Almost Fiction: The funeral

By Sam Jones

Coming out of the small chapel Marvin walked alone to the bench that was close to the edge of the cemetery. A poplar tree shaded the bench. A limb had fallen and now lay at the base of the trunk. Breaking off a branch from the limb Marvin took out his pocket knife and absentmindedly whittled while smoking his pipe.

It was pleasant on the bench, quiet and peaceful. Marvin enjoyed the solitude.

The whittling had no specific plan to it. The idea of most pocket knife carvings is just to make a pile of shavings and give the hands something to do while smoking your pipe. Today, sitting on this bench next to the entrance of the internment place of his friend, Marvin was successful with his accumulation of sawdust.

There was music coming from the chapel. It was the third time music had been heard. The first two times it had been a woman’s solo singing voice. This time the congregation had joined in with “Amazing Grace.”

Earlier Marvin had been in the congregation long enough to hear a preacher, who didn’t know his friend, tell everyone about God’s will and that his friend was in a better place. Then several others gave eulogies listing all his friend’s good qualities, claiming that he had no faults and that everyone loved him. These comments were ridiculous and spurious to say the least and to listen to that hypocritical nonsense you might have thought his friend should not have died but should have been translated by the angels, gone straight to heaven and sent immediately to the right hand of God.

Thinking that Marvin was going to the pulpit and talk about his friend most of the assemblage was surprised when instead, he left, walked outside, eventually finding the bench where he was now sitting.

The last verse of “Amazing Grace” finally died down and the chapel went quiet. Marvin guessed that the pastor was praying and then, within a few minutes six pallbearers brought out a casket and walked slowly past Marvin into the cemetery and to the gravesite. A procession of those in the chapel followed.

Brushing the wood shavings out of his lap, with his hat in one hand and his pocket knife, piece of wood and pipe in the other Marvin stood out of respect as the casket passed him.

Richard was the last in line of the onlookers. Rather than continue with the others to the gravesite, for more preaching and praying, he joined Marvin at the bench. When the procession ended the two men sat down.

“You lasted in there longer than I thought you would,” said Richard as he sat down next to Marvin, took out a cigar and offered Marvin another. Marvin motioned with his hand that he didn’t want the cigar, that he had his pipe. The two men sat on the bench, under the poplar tree, next to the entrance to the cemetery smoking tobacco. A blue haze covered the bench.

“So, after listening to all that lying and speechifying, what did you find out about our friend Ray?” Marvin asked Richard as he again opened his pocket knife and went back to work on the small piece of poplar.

“It’s kind of funny. The more I listened the more I was sure that I was at the wrong funeral. I wondered who the hell they were talking about. The words I heard had little or nothing to do with the person I knew. There was nothing about riding motorcycles, or shooting pool, or drinking beer, the three things Ray had done his whole life and was really good at. I guess when you die, old women and church people take over and say a bunch of stuff about you they think will get you into heaven. If I hadn’t been able to look up to the front and see into the casket, see him laying there, I was sure I was at the wrong funeral.” Richard puffed on the big cigar.

Marvin nodded, “I knew his wife went to church but I didn’t think Ray ever set foot in that chapel. If they wanted to say something to get him into heaven they should have reminded everyone that if he gave his word he kept it, that if you needed someone to cheer you up he’d tell you a joke, that he was a good traveling companion and that he didn’t complain about bad things that happened out on the road. If it rained, he just pulled his bike over to the side of the road and put on his rain gear. He didn’t bitch about it. He was a good guy. That’s what gets you into heaven, not singing in the choir and sitting in the ‘amen’ corner.”

Continuing, Marvin relit his pipe and then pointed with it toward his Harley sidecar parked not far from the bench, up against the curb. “When I put the sidecar on that old Harley he came over and gave me a hand. You know there are a hundred adjustments to make on a sidecar to get it to go down the road straight. I’d have had a hell of a time getting that thing up and running without Ray’s help. When you needed an extra hand he was there to help.”

“People always say the person was perfect after they die. They never say he was a bastard or even acknowledge that he had human faults. Even if he was a bad guy, no one was ever that bad. It’s just what happens at funerals.” Richard paused, blew a smoke ring and smiled. “You know I got an idea. Make me a deal. If I die before you I want you to come to my funeral, to walk up in front of everyone and say, ‘The son-of-a-bitch still owes me $20’ and sit down… just like that… with no explanation.” Richard laughed.

“Good idea and if I die first you promise to say the same. ‘The son-of-a-bitch still owes me $20.’ I think that’s great.” Marvin held out his hand to Richard. Shaking hands they sealed the deal making it official.

The two men sat quietly for some time, smoking, gloating about how clever they were.

Later, Marvin was the last to leave. His Harley sidecar was the only vehicle left in the parking lot. He got up, walked to Ray’s gravesite and where a headstone would later be placed, stuck the piece of poplar branch he had been carving into the soil and said, “Thanks for the help you gave me. You made a lot of motorcycle trips better just because you were there. Thanks for being a good friend.”

With that Marvin walked back to the sidecar, fired it up, and taking the scenic route, rode the long way home.

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