7th Ward Hard Heads, Latin Kings, Men of Blood, psychics, hookers, gutter punks, and pastry chefs all filed past her coffin. There was no distinction of rank or file, no order or clique-ish unity. A sea of black and gold Latin Kings were interspersed among the visceral bloods and accented with the bright blue of Simon City Royals. NOPD officers in dress uniforms with chests full of medals sat next to junkies with arms full of track marks, all united in grief for the twenty-five-year-old girl in the box.
Somewhere in the bowels of the old church a sad metallic clarinet played the soundtrack of tragedy. Father Quentin O’Flannery gave the eulogy. He was a tall, lanky, black Irish priest from the church on St. Ferdinand. He was an imposing figure. He had done six years in an English prison for a long nefarious list of crimes from his former life as a ‘bad boy yardie’. He had tear drop tattoos that accented his cappuccino colored skin and a large black tattoo that stuck out over his priest collar that said, ‘I died for love’. While doing time he had found discipline in the prison boxing league, where he met an Irish Friar who had given him a new Raison D’etre. He was baptized, then had his sentence commuted and joined the priesthood. His sermon tried to remind the people that her death was like blowing out a candle before the dawn. At the end, his voice cracked as he said, “Jesi Perez, baby, we’re gonna miss you.”
After the service, people who were closest to Jesi said their last goodbyes. Mrs. Jerry Ann, George’s Mom, waited patiently behind little Max who tried to maintain his normal stern face while small streams of tears painted his rosy cheeks. “Mrs. Jesi, I told you I wouldn’t steal any more, but that old jerk scumbag wouldn’t sell ‘em to me. They didn’t have the kind you smoke, so I had to get these. At least you’ll have a pack when you get to where you’re going.” The pitiful pickpocket looked around and then slipped the stolen smokes into her coffin before he went and stood next to his mentors.
Mrs. Angela Dixie Alabama leaned over to Mrs. Muriel and asked, “What is the writing on her and the boys?”
“She had a living will. These are all in accordance with it.”
“Even the boys? I’ve never seen them so quiet. They’re like statues!”
Mrs. Jerry Ann put her arm around Tex’s Mom and said, “Ang, they’re just mourning her in their own way.”
The four tuxedo-clad boys stood as still as Tinman Taz next to her coffin. They looked thin and their eyes were thick with bags. The boys hadn’t eaten, drank, or slept in thirty hours, ever since they had first met to pray Jesi through. They stood during the entire service at the military position of parade rest with legs shoulder-width apart, hands behind their backs, and eyes forward. Fish had begged them to be a pallbearer, but Spider had convinced him that they had an important job for him in which he was indispensable. Mrs. Muriel, dressed in all black instead of her normal earth tones, intercepted any of the mourners who wished to speak to the boys and any who passed her were cut off by Fish. He politely explained that the boys had taken a vow of silence until the mistress of their heart had crossed completely.
When all the goodbyes were said the coffin was closed, but only after each of the boys paused over the coffin and gave her a kiss on the cheek. When the boys lifted the coffin it was as heavy as a million anvils. The box was the weight of a Troy ton of tears. It carried unfulfilled dreams. It carried thousands of broken hearts.
“Those boys have been so strong,” said Mrs. Jerry Ann to Mrs. Cara. She was still remembering when she had seen Mrs. Jerrie Ann at Charity Hospital on Monday after Bobby’s surgery.
Mrs. Cara walked in and Mr. Rob, George and Bobby’s Dad, was holding the patient’s hand and talking quietly to him.
“Oh Mr. Rob, I didn’t know you were here.”
Rob Rothering was a tough man and a good father. He retired from the VA hospital only to start another career working on an offshore rig. He had flown in the moment he was notified of the shooting.
Mrs. Jerry Ann had been sitting in the corner unnoticed by Mrs. Cara until she spoke up, “Of course we’re here. My son’s fighting for his life. The doctors have done their part. We have to do ours.”
Mr. Rob said teary-eyed, “No matter how he chose to live his life, that’s my baby boy right there. It seems like last night I taught him and Guillermo how to hit a baseball, or pulled off my belt and tearing up Bobby and Julian’s butts for toilet papering Bama’s Mama’s house.”
Mrs. Cara replied, “They got off lucky. I wish I could have got a spanking instead of ya’ll telling my Mom.”
Mrs. Jerry Ann laughed, “It almost wasn’t fair to Bobby. You know, Cara, how hard the first kid is. Hell, we were kids ourselves. And little boys don’t come with instruction manuals. We had to do just the best we could.” She walked over and brushed a spot where a chunk of Mrs. Cara’s hair was missing. She smiled and kissed Cara on the cheek.
“Are you gonna be here? We wanna see Julian. Dr. Carr said he’s stable.”
“I’ll be here. I’m staying the night in case he wakes up so ya’ll can get some rest.”
“Thanks sweetie. And if I ever hear of you doing anything as crazy as you did when you stepped in front of those bullets… Well, let’s just say you’re still not too big to get your butt torn up.”
She smiled. “Yes, Ma’am.”
Mrs. Cara was still smiling at the memory as the boys marched in step, carrying the coffin out of the church.
The boys fought back tears like valiant little knights. As they approached the back of the hearse at the head of the line of limousines, the handles of the coffin became too hot to touch. The coffin became light as a feather and tears of ink ran down their painted faces. The hearse driver tried to usher the boys towards the hearse.
“No. I think we’ll take this last chance to walk with her,” replied George in a hoarse voice that hadn’t been used in a day and a half.
Four tuxedo-clad pall bearers and Fish with his black arm band, all wearing suits rented for them by a dead man who had left a receipt wrapped around a pair of brass knuckles, carried the mistress down Ramport Street, past Congo Square where the famed Hidey Ho had once jazzed June, around the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, through the gates of the cemetery to the old mausoleum where they had left Mr. Curtis. At the grave, Spider read Jesi’s favorite poems, ‘Stopping All the Clocks’ by Auden and ‘The Ballad of Sam McGee’. She was placed in her final resting place on a Wednesday morning, her favorite day of the week.