Chapter 6

152K 5.3K 2.6K

Olivia's memorial service was held on Monday, and school was cancelled for the day so that everyone could attend. It was a somber occasion, almost unbearably long, as students, parents, and the Richmonds' extended family drifted in and out of Gundarsson's funeral home over the course of three hours. Mom insisted on accompanying me, even though I knew that hanging out in a funeral parlor was hardly how she would have preferred to spend her day off from teaching. The Richmonds, all tall and fair, gathered near the front of the large room, speaking in hushed voices, tapping the corners of their eyes with handkerchiefs. Olivia's casket, ornate and shiny, was closed. Next to it, a huge picture Olivia smiling in her volleyball uniform was placed on an easel, with a few of her baby pictures pinned on top of it in a sort of hastily assembled collage. I had heard rumors that Henry had been forced to identify his sister's body at the coroner's office because it had been so mangled that Mrs. Richmond had passed out at the sight of it. He had greeted me with a painful smile when I'd first arrived, but after a few minutes of strained conversation, he excused himself to retreat back to his family's territory near the casket and avoided even looking in my direction.

Over the course of the weekend, I had aggregated snippets of the story from various sources. The headline on the Saturday morning issue of the Willow Gazette had been Tragedy in Green Bay: Local Teen Killed in Collision. The three sparse paragraphs about the crash claimed that two local teens from Weeping Willow High School had been involved in a crash just outside Green Bay when an eighteen-wheeler truck had hit them head-on during the hailstorm. The driver of the car in which Olivia had been riding hadn't been named, but had allegedly stumbled away from the scene with minor injuries. A picture of what was left of the car had run alongside the article. It was unrecognizable as a vehicle; it looked more like a gnarly knot of scrap metal, and the expression on the face of the state trooper who had been photographed next to the wreckage indicated that he was thinking the same thing that I was thinking: how was it possible that someone had walked away alive from that kind of an accident?  The newspaper claimed that the truck driver responsible was devastated; he hadn't even seen through the heavy hail that he had swerved out of his lane. Cheryl had called me on Saturday afternoon to share the rumor that Olivia's body had practically been cut in half from the force of the collision. The shoes she had just bought at the mall were found nearly thirty feet away from the car, off to the side of the rural highway, in the woods. Not far, Cheryl added, from Olivia's severed arm.

Of course I wondered who had been driving her, if perhaps she had run into someone from school at the mall and had decided to hitch a ride either to the game or back to town when her car refused to start. In none of the tearful conversations I'd had with friends who'd called to talk had the name of the driver been mentioned. It didn't seem like anyone knew with whom Olivia had spent her final moments.

At the back of the room, just inside the doors, I lurked in a corner, watching quietly as kids from school and teachers drifted in. No one knew quite what to say to Olivia's parents, quite how to stand, where to put their hands, where to rest their eyes. Everyone was hungry for more details, myself included, but it was absolutely out of the question to talk about the accident at the memorial. Soft classical music played throughout the afternoon, pumped in through the air vents along with chilly air.  There were enormous floral arrangements on both sides of the casket; sent from the Lions Club, the Knights of Columbus, the PTA, the faculty union at the high school, and Olivia's dad's accounting firm. A hanging arrangement of pale pink bud roses and baby's breath draped over the casket's top, held together with silky cream-colored ribbon. It was probably not all that different from the corsage that Pete had planned to place on Olivia's wrist the night of the Homecoming dance, the dance that had been cancelled in light of Olivia's tragic death. It was a morbid thing to think; but if Olivia had been able to share her opinion of her own wake, I think she would have approved.

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a BoardWhere stories live. Discover now