Bob watched the crowd with growing disdain. Their heads were bowed in silence, save for a smattering of young ones who played with cars or stared at the strange adults around them, and the pompous charade came to its completion. “Amen,” said the preacher, and “Amen,” mimicked the crowd, and out they dispersed from the rows of uncomfortable pews and into the next room that was ready to receive them. Bob followed, wondering what they were doing here, wondering what purpose this act would serve. Who was being worshiped here? The living, or the dead?
The catering was delightful, of course. For the church, it was merely a business expense. Fine wine with cheeses and breads. Cigars for the so-called gentlemen and cigarettes for the ladies. A few select individuals began passing around brandy. The conversations were polite and semi-private. It’s all such a terrible loss, such a tragedy. Everyone says the right words and expresses the appropriate feelings. And by the fire, Bob stews in his growing resentment.
A hush falls over the room and hangs like the smoke in the air. Catherine has entered now. Now the performances can truly begin. She still wears her veil, a monstrosity of mourning and decoration. Black feathers and black pearls go well to match the black circles under her middle-aged eyes. The whites around her pupils are tinged with just enough pink to allow others to know that she’s still crying, still deep in mourning. And they obliged this sight, as it gives them grounds to put on their own displays as well. He was such a wonderful man, we shall all miss him so. Too young, too soon, but God’s will be done. The circle of self-serving sadness and sympathy only grows in strength as Catherine passes through the room.
Bob watches with a single finger touched to his temple and his hat in his lap while the emotional sharks feed in the bloody water.
She comes to a couch and the other woman scatter with just enough haste to feign their respect for the new widow. She thanks them in public and curses them in secret and slowly removes her veil. She’s ready now, Bob thinks. Now she’s ready for the real sympathy to begin. The preacher soon joins her and calls the attention of the room.
“Ms. Catherine wishes for all of us to exchange fond memories of the departed to help ease her suffering.” He pauses and clasps her hands in his, giving a gentle pat that borders on condescension. “Who among us would like to share first?”
Bob snorts, and the pretense of the room is shattered like bursting glass.
“Y’all hated him,” Bob says while grooming his hat. “Every one of ya.” The smoke seemed to grow thicker, as if to hide the lying eyes of the small crowd. Catherine’s crocodile tears suddenly dried, and the preacher attempted to speak in the widow’s defense, but Bob cut him off before the first word came out.
“Even you hated him, preacher. Ya, ya, love the sinner and hate the sin. We’re all God’s children. But you know, like I know, you held no feelings toward him.” The preacher stayed silent, as did Catherine. A pause lingered in the smokey room, and Bob wondered if anyone would object against him. None did.
“This son of a bitch that you’re all swoonin’ over now was the most selfish man I ever met. Catherine here, God bless her soul, is a saint to have endured his heavy hand. He drank at the expense of others and his own. He’s left nothing behind for the only person who made an honest effort to love the man, despite his whorin’.” Bob shook his head. “I’m sorry, Catherine, I really am. You deserve better than this, better than these words. But he got what he deserved. Death by his own stupid, drunken hand. He gambled away what was probably the last cent in his own home and called the man who won it a liar and a thief. Then he pulls his own knife out to become what he accused the honest man of being.”
Bob stood, and the room seemed to step away from him. “There’s no mournin’ that needs to occur here today. Praise Jesus, that’s all,” Bob said. “Praise Jesus. That fucker is dead.”