During the service, Key West Maggie spoke, her eulogy Carolee’s last wish as she’d known it to be. “Carolee moved in across the street six months ago, and we’d power walk every morning,” she began. “My friend Carolee overflowed with energy and enthusiasm, yet people just took and took from her. And now I am saying there is a conspiracy, and you need to look into her death. Carolee had asked — she wanted you to know.” Maggie stared at my father sitting rows behind … not in front with his motherless grandsons, rather farther back, he defatted, the razoring of her purpose on his phantomed ribs; ribs protruding though a shirt once full-bellied, rounded by the wealth of family. Could he even remember when his despising began, the daughter he’d loved the most, Carolee, her once rubied cheeks suddenly a reckoning like no other?
Then Maggie on the Mount, thin agitated willowy Maggie with sallow skin and faded eyes, honor bound to the end, for the last time to my illustrious Carolee, laying out years of anguish as if a coffin. Brave Maggie, daring to set the record straight. No wonder mourners squirmed in their seats, sniffed as if a pile of shit had been dumped before them.
Our luminous Carolee who’d refused to succumb, had searched and been taken. She’d found out, and then excused it all, wanting her daddy back, the golden father of her childhood. She’d dusted away fingerprints even as she couldn’t define who she was dealing with. Sober, loving daddy, or controlling scheming daddy. No matter that duplicity had altered circulating fluids, his blood re-emerging into a changed chemistry. Mending ways was all she’d cared about even after she’d learned, and known.
Later, fidgeting with our sorrow, some gathered on the wharf for a tribute aboard the Western Union. Even if I hadn’t taken pictures that day, I’d never forget. My version of that evening as others saw — strangers, sunbathers, the local townsfolk, a news reporter, anyone in the streets below who happened to be looking up at the cloudless sky; an entire city and all the paying customers aboard the Western Union, the captain, the crew, all seeing the same thing, vaporous letters spilling from a single engine airplane that if viewed from above spelled CAROL LE.
Carolee orchestrating her own funeral, an event she couldn’t miss, her final good-bye.
I can’t recall who before all others saw the letters forming, the first among us who stared at those billowing vowels and consonants afloat in the horizon. I do not know if anyone heard the drone of an engine overhead, or who cried the first astonished, “Look.” One of the images shows Little Genie squinting under her sunglasses, and pointing to something off in the distance. Jason is sitting behind her, his eyes silhouetted in shadow, a closing coppery sunlight jetting across his brow highlighting the side of his face angled in the direction of Little Genie’s outstretched arm. Frames later, a section of mast against a clear sky, the clearest blue I’d ever seen, and in between the endless horizon and the solid spars, the name of CAROL LE.
No one hired that skywriter; no one scripted that tribute, no single person commissioned him. He was supposed to write the name of a new beverage but instead wrote my sister’s name, claiming he was distracted. “I lost my bearings,” he told a news reporter. We would later learn that his employer, Bacardi Rum, didn’t pay him that night, the night CAROL LE streamed across that Key West sky.