Oh it’s you. How’ve you been? Me? With the church membership dwindling I’ve been busy—too busy.
As deacon I opened the church to let the cleaning woman in at dusk. I stood at the top of the stairs at the front of the church under the big arch and looked out.
I saw silhouettes… moving shapes under the trees, hard to make out…
Seemed like a weird sight, maybe two men walking down the street backward with a cloak over their shoulders, looking for a naked father to cover? Or, a naked father carrying his embarrassed children on his bony tired shoulders, looking for a backwater one-way street where he’d be cloaked in shadows of forgetfulness and forgiveness? The way they went down that old street was important, if for no other reason than because nothing like it had happened before. No wonder I was confused when I saw it, wondering what the hell it was. Then I realized it was not two or more people—it was only one, a big VIP, with a kind of schizoid appearance, all spread out, with somewhere to go. He was looking for this church, where I’m the head usher and the deacon, and the sexton.
He came to talk about his father’s funeral and arrangements for his burial.
The important man was so self-centered he decided to be the sole pall-bearer at his father’s funeral. I tried to dissuade him, but he was determined to do it that way. Before the service began, as the ancient organ player droned out those weird sounds with exaggerated swooping motions of her long arms, the important man awkwardly carried his father’s coffin down the aisle, all alone, struggling not to lose balance or drop it, careful to keep it horizontal and not teeter-tottering precariously. It was painful to watch him struggle with it, but everyone knew he would accept no help whatsoever.
And after the service, the hardest part for him was carrying the coffin out through the rather narrow doorway behind the sacristy, and all the way into the graveyard where there were trees with Spanish moss beards hanging down in your face from the branches.
Somehow the important man did it, suffering only a few skinned knuckles and a terrible pain in the small of his back, and a hernia.
The coffin was lowered into the ground, and the priest prayed and sprinkled holy water, and threw a clod of dirt on the casket, a sort of goodbye kiss from the living. Then the mourners slowly walked away from the grave.
The important man walked away alone. He heaved a great sigh of relief and blew his nose by putting a finger to one nostril and vehemently snorting out the other like an old farmer in big cover-alls spouting a rope of snot onto his field. Then either he lost balance for a moment or did a little dance step on his way to the car. I waited to see if he would click his heels, but he didn’t. He got back to work as soon as he possibly could.
I assume his knuckles healed, and he had his hernia repaired. I assume he knew there was no time to lose because the streets were filled with men who were just like him, each one taking up space, all trying to out-do the others, win big, build empires, carry on the great unspoken projects of the age.
Getting ready for the next funeral, I forgot him until just now. You remind me of him.