By: Steve Carr
See the boy sitting in the pew across the aisle? He’s no older than six. Being dressed in a black suit that is two sizes too large for his small frame does nothing to quell his energy. Watch as unable to touch the floor with his shiny black shoes, he swings his feet back forth with abandon, often tapping the back of the pew in front of him. The frequent annoyed glances of the woman sitting in front of him who is feeling the minor vibrations of his kicking doesn’t deter him, nor does the hushed admonishments from his mother, Ruth, who sits next to him. The woman is Mrs. Jeffries, the wife of his grandfather’s long term attorney.
The boy has shaggy blonde hair that falls over his eyes and ears, left uncut and uncombed because the boy wouldn’t allow it to be touched. He looks exactly like the pictures of his grandfather when he was that age. The boy has taken off his thin black tie and tied it around his bicep, not as a symbol of mourning, but as a super hero costume piece, as another way to aggravate his mother who has given up trying to take it off of him. He has torn a page from a hymnal and fashioned a pea shooter and paper wads from it. See him scan the pews around him, searching for potential victims.
Smell the scents of lilies, carnations and orchids that have cooked in the stifling heat of the church that have formed a noxious stew that hangs in the still air. Brass vases on stands holding bouquets line the walls and flower arrangements have been laid across the elevated platform at the front of the church, just behind where the casket rests on sawhorse-like legs. The lid of the casket is raised and the pale blue silk lining shimmers in the multicolored light flowing in through the stained glass windows. The head of the boy’s grandfather is raised and can be seen resting on a silk pillow. His hands are crossed on his chest.
Hear the organist and two violinists positioned in a corner at the front of the church as they softly play Bach’s “Air on a G String.” Look at how the mourners who have come to say their final farewells to the boy’s grandfather keep their eyes fixed on the podium, awaiting the minister, and try to avoid looking at the open coffin. Everyone is dressed in black. Most of the women are wearing pillbox style hats with black netting that hangs down over their eyes. They fan their faces with paper fans given to them at the church entrance by ushers, with apologies for the broken air conditioning system. Listen to the sounds of stifled coughs and gentle crying.
See the boy find his target, raise the pea shooter, and shoot a paper wad at Mrs. Truex, the nurse who cared for his grandfather during the last six months of his life. Hear Mrs. Truex’s yelp of surprise. Watch as she turns and locks eyes with the boy, wags her finger at him, and then turns back to face the front of the church. Look at how the boy protests as his mother takes his pea shooter away from him. He kicks the pew in front of him.
Mrs. Jeffries turns. See her glare at him and say loudly, “Shush.”
When she turns back watch as the boy sticks his tongue out at her. He takes a toy plastic airplane from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and holding it in his left hand he flies it over his head, making long swooping movements. The boy is left handed, like his grandfather. Without much success the boy’s grandfather tried to teach the boy how to write the alphabet with his right hand. They would sit together in the grandfather’s study and with the boy sitting in his grandfather’s lap, the boy would use a crayon to write on sheets of typing paper the few letters he knew, but the boy was usually too restless to sit for very long. But that was before the boy entered kindergarten and before his grandfather became ill. Watch as the boy crashes the plane into the back of the pew in front of him.
Mrs. Jeffries turns and whispers harshly to the boy’s mother, “Ruth, can’t you keep him under control?”
Ruth’s pale face reddens. “I try,” she replies.
Look at how the boy sits back in the pew, puts the plane back into his pocket, and smiles mischievously at Mrs. Jeffries.
Listen to how everyone shuffles in their seats as the minister comes out of a door near the rear of the platform and walks to the podium. Caught in a beam of light his silver hair shines. He opens the large Bible on the podium, looks out at the congregation, and says, “Let us pray.” Watch as he closes his eyes, bows his head, and begins to pray aloud.
As everyone bows their heads, look at how the boy leans his head back and looks up at the rafters. His grandfather taught him how to build houses with Legos and Lincoln Logs. The boy was carried on his grandfather’s shoulders as they walked through a large museum, where the boy’s grandfather told him more about the architecture of the museum than the art that hung on its walls.
“Someday you’ll be an architect just like me,” the boy’s grandfather often said to him.
Watch as the boy’s gaze follows the church ceiling, to the front of the church, to where the minister is standing, and then to the casket.
Hear the boy whisper loudly to his mother, “When is grandpa going to wake up?”
See Ruth put her arm around his shoulders and pull him close just as the minister raises his head and opens his eyes. Watch the minister scan the congregation as they look up at him. He fixes his gaze on the boy who is wiggling out of his mother’s embrace.
The minister speaks. “We’re hear to honor the life of and mourn the passing of a beloved family member and friend, Albert Carson, who now rests in the arms of our Lord and has joined his wife, Edith, in the heavenly kingdom.”
Look at how perspiration has glued the boy’s bangs to his forehead. His cheeks are flushed. He pushes away his mother’s hand as she tries to fan his face with her hand. He starts to slide out of the pew and is pulled back by his mother. Watch as he angrily kicks the pew in front of him.
Mrs. Jeffries turns her head. “Have some respect for your dead grandfather,” she says to the boy.
See his eyes open wide. He looks at the coffin, at the minister who is still speaking, and then at his mother. “Grandpa’s not really dead,” he says in a mixture of question and emphatic statement. “He’s just make-believe sleeping.”
“Remember, I told you that your grandpa died. He’s gone to heaven,” his mother says.
“No he didn’t. He’s not really dead. He’s right there, sleeping in that box,” the boy says, pointing at the casket.
Watch as the tears flow down Ruth’s cheeks. “Your grandpa is never waking up. He’s gone to forever-sleep just like your hamster did.”
See the expression of understanding fill the boy’s eyes and cast a shadow across his face. Hear him scream, “Grandpa!” Watch him jump out of the pew, run down the aisle, and throw himself against the casket.
Hear his cry of agony.