by Julie Young
The sun and humidity showed no compassion for the bereaved. The undertaker opened six double hung windows an hour before the service but the prairie wind was hot and unsettled and it whipped and twisted the thin curtains made by the Ladies Aid and blew the service programs from a folding chair and finally Pastor Meinken closed the windows. Perspiring mourners wearing suits and best cotton dresses crawled from pickup trucks and used cars and sluggishly mounted the stairs of the little, white, steepled church, their burden as heavy as the anvils in their farm yards. At 2:05 p.m. Mrs. Wizer pumped the organ pedals and as the old instrument moaned and the congregation stood to sing Beautiful Savior, an usher helped Ruth and Theo Schott to the front pew. The open casket was close enough for them to touch it where they sat but they did not. Ruth leaned her head on Theo’s shoulder and held a worn and limp handkerchief over her mouth.
Across the aisle Sally Westerly sat looking at the coffin. Under her yellow sundress her thighs were stuck to the pew, and her arms itched from last night’s mosquito bites. Sally was seven. In a little while she and Daphne Lutz and Donald Pfaff would stand and sing Jesus Loves Me for the boy in the coffin and his parents and all who were assembled. Those were Pastor Meinken’s words. “We are here assembled.”
Sally stared at the boy’s slicked-down blonde hair and white face and light blue shirt. He was four years old, her brother’s age. The boy looked fine to her, not at all broken or bruised, but when a fly buzzed around his mouth and then over his folded hands, she saw that he did not dash it away and she knew he was dead. Next to her Daphne sucked on the end of one braid and swung her legs rhythmically, as if she had to pee, but Sally sat stiffly, hardly breathing, her eyes intent on the fly. When they close the lid will the fly be in there, she wondered.
Then a tremendous sobbing and gasping and groaning rose up somewhere behind her and Sally turned to see Owen Klein. She knew he was Ruth Schott’s brother-in-law and that three days ago he had backed up a truck against a stock tank without knowing that his nephew was there watching water bugs flit and scoot across the stagnant water. Owen’s white shirt was stained and wet and untucked, his dark hair was hanging over his eyes and his face was red and unshaven. His shoulders shook and heaved forward and from his mouth came sounds Sally had never heard from her father or uncles or any man and she knew it was called guilt and she wondered: Did Jesus love him?
“Jesus Loves Me” was previously published in The Timberline Review, No. 2, Winter/Spring 2016.
Julie Young is a writer and community activist living in Portland, Oregon. Her literary prose is influenced by a Midwest prairie childhood, the wildness of the Pacific Northwest, and her social work career. Julie’s short fiction has been published in The North Coast Squid and The Timberline Review.