Dance to the Whisperer
Steven H. Short
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The sound of the church bells ring loudly over the town of Fairington as Eli Johnson’s funeral comes to an end. Nelson Turner, saddened by what he witnessed a few days earlier, sits in his car across from the white lap sided church, watching as the flag draped casket with its six pall bears descends slowly down the steps, followed by the minister, the grieving widow, their four remaining children, friends and family. Turner chose not to attend the funeral, opting to show his respects for the dead man and his family from a distance.
As the casket’s loaded into the hearse, well wishers move to their cars for the procession to the burial site. Turner joins in as the last vehicle in line. They drive until they come upon a graveyard about a half-mile outside of town. The luscious green plot sits in the middle of a freshly planted cornfield and is anchored on each corner four large oak trees sprouting their annual leaves. At the gravesite, Turner again elects to stay in the car and watches from a distance.
As the ceremonial process progresses, Turner eyes the cemetery as he
sits behind the wheel of the car. Most of the cemetery is shaded by the large
trees and he begins to read some of the names Smith, Johanns, Ferguson on the
headstones close by. A scattering of color from the spring flowers that are
left behind on the graves of those who still get the occasional visitor.
“So, this is it,” he thinks to himself, “the final resting place, a deep dark hole in the ground where people come cry, cuss, share secrets or simply stand and carry on a normal conversation with a dead person.” Its so final, its so dead. He returns his attention to Eli’s graveside. Far off in the distance, Turner sees a young black boy no more than twelve years old wearing a straw hat and white shirt and large pants standing next a large tombstone, apparently watching the funeral of Eli Johnson. The boys head hangs down as if in prayer.
Turner moves his attention back to the Johnson family as the ceremony ends, the attendees walk past the widow, still seated in a wooden folding chair, give their condolences by shaking her hand, and move on to their cars. Several minutes passes before the crowd disperses, leaving the widow and family alone to say their last goodbyes.
He watches the frail woman stand, take two steps toward the bronze casket, she leans over and kisses the cold metal, saying her last goodbye. She turns and walks toward the car that brought her, supported under each arm by her two sons, a man standing next to the rear door opens it, she leans over, disappearing into back seat. One son enters behind her as the other walks around the other side and enters through the other door. The family leaves, apparently not noticing the two people watching from afar.
Turner gets out of the car and walks over the final resting place of Eli Joseph Johnson, he looks up expecting to see the young black boy but he was gone. The caretakers begin to shovel the dirt back into the hole where the old man lay. Turner stands at the end of the hole with his hands crossed over one another and stares down, not understanding what had just happened a few days earlier.
His feelings mixed. He feels some anger at what the old man had done. “He took the ultimate sacrifice, and for what?” He thinks. “There is now a wife with out a husband, and children with out a father. What right did he have to do that” Sadness was for those of his family and friends. They no longer get to enjoy this man.
He notices a beaming ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds onto the top of Eli Johnson’s bronzed casket. Turner looks up and follows the bath of the ray into the clouds and as quickly as the ray appeared the clouds close and the ray is gone. Turner smiles for a moment and senses a swelling of tears in his eyes; he turns and walks back to his car, starts it and exits the same way he came in.
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