A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Funeral"
Originally featured on 05-07-2007
As part of our series "Endings"

I first heard about Kenny in an instant message. Looking back, I guess it was kind of an odd way to hear about someone’s death, but I think it actually might be the best way.

On the phone or in person, if you got overly emotional or worse, not emotional at all, it could be embarrassing for you or the person giving you the news. With an e-mail you only get a certain amount of information and if it’s not enough and you send a reply, you have to wait for a response.

But through an instant message, you can express your shock or grief well, instantly, and even if it’s not entirely the truth, without being able to hear tone of voice, who could tell? Plus, you can ask for more details and get them quickly.

I was online one night when Michelle, a friend and former co-worker, sent me a message. It was kind of late and she had a tendency to rant so I didn’t really feel like talking to her. Just before I could say I was on my way to bed, she wrote: Did you hear about Kenny?

I had no idea what she was talking about. No, what? I replied.

Killed himself

It didn’t register right away and I stared at the computer screen for a moment. I was about to start typing (I didn’t know what, I was just hoping my fingers would come up with something), when she responded.

Two days ago. When he didn’t show up for work, they called his house and found out

Kenny and I used to work at the same supermarket in New Jersey. I hadn’t seen him since I moved out to Oregon a few years earlier. We never worked together — I was mostly in the backroom and dairy department while Kenny was just the cart boy — but we saw each other frequently. That’s how most people referred to him: Cart Boy Kenny, even though he was about 30.

I hadn’t thought about him in years.

Why’d he do it? Does anyone know?

Do you remember that girl he met online? Megan?

I thought for a moment. I did remember Kenny talking about her. They had met in a chat room and were “cyber dating” for years. Kenny would talk about her like she was a real girlfriend. I thought it was kind of funny but also a little sad.

She lives in Idaho, she had been planning to come visit him for a long time, Kenny was real excited about it

I also recalled Kenny mentioning something about that. He had been trying to save money for either him to go out there or her to come to him.

So she called him two nights ago, said she wasn’t coming and that maybe they should stop talking for a while. I think she might have met someone else. So Kenny got all upset and told her that if she didn’t come he would kill himself. She later told the police she didn’t think he was serious but while they were still on the phone, he did it. Can you believe she would tell Kenny like that? You know how emotional he could be

But the truth was I didn’t know. I had thought I knew Kenny pretty well but now I wasn’t sure. I wracked my brain trying to remember all I could about him. He lived with his Mom. He was into computers. He liked heavy metal music. That’s it? That’s all I could come up with? I talked to him all the time but that’s all I knew about him?

How’d he do it? I wrote before I really thought about it; it was a question I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer to.

He hung himself

I was stunned. Somehow that made it worse. It was one thing to take pills or sit in a car with a tube from the exhaust pipe but to actually tie a rope around your neck and string yourself up? That was just too much.

Wow was all I was able to write.

It’s horrible, isn’t it? Everyone at the store couldn’t believe it. We even tried to get Parker to close early but that bastard didn’t seem to care. He pretended to be upset but he hardly even knew Kenny, I don’t think he was here when you left. He’s a real dick

After she went on for a little while about how awful the new store manager was, her next sentence froze me.

I’m going to the funeral Thursday

I was shocked how casually that sentence sat on the screen; it would have looked exactly the same if she had said she was going to the gym or going to the bank.

I don’t think his Mom is going to have him buried in his old leather jacket. It’s going to be weird seeing him in a suit. Can you believe he did this? I know he got depressed sometimes but I never thought he’d do something like this. What do you think?

I didn’t know what to think. Kenny never struck me as depressed. I could still picture him happily chasing down a stray cart all the while playing air guitar while his headphones blared.

I don’t know was all I could write.

Thankfully Michelle didn’t ask me if I would have gone to the funeral if I was there. I’m sure I would’ve just come up with an excuse — something about having a lot of schoolwork to do, or not owning a suit, something cowardly.

The truth was I really didn’t feel that sad. It was a shock hearing that someone I knew had killed himself but I was beginning to realize I hardly knew Kenny at all. I saw him nearly everyday for over two years but until I found his obituary in an online New Jersey newspaper a few days later, I didn’t even know his last name.

All of a sudden I felt like I should do something — send flowers or a card to Kenny’s mother, maybe some money. But I quickly realized those were just petty, hollow gestures.

After a couple more minutes, Michelle said she had to get up early and we said goodnight. A moment later I shut down the computer and went to bed, but it took me a long time to get to sleep.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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