His voice cracked into a feeble squeal the moment he opened his mouth. The heat in the room, from so many people stuffed onto the pews, standing shoulder to shoulder along the walls, and the thickness of the air, it made his head swarm under the blaring lights. Or maybe it was the casket, a brown one, Mikey hated brown. How could his parents not know that?
He tried to speak again, but no sound came out. He looked down at his hands grasping tightly at the sides of the podium, the white of his knuckles shocked him a little. And then, suddenly, he was looking down into a tunnel, down at Mikey’s parents sitting in the very front row, his mother visibly shaking. Darkness circled his vision, blacking out the walls, he wondered where those crosses had gone, the ones on the walls where only blackness was now. Jesus hanging limply, naked, condemning, now gone. Mikey’s mom stared at him, and the guilt rose into his throat and he began to cough. And then, there was the floor.
The short carpet felt soft against his cheek, but then it was gone too, replaced by the grass, the same grass from that night. The grass was the last thing he remembered. It was red, and it was sudden. He could see Mikey’s legs in the grass, twisted and bent back so unnaturally that he knew immediately Mikey was dead. The car was on fire behind them, he could hear flames and glass breaking, and then screaming and voices. He could see the bottle, his bottle, the one with the torn off label, next to Mikey’s shoe, which was nowhere near Mikey’s foot. And then he closed his eyes.
It seemed like the next time he opened them was this very moment, with Mikey’s parents kneeling around him, fanning him with their funeral programs.
“I’m sorry!” he yelled, startlingly loud. He sat up, tears falling hot down his cheeks. “I’m sorry!” he said again, louder, almost a yell. “I did that! I did. I was driving. Not him!”
Mikey’s parents stared at him, motionless for what seemed like hours, and then Mikey’s mom slapped him hard across his face, forcing his teeth to smack together, tearing a bit of his tongue. His mouth filled with blood, and he said, “I’m sorry,” again, before falling back down onto the floor, crying. It was the first time since the accident that he had cried. The tightness he was holding onto in his stomach let go and he felt his shoulders fall. Then he found himself alone on the stage, a room full of people staring at him, at his guilt. But it felt good. It was over, all done. And no matter what happened to him next, it felt good.