Funeral blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. —W. H. Auden

“You going to the wake?”

“I’ll try to get there early. The place will most likely be packed. I’ve known his parents for a long time. I just want to pay my respects and get out. We’ll close up shop tomorrow for the funeral. It’ll just be a graveside service. They weren’t church people, you know.”

I looked at my watch. “I’ve got to run,” I said.

My wife had dinner on the table when I got home. We ate in silence. Finally, she said, “When do you want to go?”

“We can go now.”

I poured myself a cup of coffee while my wife got her coat. We rode to the funeral home without talking. A number of young people were milling about at the entrance. As we arrived, a car backed out of a space and I pulled in.

A man held the door open for us. He directed us to the guest book in the corridor. Afterwards we stopped to look at the pictures before we entered the room.

We paused by the casket. It wasn’t easy to look. I was shocked that it was open.

We waited in line to talk to his parents. I had never met either one of them before. His father had the ruddy complexion of someone from the southwest. I noticed he was wearing spit-shined black cowboy boots.

“Thank you for coming,” his father said. “He was much too young to die.”

“Too young,” I said.

“Much too young, yes sir. Well, we’ll get through this. How did you know my son?”

“He serviced our cars,” I said. “He did a good job.”

“He was a good mechanic,” the father said. “Thanks for coming.”

We shook hands and moved down the line. Someone had brought his dog in at the back. A woman was holding the little dog in her lap, stroking its fur. The dog kept fidgeting, looking from one face to another, not finding what she was looking for. We sat for a while in a row of chairs off to the side, and then we left.

A group of young people were standing outside in the back, smoking cigarettes and playing with the little dog. We climbed into the car, and I backed it around and headed out the driveway. We drove back through the center of town and turned south.

As we dropped down the small hill and crossed the bridge, I noticed a large dark form perched in one of the trees overhead. I looked up as we passed beneath it. A big owl stared down from the branch.

That evening I made myself a cup of tea and sat out on the front porch. The wind came up and stirred the branches of the tall pines across the street. You could see the black branches rising and falling with the windy gusts in the evening air.

I sat for a long time and listened to the wind in the trees. It was there all right. Unlike the owl, you couldn’t see it, but you knew it was there just the same.

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