12: Life

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The waves rolled gently along the surface of the ocean, lapping rhythmically against the side of the boat. Kyle stood at the tip of the bow. He closed his eyes and raised his chin. The slight breeze scooped up particles of water that misted across his face. He opened his eyes to look to the overcast sky. Balmy, gossamer clouds eclipsed the sun. Elizabeth would have loved the weather. It was their idea of the perfect day.

He felt a hand grip his shoulder and turned around to see Tomás. He wore a shimmering, silky suit that dimly reflected the light, imitating the waves from the sea. At least he had the good sense to leave the wig at home, thought Kyle.

"It's time," said Tomás.

Eight close friends and family members huddled together in the middle of the private charter boat that was rented for this occasion. Elizabeth's parents stepped towards the front. Kyle and Tomás joined the rest of the mourners. Because her father delivered the eulogy in French, Kyle was only able to understand half of the words, but he knew what was being said. The eloquent syllables did nothing to contain the sorrow of a parent losing a child, no matter the age.

When he was finished, he invited Kyle to join them at the front.

"They were never married," said her father in a thick accent, "but Kyle and Elizabeth were together almost twenty years." Turning to Kyle, but still loud enough for everyone to hear, he said to him, "We may have not seen you very much, but we still consider you like family. We will always be here for you."

Kyle couldn't help himself. The tears welled up and drowned his eyes, mashing everything in his vision together into a single blur.

"Thank you," he stammered.

It was true. Their frequent traveling made it impossible for Kyle to ever really become acquainted with Elizabeth's parents, and despite the length of their relationship, he never learned enough French to overcome the language barrier. His own parents had died before he met Elizabeth, and he became accustomed to no longer having any semblance of family.

Her mother reached the biodegradable urn out to Kyle.

"We think," said her father, "that you should be the one to do it."

Kyle took it in his hands. "Are you sure?"

Her father pursed his lips together and nodded.

Kyle turned to face everyone else. They silently acknowledged him with a respectful bow. He stepped over to the starboard side and held the receptacle on top of the metal railing. His reflection stared back at him through the blackness of the urn, and his eyes lost focus as his mind drifted into the void.

"Count how long I can hold my breath," said Elizabeth.

Kyle found himself reminiscing about a random day in the past when the two of them were swimming in a pool in Indonesia. They shared it with the rest of the towers in their apartment complex, and so they were not alone that day. There was an older man swimming laps and a couple of children running along the edge, jumping in and out of the water while their mothers watched from lawn chairs off to the side.

Kyle and Elizabeth kept to the opposite end of the pool. She had just swum a few laps but wanted to stay away from the children carelessly throwing themselves into the pool, so she challenged Kyle to see who could hold their breath the longest.

"Okay. Ready?" Kyle asked and held up his wristband to time it. "Go," he said and pushed on the display to start the count.

Elizabeth inhaled, pinched her nose, and sunk down to the bottom. Her body rippled with the movement of the water.

Kyle looked at the rest of the people at the pool while he waited. The kids were shouting and laughing in Bahasa Indonesia. They were in their own world, playing some strange game with rules only kids would understand. Their mothers talked amongst each other, laughing and enjoying each other's company. It seemed like the type of thing they looked forward to every week. Even the older man grinned as he took a break from swimming. He made eye contact with Kyle and nodded in a silent gesture that said hello. Kyle smiled and nodded back.

He looked at his wristband. A full minute had passed. Elizabeth remained under the water. Tiny bubbles surfaced above her. He turned his attention upwards towards the sky. The tall towers stood all around, blocking the sunlight from hitting half of the pool directly. The shade swathed the side they chose. Kyle glanced along the balconies jutting out of the apartments and wondered what was happening inside of them. He wondered how many people were still sleeping, watching TV, cooking, making love, arguing, crying...

"How long was that?" Elizabeth gasped as she came out of the water.

Kyle felt one of the tears break free from his eyelid and slide down his cheek, returning him to the present. The void became his reflection again.

He glanced around at the people on the boat. They were beginning to feel uncomfortable, but none of them dared to rush him.

He wiped the tear from his cheek and smiled.

"I could never hold my breath as long as her," he said.

They looked around at each other, unsure how to react.

He crouched down and extended his arms to the water, then placed the urn on the surface. His eyes followed it as it drifted from the boat. He did not look away until it completely submerged and was no longer visible.

"Goodbye," he said.

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