A Short Story by Donal Mahoney
Driving down the hill I see the same bend in the road the school bus took me around for years. I can see in the headlights the wildflowers ringing the curve like a necklace–goldenrod, cornflower, Queen Anne’s Lace, God’s gift to country roads in the fall. You don’t see anything like that in the city but I’m getting used to living there.
I see the house ahead, one light on, upstairs. It’s midnight and my father’s dead and my mother’s in that room praying and maybe crying, waiting for me to pull in. She knows it’s a six-hour drive from the city.
The wake will be tomorrow night at Egan’s mortuary. There will be 15 decades of the rosary to say and I still have trouble getting through five. Then there will be three hours of listening to my mother’s friends console her, ancient ladies all, many of them widowed long before her.
Many times my mother has been in their place so she knows what they will say but she will find some comfort in it anyway. The old farmers still alive will simply say “sorry for your troubles” which serves as both a condolence and a prayer.
Mass will be at 10 in the morning with Father Murphy in the pulpit sounding like Bishop Sheen. My dad told me long ago that when he finally died Father Murphy would confer sainthood on him at the funeral, no need for any miracles. Father Murphy has a long history of canonizing every farmer who dies unless he committed one of the seven deadly sins in public. My father said he hoped Father Murphy would talk loud enough for God to hear.
After the procession to the graveyard and the consignment of the casket, everyone will drive back to the church hall for the funeral meal–wonderful food prepared by good women and arranged in a long buffet.
The farmers will assure my mother they will be out to her place tomorrow and the next day to put up the hay. After the hay is taken care of, they will take turns coming to feed the cattle and they’ll go to town to pick up whatever she needs. Things will work out, they will tell her. Not to worry.
After everyone has eaten, the ladies, one by one, will rise and bow to my mother and tell her to go home now and get some rest.
The men will shake hands with me and ask how long before I have to go back to the city. I’ll say I have a week, maybe two, uncertain as to what night I’ll have to leave. I know it will be around midnight. And the same light will be on, upstairs.