Matt arrived late. When he entered the church it was already crowded. Numerous colleagues and students sat on the benches and looked at the coffin where the Dean lay. Matt breathed in thick air and felt overwhelmed with the suffocating vibe of death. He made a hasty step to leave but then changed his mind and only loosened his tie. He leaned against the wall near the entrance door and looked at the widow. As always, he couldn’t take his eyes off her face.
Wrapped in a long black dress that accentuated thinness of her body, she seemed more fragile than ever. Her red curly locks, which usually hung loose to her shoulders, were now hidden under the strict black hat. Her stiff, straight posture and a slight tilt of the head made her look like a burnt match. She stood near the coffin and shook hands with people that kept coming over to her to express their condolences.
“She doesn’t hear them,” Matt watched her force a mechanical nod. “She doesn’t see them. She’s barely there.”
Last time Matt saw her at the Dean’s birthday party. She laughed at her husband’s awkward jokes holding onto his shoulder, and the flame of her hair danced along the rhythm of her laughter. Matt chuckled too, not able to resist her contagious joy.
“What does she see in him?” Matt looked at the Dean’s bald head. “His thick glasses? His false teeth?”
“Well, it’s not fair,” he said to himself. “He’s not so old to have false teeth. But he’s too old for her.”
Now he was too dead. Matt looked at the corpse in the coffin. There were no glasses on the Dean’s nose; and he didn’t smile to show his horse teeth. He looked calm and secure as if he knew that, even dead, he still owned her, as if he was sure that now, leaving this world, he would take all her warmth and brightness with him so that she could never look at anyone else the way she used to look at him.
Matt wanted to come up to her and look into her eyes and say something nice and encouraging. He wanted to try and erase the lines of pain destroying the beauty of her pale face. But he kept standing next to the wall. He was afraid to meet the dark emptiness of her look which replaced lively sparkles that had always flicked in her smiley eyes. For the first time he didn’t want her to know he was there.
He left the church, not waiting till the end of the ceremony. She won’t notice anyway. She won’t care. He had always been in the shadow of her love for another man. Now, he will stay in the shadow of this man’s death.