I pinched the bridge of my nose to keep from sneezing as the priest moved past me, swinging his shiny little incense bucket, smoke poofing out on all sides. “They suck up all the oxygen in the place,” my father used to say about priests. But now he was up there in a coffin on wheels at the altar and had no further use for oxygen himself.
Turning to look at the pews around me, I was amazed at how limber some of these old ladies were, kneeling and rising in waves with the words of the mass. Maybe some of them knew my dad, but I think mostly they just dig being here. I was in a band called “Archangel” for a while—that was the closest I ever got to religion before this funeral. But I figured I owed my dad’s wife the respect for looking after him all this time. That took some grit, which is a thing I value.
We’d only met twice before today: once at their wedding, and once when I was in the hospital after a motorcycle accident when my dad thought I was dying. She stood in the doorway and he parked his ass on the green vinyl chair and told me I was an idiot. Chip off the idiot block, I guess, since he was the smoker with lung cancer who kept his wife busy for two years, dragging him to surgery, and chemo, and all the rest. I didn’t hear about it until she was sure he was near the end. I don’t know if that was his doing or hers.
The priest’s robe swayed and whispered when he walked, like a curtain in a summer breeze, and something about it all made me understand why people like coming to church. Light poured through the stained glass and lit up the white cloth draped over the coffin as if God himself was saying, Welcome, Albert, to my dad. The altar boys rustled and sandwiched their hands together and things got real quiet. My stepmother, almost a stranger, elbowed me to pay attention, as if she’d known me all her life.
Theo Greenblatt's prose, both fiction and nonfiction, appears in Jenny, The London Magazine, Salt Hill Journal, Tikkun, Harvard Review, and numerous other venues. Her short story, "Solitaire," won first place in the 2017 London Magazine Short Story Competition. She teaches writing to aspiring officer candidates at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI. Readers are invited to view more at www.theogreenblatt.com
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