Wes stared, his eyes watery as the service went on. He scrunched his hands into fists, jaw locked in determination, eyes never wavering from the long, black casket beneath the white tent. Faces, all different shades of grey, stared on with him as the rain came down in thick sheets.
He couldn’t even hear the pastor’s speech.
He remembered her, Coralline, clearly. The way her deep obsidian hair would flick this way and that whenever he would watch her work from his office down the hall. He could see her through the window there. He could watch her rush from honey-comb to honey-comb, delivering messages or dropping off copies of useless documents.
She was a worker bee, as the Council liked to call them. But that didn’t matter to him. To Wes, she was perfect, or she had been.
But she had never been his.
He swallowed, a single tear struggling to escape his grasp as the casket slowly descended into the dead, grey earth beneath his feet. With a heavy breath he stared on, doing the only thing he could: remembering.
He would miss the way she’d laugh. The sound of it, happy and light like the ever white sun that shown down over Monopolus. He would miss her smile, the one that could light up any room, and remove the deep, depressing hue of any business jacket, replacing it with a soft shade of grey. But what he would miss most was her essence. He would miss the bubbliness of her voice, the way her walk was almost half-walk, half-skip. He would miss the way she’d tilt her head to one side whenever anyone called her name, the way she always held her head high, was always there with a smile and a set of kind words.
Yes, he would miss that most.
A few last words were mumbled into the wind. Wes hung his head, racking a hand through his thinning hair with another heavy sigh. The weight of the world seemed to be resting on his shoulders, pressing him closer and closer to the stiff, dark grass. After a long minute, people turned to one another, chatting. It was a morose, blue sort of banter. Nothing light, cheery. Nothing positive.
This wouldn’t be the way Coralline would want people to talk.
He stared at his hands. He stared at the faces of people around him, all void of light, of life. He stared at the tombstones that littered the earth. He turned his back on the crowd.
“E – excuse me,” a small voice chirped, sneezing behind him. “Mister?”
He turned puzzled to find a small girl standing on the earth. Her white tights were sopping wet, as was her petticoat and small hat. Her snow-white hair hung in soaked strings from her head, falling away from a pale, porcelain face.
She gazed up at him with the roundest and brightest eyes he’d ever seen. “Have you seen my mommy?” She sniffled, fiddling with her hands.
Wes looked around, bewildered. There were to be no children at funerals. Ever. His eyes swept over the crowded grassland, searching for the presumably frantic mother. Whoever the woman was, she’d better learn to keep a better eye on her child if she wanted to break the law.
But there was no frantic woman. Everyone kept their heads low, milling about, wandering to small groups of others and whispering in hushed tones. Condolences, he thought. They were here for closure just as much as he was.
“I, uh, no,” he said, ducking down to meet the little pale girl at eye level. “Can you tell me what she looks like? What her name is?”
“Francesca,” the girl squeaked. “She’s tall, like you, but her hair is orange.”
Wes straightened, his shoulders ridged. What is this ‘orange’? He’d never heard of it. Never thought of it. The word was foreign to his ears. There were only four main hair colors, plus the grey that is adapted as one aged. The darkest was ebony, the next, graphite, then light ash, and finally white.
“I’m sorry?” he whispered. “But I’m not sure what you mean by orange.”
The little girl huffed, folding her small arms across her chest. “It’s the color of carrots. Momma’s hair. Of a penny. It’s the color of, well, oranges, and – and butterfly wings!” Her face lit up at the last one, an electric grin spreading from cheek to cheek. “You do know what butterflies are, right?”
Wes pulled back, rocking onto his heels. He watched the rain fall against their tent again for a minute before standing. His eyes searched the crowd once more, but there was no frantic woman with this orange hair.