All The Shiny Faces: A Short Story

    “I don’t know if I, if we, would have been able to live through such a thing.”
    Sue reached out and placed her hand on his, still on the gearshift. They watched as others filing into the chapel greeted each other, a few having a final smoke. The shaking of hands, no smiles. Boiling clouds threatened rain, and Mark made a mental note to skip the interment ceremony as he turned to his wife and said, “Hon, the worst thing is that there is no ‘we’ for her. She’s got to go through all of this pretty much on her own. If it’s hard for us to be here today, just think of what’s happening with Ellen.”
    “I know. I know. I don’t want to think of it. Let’s just get in there before we’re walking through mud. My God, this seems like the worst day of my life, let alone…. dammit…” 
    They sprinted, double blips of the car locks engaging as the first thunderclap reverberated against the surrounding hills — making it to the held open door as the first drops hit the ground.

    Taking their seats at the very back was all they could do. Some people remained standing, having arrived just after them, piped-in music already playing. Sue unwound her scarf and settled in as one by one, friends of the deceased spoke of the only one present who would never speak another word upon this earth. 
    A pine box was the focus of every bleary eye, as though every atrocity perpetrated on the planet were brought to focus for these few moments only upon that lonely square footage. 

“When I first met Rachel, I knew that we were going to become best friends….”
    “And there we were, at the very edge of the Grand Canyon, and I will never forget it, she turned and said to me…”
    “We had every intention to marry. The ring I gave her is with her right now, inside… I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I can’t….”
    A young woman arose and made her way to the piano, and the introductory notes of one of the most beloved hymns of all time filled the entire hall as yet one more peal of thunder, quietly in the distance, announced itself — and she sang out —
    “A-a-a-maaa-zi-ing grace, how swee-ee-t, the sound.
    Tha-aa-at saved, a…”

    “No. NONot amazing,” a woman rising in the first pew wailed.
    “Oh my God, Mark,” Sue leaned into his shoulder and burst into tears.
    The pianist stopped, looking up in horror as the woman continued, “My daughter was murdered. She was CUT DOWN at the age of nineteen. What kind of a GOD,” and with this she flung her black umbrella at the lectern on the podium and it clattered back down across the coffin lid, “are we singing about here?”
    The pastor quickly motioned for the nearest ushers to apprehend the grieving mother but others nearer had already surrounded her, and as the congregation looked on she was removed beyond the door of the vestibule where all but her voice was gone. He approached the lectern palms forward as moans and grief-stricken sobbing erupted from every row in the church. The girl at the piano hung her head so low that it struck the keys and she fell to the floor in a faint. Still, from beyond the vestibule door, the mother could be heard weeping. 
     After several minutes, the rain now drumming slantwise on the stained glass windows, the pastor, wiping his eyes and coughing several times, finally managed to speak.
    “Friends. Friends. People.”
    Ushers gathered up the pianist into a sitting position in the front pew.
    “Friends and family. We have gathered here today to mourn” [flash and thunder] “the tragic loss of someone very dear to all of us. With what has taken place just now it would be an understatement to say that we are all shaken to the very core of who we are, and our thoughts and prayers are going out right now to Rachel’s mother, whose grief surpasses what any of us can imagine as possible for any human being to endure. Out of respect for the expression of her feelings, I wish to retire my message that I had prepared for this service.” 
    And with this, he retrieved a few sheets of paper from a little black folder and cast them forward where they fluttered down to rest near the umbrella which now lay on the floor near the casket. “For, truth be known, her words were the very ones I fought against as I prepared my brief sermon to bring to you today. It would be a dishonor and a profound disservice for me to publicly superimpose my own contrived thoughts upon something that she would have said to you herself, in privacy.” 
    He then followed with directions to the cemetery and instructions as to a luncheon that would take place later, closing with this:
    “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

    At least the rain had abated. The wipers were on automatic intermittent.
    Sue’s face was wetter than the windshield. She could not stop crying. 
    Mark reached his right hand out to hers.
    “I was proud of that pastor,” he said. “I mean, what else could he say, after what Ellen said? You know, a single mother, struck by the hammer of Thor, basically. What the hell are you supposed to say after that?”
    “I know. I thought the same thing. But even while he was trying to salvage the whole thing, I was only thinking of Ellen, crumpled in a heap in that back room. I barely could register what was being said by anyone after she threw that umbrella.”
    “I think he kind of ruined it a bit at the end though if you want my honest opinion.”
    “What do you mean?” Sue asked.
    “Well, all that stuff about the shiny faces. It’s like, what is it really going to take? What is it really going to take before we quit ending everything with the God damn shiny faces stuff?”

© D.W. Cymbalisty  2021

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1 Comment

  1. Soph on September 20, 2021 at 12:39 am

    What a well-paced story. One wonders how many times people sitting at a funeral have had similar, yet unexpressed thoughts.
    I hope to read more of your work here in the future.