by Susan Gibb
Susan Gibb is the very first writer ever published by Pure Slush. Her story Black Bears and Green Broccoli Trees appeared online on 8th December 2010, and she has contributed on many occasions since. It was to Susan, an enthusiastic cook, that Pure Slush editor Matt Potter turned to provide the menu (to start things rolling) for the novel in stories, gorge Pure Slush Vol. 4. Later, Susan also provided the final, chilling story for the anthology, The Watcher. Wow! endings are a particular talent of Susan’s.
The song floated through the room, weeping tears over the assembly of mourners. Many of the men were crying, which she found surprising. And touching, for the man who was now mere ashes in an urn set between two glorious bouquets and a framed photo on the table in front of them must have been even more loved than she’d have guessed. A friend’s husband, she didn’t know him well and didn’t realize how many people he’d affected.
As the last trilled words turned into mist, sniffles and throat-clearing coughs cut into threatening silence. Like the spin of car tires out a driveway, or the plane shrinking in the expanse of blue sky. The finality of the moment, the realization of over-ness, of being done but bogged down with the mandate to turn around and go on. She opened her purse, pulled out a tissue, snapped the purse closed to add her own sound into the declaration of living.
Three, she thought, three. A young man was eulogizing, one hand full of papers and the other gripping the edge of the oak podium. Her mind wandered and lost concentration on the words. Her lack of attention had given way to her personal fears. Three on a match. Death comes in threes. Her friend’s husband had completed the cycle and that’s what had hit her when she’d first heard the news. A sense of relief came in on the same wave of sympathy. Relief. And each time she thought of it, shame.
Funny how the old idioms stand the test of time. Human nature held onto its truths as tightly as its flaws. Old sayings still rang familiar, even though we try our damnedest to put them to rest with innovations and intentions. She’d been progressive too, leaving both God and old wives’ tales in the realm of an ignorant past. Yet they persisted. As she grew older, she recognized that.
Her dad had had a heart attack last summer. She’d taken the first flight out to go home. Losing the generation of aunts and uncles, teachers and bosses had seemed natural enough at the time. Until it hit her own family and the orphan-like feelings of being left alone and in charge. He’d pulled through with medical care and yes, prayers that suddenly seemed important and not magical wishing at all. It surprised her that she’d even remembered the words but there they were, beating around in her head and released in whispers. Hope overcomes guilt.
She shifted in her seat, the folding chair meant to be comfortable for up to an hour. She glanced at the program; the service was winding down. A speaker, a prayer, a final song, and it would be over.
Last week a colleague had succumbed to a long bout with cancer. Within a few days she’d received a call about a neighbor killed in an accident. Then this call from her friend. And yet when she’d hung up the phone she’d recognized that sense of relief. Three, she’d thought, three.
Her own voice blended in the hum of The Lord’s Prayer. She bit back the “Amen” she’d been taught by the nuns and murmured, “for the kingdom …” along with the others. When did that change? she wondered, but it didn’t seem all that vital to know. Maybe the nuns had had it all wrong.
She wasn’t the only mourner to sneak out and head home, avoiding the restaurant dinner following the service. Maybe they were hurrying off to a ball game or from a long day at work. Or maybe, like her, they just wanted to escape back to a normal that didn’t include death.
The phone rang as she opened the front door. As she reached to answer it she checked the caller I.D. Her stomach tightened into an impossibly hard ball. Her hand shook. And she had the immediate thought of a cycle of three being four.
published 24 January 2015