The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 41

the man who wasnt thereIt’s the day of Cliff’s funeral. Miles and Heath both get up to share memories about their friend. Others are invited to get up and speak as they remember Chase’s dad.

More than a dozen people spoke about knowing Cliff. Afterward, the priest motioned to Chase. He walked to the podium, face solemn. It took him a few moments of silence to compose himself. Marissa, Jordan and Brian smiled encouragingly. Drawing a deep breath, he began.

“When I was a kid, everyone in town called me Chip because I was so much like my daddy. I was a chip off the old block and I was always proud when they called me that. Most teenagers, they rebel against their folks, but I never did, because my parents are the greatest people I know. My mom, as you’re aware, can’t be here to say goodbye to her husband, because her heart—” He choked on a sob. “… broke when we found him.” He wrung his hands, lips trembling. “I feel—like I have this hole—right here.” He pointed to his chest. “Because my dad is gone. But everything he was, he gave to me. The man I will become, I attribute to my father because he was and is the best—the best….” He broke down, unable to finish.

Marissa ran to his side, taking him in her arms. The priest came forward and escorted them back to their seats. He motioned to the choir director who started playing the organ. Guitars and other instruments joined the choir as they sang Amazing Grace. Afterward, the priest gave a final blessing and asked for the pall bearers to come forward. Cliff’s three brothers, along with Miles, Heath and Brian, stepped forward. They took their positions beside the casket and led the congregation to the cemetery. The musicians followed, playing Cliff’s favorite song, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. The choir walked with them, singing the haunting lyrics in eight part harmony.

As the coffin was lowered into the grave, they played Go Rest High on that Mountain by Vince Gill. Marissa stepped forward as the singing started, her lyrical soprano soaring over the others, carrying the song to heaven. The crowd moved slowly past the hole, dropping dirt onto the coffin. Chase stood by the graveside, watching as each handful clattered onto the wooden lid. He didn’t cry, but his jaw worked and he blinked hard every few seconds.

Brian walked over to his friend, putting his arm around his shoulders. Jordan went to the other side. Marissa held his hand as she sang, tears running down her face. The others chosen from their generation, surrounded Chase, all of them holding hands and showing their support. Their parents stood across from them, sorrowful, but proud. This was the comradeship their children needed. It was a pity that it had taken death to solidify them, but Cliff’s passing had served an unexpected purpose. It had unified these diverse, recalcitrant teens into a determined fighting force. They recognized his sacrifice and were determined that his death would not be in vain.

There was a reception at the parish hall. The friends waited with Chase as the last shovel of dirt was tapped down on the grave. In pairs, they walked to the hall, giving what comfort they could to Chase and one another.

Marissa joined Chase in the family receiving line. As the eldest child and only member of the immediate family present, he was the first in line with Marissa by his side. Cynthia stood next to them and her brothers lined up by age. Their parents had chosen not to stand in the line. They had taken Cliff’s death badly and his father’s health was poor. They sat nearby, acknowledging condolences as people left the line.

Once that formality was over, the teenagers gathered at a table. Marissa kept plying Chase with food, which he politely declined. Seeing that she was getting upset, Jordan took the matter in hand. Coming up behind him, she tapped Chase on the shoulder. He turned slowly to face her. Seeing her frown, he sat up straighter.

“What’s wrong, Jordan?”

“Eat,” she demanded, shoving a plate of food in his face.

“I’m not hungry.”

“When’s the last time you had a proper meal?”

Chase shrugged, closing himself off. Jordan tapped him harder.

“What, Jordan?” he asked angrily.

“You’re going to eat,” she commanded. “Or you and I are going to have a call to prayer meeting—you know, like your dad had with mine?”

Marissa had to cover her mouth so she wouldn’t laugh.

“I’d never hit a girl,” Chase said, his ears going red. “Prayer meetings aren’t for little girls anyway.”

“Oh, you think a little bitty thing like me can’t beat your buff, footballer ass?”

Eyes wide, Marissa gasped.

Cynthia walked over, puzzled frown on her face. “Is there a problem here?”

“Chase won’t eat,” Jordan pointed out. “He seems to have some noble idea that starving himself will make up for the fact that his father is gone. Not sure how that works, are you?”

Cynthia frowned. “Nope. Starvation is a pretty nasty way to go. Are you sure, nephew?”

“Would y’all just leave me alone! I said I’m not hungry.” His stomach growled.

“Your belly’s made a liar of you,” Brian said, grinning.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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