of my favorite skills. After I get my wings, I’ll apply to the school of Time Travel, so I can brush up on it. Aim for excellence is my motto.”
Charles couldn’t help but think how cute Angelina looked despite her serious disposition and weird ideas. Did people have affairs after death? He would easy talk her into having a romance with him. She definitely could meet his needs. His eyes scanned Angelina up and down.
“Back off, Don Juan. I can read your mind, remember?” She pointed her index finger at him. “Transition your mind to being dead. D.E.A.D. Besides, I’m more than you can handle, anyway.”
“Easy now. You’re beautiful. It’s just the truth.”
“The truth? You’re about to have a big dose of it.”
Just as Angelina finished her sentence, Teresa got up to address the people.
“Thank you, friends, for coming to celebrate this moment of freedom with my girls and me.”
Charles jaw dropped.
“Many of you know that Charles loved his tequila. He’d consume one bottle every night. I never knew who he was going to be after 10:00 in the night. The rapist? The verbal or physical abuser? The womanizer? The violent man who broke the whole house?”
Angelina glared at him.
“We had no money because all our income went to buy tequila.” Her lips quivered. “I didn’t know how to stop him, and I accepted the abuse as part of my life. I felt weak, hopeless and ashamed. I lost my sense of value and self-esteem with his manipulation and threats. He wasn’t a good man, but a drunkard who deserves to rot in hell.”
Teresa drew near to the coffin and laid her hand on it. “Thank you for dying, Charles—the best gift you have ever given me. You abused me every day, but you were too drunk to even notice it. I hope Satan uses his fork to poke you every two minutes. I hope you boil in his caldron for eternity and never lose that burning sensation.”
Charles saw the anger and the pain blaze Teresa’s eyes. Tequila was only supposed to give him a boost of life, not abuse his wife. He had no idea he was doing those things. If there was a time he needed his alcohol the most, that would be now.
“She’s not done, Mr. Augustus,” Angelina said.
“Do you think I was that stupid to not know about your affairs? The tramps called my cell and taunted me. I knew everything, Jerk.” Teresa kicked and punched the coffin with the kind of strength that would scare Goliath. Charles lowered his head as he saw his wife release years of pain—the pain he had caused. Teresa’s face grew darker and tears flooded her cheeks.
“Wasn’t I enough? I can answer that for you. No. You still needed other women. Why? Just to prove you’re the man? No more, Charles. No more.” He heard the groan coming from inside her inner being.
His older daughter got up and hugged her mom. She carefully pulled her mother away from the casket and led her to a front seat.
Janine went back to the front and cleared her throat. “I’m Janine, Charles’s old daughter. I left the house at the age of eighteen because my father used to beat me up badly.” She glanced at his small picture on the table. “The main memories I have is of my mom rushing me to the emergency room many times because of broken bones or bad cuts needing stitches. She always had an excuse, so the cops wouldn’t come after them.”
Charles rubbed his cheeks. How could he?
“He never said I love you nor I’m sorry. We never meant anything more than a responsibility and a burden to him. I wanted a father, but I got an alcoholic instead.”
Angelina crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head.
“I moved to Seattle and started my life over. I got a job and looked for help to deal with all the damage this horrible man did to me. When I had enough stability—financially and emotionally—I brought my little sister to live with me. He didn’t even notice her absence.”
At that point, brokenness had fragmented anything left in Charles’s heart. Grief seemed to be the only word left in his dictionary.
He remembered now that he drank always. He hid his tequila in his file cabinet door. A shot every couple of hours was a reasonable thing to do since he thought he could function. Reality sank in that he couldn’t. He barely recollected anything about his life now that he was thinking about it. Ten years packaged in a tequila bottle.
“What have I done?” He whispered.
“There’s more.” Angelina played with her notebook.
Jana, the younger sister, got up and joined her sibling. Both girls took after her mother with long and wavy black hair. A little bit on the skinny side, but with curves that accentuated the waistline. Their dark brown eyes drew a beautiful contrast with their fair skin. Both European and Latino genes contributed to a unique beauty that made Charles sorry for never noticing the exuberance his daughters displayed.
Jana brought with her a bottle of Charles’s favorite tequila and a trashcan.
She opened the bottle, “I grew up with this atrocious smell. I hated every time my father came home. The scent of tequila crawled under my skin and made me nauseous. I spent so many hours thinking about how to get rid of this demon. My father died a small death every time he took a sip.”
Charles covered his ears with his hands. That was too much.
“Too late, Charles,” Angelina said. “I know you can hear.”
“The tequila spell made him numb. He lived in a parallel universe, where we never existed. So, I want to make a toast to you, Jerk.” She poured less than an inch of tequila into three glass shots and dumped the rest of the bottle into the trashcan.
“Please stop this?” Charles begged Angelina, but she nudged him to keep listening.
Teresa joined the sisters. They each had a shot glass in their hands.
“You will never hurt neither my mom nor us ever again.” Jana lifted up her hand and motioned to her mother and sister to do the same. “To the father who loved alcohol more than he loved his family. Your death released these slaves; we are free to rebuild our lives. You don’t deserve a tear to be shed over you.”
The three women laid their glasses on the table with his picture without drinking a drop of it.
“Did the cat eat your tongue?” Angelina asked.
“Please don’t joke.” He blinked a few times. “I’m distraught.”
“Well, that was your life. You chose to drink instead of taking care of your heart. You did to your children the same thing your father did to you.”
“I-I was horrible.”
“Yes, but your daughters broke the curse, fortunately. They are strong women who chose not to follow your family’s generational curse. Janine and Jana are jewels. How sad you couldn’t see that. You always preferred your selfishness instead of them.”
As if a tape had just rewound, Charles noticed that the whole funeral scene was about to start again. No, not that torture again.
“What’s going on here?” His voice thin. Fear choked his throat.
“Well, you said you wanted to go to hell.” Angelina touched her headset. “Welcome to your hell.”
“What do you mean?” His eyes opened wide.
“You will spend eternity listening to all the bad things you did. Your funeral is your hell. Unlike many people think, hell is not a generalized place you go, but a private affair fit to each individual. Now if you excuse me, I have to deal with another transition.”
“No, don’t leave me here.”
“Sorry, Mr. Augustus, you had one shot. You blew it.”
You had one shot echoed through his brain until he screamed, “No.”
Charles chest raised and collapsed quickly as anxiety woke him from his unplanned nightmare.
It was a nightmare, but how much of it was true?
He sat on his bed and stared into the darkness of the night. Sweat trickled down his temples.
A sign. It had to be a sign. He glanced at his wife. She had a black eye; he could see it even in the dark. Jerk. He was an alcoholic that brutalized his family. Remorse, shame, and guilt overtook him. He got down on his knees and big sobs overtook him. The pain at the moment felt as if a shark had eaten him alive. How could he survive his own bad choices?
The first signs of sun rays cleared up the night sky. Teresa had just gotten up just to find breakfast made for her. A red rose was in a glass at the center of the table.
“What’s going here?” A tone of suspicion in her voice.
He had one shot at life, and he was determined to make things right and live to the fullest from that day forward. No matter what came his way or how much work he needed to put into. The numbness had to go. He longed to feel something.
He’d heed to Angelina’s motto—aim for excellence in his life and relationships.
“Thank you, heaven for preserving my one shot in life.” He whispered as he got down on his knees and begged his wife for forgiveness.