guy, drooling idiot sorority girl.
The Soderstrom family came in, Larry leading the way, Wendy leaning on his right arm. I watched the shattered family proceed. With the exception of Wendy and Larry, they all looked like people of the land, strong, weathered, and prosperous; resolute in their grief. People to whom pain is a normal part of life to be endured and accepted, like drought and hail, tornados and floods. Loss a part of life, defined by the details of miscarriage, stroke, and accidents that mangle and kill.
More family came in, parents and aunts and uncles, I guess. I only paid attention to Wendy, her lovely face tear-streaked; and Larry, who looked bored. Probably thinking about little girls and how to get them in his van, if he had one. Would you like to see my puppy? They walked to the front of the church and sat in the first row.
The Van Dyke-bearded Pastor VanderKellen entered the platform from a side door, strode manfully to the pulpit, sable vestments swaying, and provided a glowing eulogy for Hugh Soderstrom. When he finished, he came down from his heights to personally shake hands and whisper what had to be inspiration and comfort to each member of the immediate family: Hugh, Wendy, and an older couple, probably Wendy’s parents. The common touch, as it were. The populist preacher. The pandering pastor, maybe fishing for a small bequest.
After VanderKellen spoke a very long time to Wendy, he gave her a lingering look that did not exactly define “chaste.” Résumé-builder for an aspiring televangelist?
He then swept back up to the pulpit where he pronounced a solemn benediction in his best preacher voice, stentorian, rich and rumbling. The men from the funeral home, professionally somber, appeared and slowly, reverently, guided the casket back down the aisle, staring straight ahead. The family followed.
I shouldered my way past several people so I could be on the aisle when Larry came by. The bereaved brother nodded and said “God bless” to people who reached out to pat him on the shoulder or shake his hand as he passed. He looked as if he were in pain, either that or trying to suppress raging flatulence. Then he saw me.
His somber facial expression transformed into a glare, and it hurt my feelings. I was going to give him the kiss of peace until then; so I merely leaned over, looked him in the eye, and said, “I know .” Then I winked and leaned back.
I think he would have killed me on the spot except for the unfortunate restraints placed upon him by the reality of all those pesky witnesses. Wendy, on his far side and sensing anger, looked up, followed his eyes, found my face. And I found hers.
Put simply, Wendy was tan and beautiful. Shoulder length curly hair, the color of cornsilk, and large cerulean eyes that revealed a deep, intelligent aspect. At the farm, distracted, I had not noticed their striking color before. But now they looked back at me, alluring, hypnotic. I forced myself to drop eye contact and look at her chest.
Her extraordinary figure could not be muted by her simple black suit. With regard to Wendy, everywhere I looked there was temptation to fantasy.
And now she was left alone to carry on except for the manly ministrations of her brother-in-law, Saint Lawrence of the Dubious Comfort. I looked back up at her as she passed by. She returned my gaze, nodded, said, “Thank you,” then looked again to the back of the church and the doors that would lead to the limousine, the ride to the cemetery, and a future that must have, just a few days ago, seemed rich and promising, but now was bleak and barren, as if saturated with Roundup.
The relatives passed by quickly, sunburned men in ill-fitting suits and dull neckties, and able women in simple church dresses. And, of course, The Reverend Doctor, a righteous vision in his opulent vestments. Ushers dismissed the rows of mourners from the front of the church on back. Sheriff
Benjamin Hulme-Cross, Nelson Evergreen