The Funeral Lunch

Carol Smallwood

I made as many trips as I dared to the restroom without causing comment. Once inside the unheated cement block room, when I opened and shut my mouth to relieve my clenched jaw my breath came out like smoke signals–sometimes I could make the string to the bare light bulb sway. Each visit I saw a crack in the ceiling I hadn’t counted before. Some natural light (and snow) came through a small window dotted with snow; as a child I made dots of snow on windows into dot-to-dot pictures.

When complaints reached his ears about the cold restrooms, Aunt Heidi related that Father Couillard (the priest before Father Mulcahy) had said: “Enjoy the cold while you can, my friends. Where many of you are headed will be plenty hot.” She laughed about it but Aunt Hester had frowned on laughing about God’s representatives on earth. Father Couillard’s stomach had hung over his belt like bread dough reaching the edge of a pan, and I always wanted to pick it with a fork to see if it would make a wheezing sound before collapsing. I had a dream about going to see Father Couillard and screaming at him when he started in about the love and wisdom of God.

The ground was frozen so burial would be in the spring. I pictured a man with a shovel determining the cut-off date digging near the graves of my mother and father. When I went with Aunt Hester and Uncle Walt to my parents graves as a child, Uncle Walt would always sob. A kneeling angel with wings over its face held a scroll: “In Memory of My Beloved Brother and Wife. Erected 1942 by Walter Augustus Walter.” The angel’s wings were the first to crumble and each year the angel increasingly resembled an aging boxer. I’d liked the chunky Dutch wooden windmills painted yellow and blue on graves because they had a human look.

I mostly avoided the cemetery because I didn’t like seeing dying plants or the dying grass from newly dug graves-and the awful silence. And when the headstones were deep in snow, finality seemed to shout in the silence, and I’d flee their graves mumbling apologies, terrified they might’ve been buried alive.

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