Burrell was dead two days before we thought about Spider.
Miranda was supposed to choose Burrell’s clothes for the funeral, but she chickened out like she always did when things got tough.
“I’ll do it,” I said when she called, even though I thought she should. It was a girlfriend’s job and, after so many years of longing, it was shitty this was the only part of the role I’d get to perform.
And then I remembered Spider.
I didn’t want to waste time going uptown to get Miranda’s key, so I showed the landlord Burrell’s obituary. He wouldn’t let me in until I explained a husky could damage more than the security deposit would cover.
Spider had wedged herself under the futon. I grabbed it by its cast iron arm and pivoted it off her, not giving a damn if I scratched the hardwood floor. She lay there in a puddle of pee, whimpering and pedaling her paws.
I tried to motivate her with some rancid fried chicken I found in the fridge. No luck. Desperate, I took a Bleecker Bob’s tee shirt from the laundry basket. The smell of Burrell’s cigarettes and deodorant sandpapered my eyes, but Spider perked up and let me use it to lead her to water.
The only suit I could find was the one Burrell wore for our high school graduation. It was navy, not black, but it would have to do. I couldn’t remember him ever wearing another one.
I folded the suit so it fit into a brown paper grocery bag. Spider refused to leave the apartment, so I tied the sleeves of the Bleecker Bob’s tee shirt around my waist to get her to follow me. Cabbies just glared when I tried to hail them, so we walked back to my place, all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo.
Spider wouldn’t eat, so I called the vet my neighbor recommended. The receptionist said the dog was probably depressed, and the vet didn’t do mental health.
Miranda got me the number for the pet psychic her boss consulted, but I didn’t share her faith in clairvoyance. Our freshman year of high school, on a wind-whipped afternoon, Miranda and I’d gone to the fortune teller on the boardwalk in Coney Island. The tarot cards had said everything we longed to hear about true romance and fame and fortune.
We’d made fun of every prophecy, our fingers sticky from the powdered sugar on our funnel cakes; but on Black Friday, we’d each yanked on our half of the wishbone, hoping Burrell would be the handsome man with blue eyes that the gypsy promised.
Miranda got the bigger piece.
I dialed the pet psychic, unlikely help that she might be. I didn’t have any better ideas.
“She needs to go to the funeral,” Madame Meow said after I gave her my credit card. “Dogs understand death by smell.”
I thanked her, and hung up, grateful to have a course of action laid out for me. Burrell loved Spider more than anything; more than music, even more than Miranda. I owed it to him to make sure his dog got what she needed. Maybe that psychic had given me my money’s worth after all.
The funeral was at Sacred Heart even though Burrell hadn’t set foot in church since Confirmation. None of us had. After the bishop slapped our cheeks, the three of us snuck off to smoke the joint Miranda had filched from her father’s stash. We crafted our own ritual, and ended it by singing Imagine.
I bought Spider a black collar and leash, and got myself a dress from the Goodwill on Livingston. There wasn’t time to get it cleaned and when I was on Summit Street, just a block from Sacred Heart, I noticed it had some sort of gunk at the hem. I scraped at it with my fingernails, and when that didn’t fully do the job, I let Spider have a lick.
We went into the church through a side door and a priest I didn’t recognize stopped us.
“I hope that’s a service dog.”
“Yep,” I said. She’s here for the service.
Miranda waited in the front pew of the otherwise empty church. She’d wanted to meet at my apartment, but I was afraid she’d be late and we’d miss our chance, so I insisted on meeting here.
She wore a silk dress that belonged to her sister, and her eyes had been carefully made-up to hide the puffiness. That was Miranda for you, never stepping across her threshold without her face on.
A framed collage sat on the casket. Burrell’s mom had asked us to send pictures and I refused because he would hate it.
There was a shot of him with Miranda at prom, wearing the same suit I’d taken from his apartment. In another photo, he was playing guitar at a club I couldn’t remember the name of. He looked like Jeff Buckley with the light glinting off those curls I ached to run my hands through. In the corner of that snapshot, you could see one of my drumsticks. I was pleased to be included in the collage even though no one would know it but me.
In the smallest picture, Burrell drank from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the roof of Miranda’s apartment building, which we called Pebble Beach because of the thin layer of gravel spread over the tar. The skyline had been fastidiously cropped out so you’d have no idea the picture was taken six stories above ground unless you’d been up there.
You’d have no idea this was where Burrell jumped.
“It’s perfect, right?” Miranda said. “You and me are the only ones who’ll know.”
“He’d approve, right?”
We laughed, one of those big, gut-filling laughs where tears form in the corners of your eyes. But then they spilled over, and we couldn’t remember what had been funny.
I swallowed hard, swiped at my cheeks. I didn’t have the right to cry when it was so much worse for Miranda. I couldn’t imagine her sitting on the couch while Burrell casually went to the roof for a cigarette. What had it been like to hear the screams, and then the sirens? At what point did she realize they were for him?
Spider showed no interest in the casket. “She can’t smell through the metal,” Miranda said, blowing her nose in a tissue covered with lipstick blots. “We’ll have to open it.”
“Do you think that’s wise?” I asked. “It’s got to be bad if it’s closed casket.”
I felt stupid even before she said, “I know how bad it is, okay?”
It took both of us to open the lid. The undertaker had covered Burrell’s head with a thick white cloth, as if expecting us.
Spider’s nose quivered. I dragged over the red upholstered chair the priests used, and she jumped on it to get a better sniff.
“Shit!” Miranda said. “Shut her up.”
Spider wouldn’t budge, so I pulled the chair backwards. She leapt onto Burrell’s chest and burrowed her head by his arm. The coffin teetered and I averted my eyes, but the crash I expected never came.
I grabbed her collar and pulled. She flinched, but didn’t lift her head from the sweet spot between Burrell’s hip and the coffin’s satin lining.
There were voices in the vestibule, Burrell’s mom and somebody else.
“Shit,” Miranda said. “On three.” She grabbed Spider’s haunches; I found purchase on her ribs. We heaved the husky to the floor.
The finger looked fake in Spider’s mouth, like a squeak toy or a Halloween prop.
I wrenched it out and tossed it in the casket, trying not to think about what I was touching. We lowered the lid as quietly as we could and scrambled into a pew, kneeling like when we were still angelic second graders making First Communion.
The heavy wooden door at the back of the church creaked open. The undertaker escorted Burrell’s mom down the aisle, and guided her to the kneeler beside the casket.
There was a sucking sound, and I thought it was sobs until Miranda elbowed me. Spider was working her lips, clicking something against her teeth.
That damn dog had a bone.
“Do you think the embalming fluid will make her sick?” I whispered.
“Do I look like a vet?”
I tried to pry Spider’s jaws open discreetly, but she growled and the undertaker glared. I shoved two fingers under her tongue, and grimaced as I pulled out the slimy hardness.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
“I don’t know.” Miranda handed me her used tissue to wrap it in.
I slipped the tiny package into my pocket, fingering its calcified contents. Spider put her head on my knee. I petted her, and reminded myself that this was love.