Acknowledgment to my masters track friend Wayne Bennett for the basic context and inspiration for the short story that follows.
That distinctive sound that dirt and rocks make when they hit a casket sounded muffled and distant to me. It wasn’t the sound I remembered from when I was a boy, and believe me I know that sound. It’s been fresh in my memory every since that summer day when I was 12 and we were told after the funeral that the grandsons had to shovel the dirt in on top of Grandma Allen’s casket. That sound of rock and dirt and scooping shovels in the hard baked Texas dirt is distinctive. When one hundred people around you are silent as a stone, and only an occasional whimper of a baby or the muffled sniffles of a great aunt break that silence then the sound of those rocks hitting a casket will lay around inside your ears for an eternity.
Funerals are a queer business and around the deep parts of west Texas they are also predictable. Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow there will be lots of food at the church and relatives gathering to say goodbye. Some that came today won’t be here a year from now. At one point in my life after so many of these funerals I made it a game to glance around the gathered grieving and try to come up with a guess about who it would be next time. I got it wrong the last time, having not established any clear ground rules for my ‘lottery like’ game it had never been brought to my attention that I could choose myself. Nevertheless, here I am lying in this casket at the bottom of the hole listening to rocks and dirt raining down on me and believing it sounds altogether different on this end of the deal, and the goofy little pillow under my head is now flat as Aunt Edna’s chest.
Earlier today at the actual funeral in the church the aforementioned pancake chested Aunt Edna dragged fat Aunt Ima over to the opened up casket saying “You better get over here and take a look at him, it’s the last time you’ll ever see him.” Fat old Aunt Ima kept staring at me like she wanted to put some food in there with me being the last time she would see me and all. She has a history of sending food with the departed. When her late husband Dan Farten had died of some type food poisoning (the doctors claimed to be befuddled and confounded by the entire incident) Ima had trundled up to old Dan before they closed the lid and snuck in a couple of pieces of pie. Of course Edna was quick to let her know "Ima Farten, Dan can't eat pie if he's dead", but Ima had sent it with him anyway.
I learned I still have a sense of humor because I started to think about twins. I wished I were a twin, which would make a liar, sort of, out of Aunt Edna since looking at my twin would be about the same thing as just looking at me all over again. I also thought it might be true they wouldn’t see me again after I got covered up but I was certainly still here, apparently looking hungry, and could still look at them just the same, so if you’re reading this it's important that you know that because picking your nose and other equally disgusting things are on display to us even if you don’t know it, so all your secrets are out there to be seen; do you know what I mean, especially you Uncle Ted?
I don’t have to really be here. The big bright light told me I could just stay where I ended up or I could go back and watch everyone say goodbye. I figured it might be fun, but one small problem now; I don’t know the secret password or whatever damn thing it is I need to know to leave my own funeral; I guess it will all work out though.
Momma Townsend said earlier to Jack Greenwood, “Doesn’t he look just like he always did?”
I wanted to rear up and say, “Hell no, I never was dead before and I moved around some back then too.” Of course I also didn’t ever wear an inch thick of makeup on my face like that idiot embalmer with the bad breath and smudged coke bottle glasses layered on me while he hummed Amazing Grace out of tune and fooled with his wedgie. Then again, Momma Townsend’s makeup doesn’t look a lot better than mine today so maybe her angle of observation is skewed regarding makeup and actual reality.
Even Johnny Bates (pictured above) came by. He’s the son of the former headmaster of my grade school, Maurice Bates. When his dad had a stroke back in 1978, the local newspaper put up a headline that read, ‘Master Bates in Hospital.’ We all figured he probably did too since Mrs. Bates was not much to look at and ‘ol Master Bates’ didn’t want to make a liar out of the newspaper anyway.
My idiot cousin Charlie asked someone to take a photo of him shaking my hand, then he asked if he could take off my wooden leg for firewood. Several others laughed. Sophomore humor in my opinion. Edna cautioned them all to settle down a little.
Oops, gotta run, the big bright friendly light just said the “fun’s over” and I’m not about to hang around any longer, due to a fear of worms and Ima's cooking.
See ya around. Maybe.
A funeral service is being held for a woman who has just passed away. At the end of the service the pall bearers are carrying the casket out when they accidentally bump into a wall, jarring the casket.
They hear a faint moan. They open the casket and find that the woman is actually alive.
She lives for ten more years, and then dies.
A ceremony is again held at the same place, and at the end of the ceremony the pall bearers are again carrying out the casket.
As they are walking, the husband cries out, "Watch out for that damn wall!''