Visitation, by Richard Stimac
Photo by Vicki Schofield on Unsplash
The cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Knee-high grass hide the flat veined-granite markers that tripped drunk teenagers at night. Someone had cracked open the skull of a concrete angel to expose the solid core beneath the chiseled locks of hair. The upright stone stump markers of the Woodsman of the World appeared healthier than the moribund oaks and maples. Here and there a small mausoleum or cenotaph attempted to stand upright, like an old veteran at the burial of a comrade. Rain streaks from oxidized copper ornaments marred their marble walls. At the gate, set on Ionic columns, harpies held watch, lest the ineligible enter, or depart.
But no one in the line of cars noticed any of this on their way to the St. Veronica’s basement. The funeral procession took thirty minutes longer than normal. The state was widening a length of interstate between the cemetery and the church.
Like tutelars, Delores and Trista waited on them. The two were the last of the Women’s Ancillary who prepared food for funerals. In the past, family and friends returned to the church with a feast waiting for them: fried chicken; roast beef; mashed potatoes; corn; green beans; two or three different salads. And homemade cakes and pies. Along with sweet lemonade and tea. Today, Delores and Trista stood behind a store-bought sheet cake and three-liter bottles of store-brand soda. The air conditioner was set high. They wrapped their shawls tightly around their shoulders like angels would their wings.
“That’s a nice cake you bought,” Delores said.
“They have discounts on Tuesdays,” Trista said. “Lucky the funeral is today.”
Maybe two dozen people, at the most, wandered into the church basement.
“Remember when funerals filled this hall?” Trista said.
“You’d see people you hadn’t seen in years,” Delores said. “Or the last funeral.”
“The funeral for what’s-his-name—”
“The rich man?”
“He’s the one. We had to set up tables in the breezeway for the kids.”
“Funerals used to be a real time of coming together.”
“People need to come together. Now, I don’t know.”
“You are a wise woman.”
Two old men, older than either Delores or Trista, stood before the table and examined the squares of sheet cake, each on its own halo-like white paper tea plate.
“Chocolate or white?” Delores said.
“You want a corner?” Trista said. “There’s more icing.”
One of the men grimaced.
“Too much goddamn sugar,” he said and hobbled away.
The other man seemed to be bending over the table, but, in fact, his spine wouldn’t straighten.
“Try this,” Delores said. She held a plate up to the man.
“Something to drink,” Trista said. She offered a Styrofoam cup of soda.
He took a piece of chocolate and of white from the table. He winked at Delores, then at Trista, as he stooped away.
By this time, the children, few that there were, settled in chairs at the far unlit end of the basement. Each one had a phone. The glow of the screen faded their faces to a pale embalmed hue.
“Fact is,” Delores said, “we’d have so much food left over Frank and me would eat it for nearly a week.”
“And that was after everyone else took a plate home.”
“You made the best coleslaw.”
“The trick was putting in both raisins and grapes.”
Trista rubbed her hands.
“The arthritis?” Delores said.
“Just thinking about cooking makes my hands hurt.”
Father descended the steps from the sacristy. Some people turned towards him. Some, a bit too obvious, continued their conversations. He spoke to the immediate family. They nodded. He blessed them. Positioned in the front of the hall, Father placed his palms together in front of his chest. Most bowed their heads. A few, again, a bit too obvious, looked at the floor with glances about the room, as if they expected to find one of the faithful cheating. When the priest finished, nearly everyone said, “Amen.”
“Father always does such a good job,” Trista said.
“I always liked him best of all,” Delores said.
The first of the guests began to leave. Delores and Trista plastic wrapped pieces of cake and forced them on those remaining who refused, but, in the end, submitted to the will of the old women.
Father came by the table.
“You two are saints,” Father said.
Delores and Trista blushed, hushed the man, waved him off.
“It’s true,” Father Frank said. “The Church would be at a loss without women like you.”
“The Church doesn’t need women like us,” Trista said.
“Oh,” Delores said. “Don’t.”
“It’s fine,” Father said. “Sincerely, thank you.”
Then he, too, went his way. Barely twenty minutes after the reception began, the basement of the church was empty.
“I hate to throw all this away,” Delores said.
“I’ll take some for the grandkids,” Trista said.
Delores drug a large gray plastic garbage can next to the table.
“There’s no lining,” Trista said.
“They don’t use linings for these things.”
“It must get filthy.”
“They wash it out.”
With that, the entire sheet cake smeared down the inside of the can.
“What about the soda?” Trista said.
“The cafeteria woman will do something with it.”
Trista began brushing crumbs into her hand.
“Leave that, too,” Delores said.
“I hate to leave a mess for others,” Trista said.
“We’ve got our work. Let others have theirs.”
Delores turned the lights off. In the near darkness, lit only by the soft red from the exit signs, the old woman moved like shadows, almost flitting to the door.
“Ride?” Trista said. She sat inside her thirty-year-old sedan.
“I still only live a few blocks away,” Delores said.
“I worry about you still living in this neighborhood.”
“It’s not safe.”
“I’ll be ok.”
“I’ll call you when I get home.”
Content, Delores smiled. Trista turned her car towards the newer part of town.
Each one went, alone, to their own home, and to their own private grief.
Richard Stimac has a full-length book of poetry Bricolage (Spartan Press), a forthcoming poetry chapbook Of Water and of Stone (Moonstone) and published over thirty poems in Burningword, Clackamas, december, The Examined Life Journal, Faultline, Havik (Third Place 2021 Poetry Contest), Michigan Quarterly Review, Mikrokosmos (Second Place 2022 Poetry Contest; A.E. Stallings, judge), New Plains Review, NOVUS, Penumbra, Plainsongs, Salmon Creek Journal, Talon Review, and Wraparound South. He published flash fiction in BarBar (2023 BarBe nominee), The Blue Mountain Review, Book of Matches, Bridge Eight, Bright Flash, Drunk Monkeys, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Good Life Review, Half and One, LEON, New Feathers, Paperbark, Prometheus Dreaming, Proud to Be (SEMO Press), On the Run, Scribble, Talon Review, The Typescript, The Wild Word, Your Impossible Voice, and Transitions Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Anthology (Hawkeye Press). He has also had an un-staged readings by the St. Louis Writers’ Group and Gulf Coast: Playwright’s Circle, plays published in The AutoEthnographer, Fresh Words and Hive Avenue Literary Journal, a screenplay in Qu, and an essay in The Midwest Quarterly. A screenplay of his is in pre-production. He is a poetry reader for Ariel Publishing, Clepsydra, and a fiction reader for The Maine Review.
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