Atticus sat in the front row at his mother’s funeral. His mother lay in a cheap-looking green casket fifteen feet in front of him. Her funeral was supposed to start fifteen minutes ago, but nobody had showed, so Atticus asked the proceedings to wait. The clergy member he paid to give service sat outside the room in the hallway drinking coffee. Every few minutes he would peek his head in and ask if he should begin service. Atticus didn’t like the way the searching look the man gave him.
Atticus stood up and walked up to the wooden podium placed left of his mother. He looked at the empty seats for a moment, began to speak, then faltered. “This is stupid,” He thought. He was about to sit down when the clergy member walked back into the room. He sat in the front row and put his folder in the chair next to him.
“Looks like you’ve got something to say,” The clergy member said.
“It’s silly. There’s no one here,” Atticus said.
“I won’t lie to you, I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff in my calling, but I’ve never seen a whole funeral where no-one showed up,” The clergy man said, “Who are we waiting on?”
“I don’t know.”
“They’re going to need this room again sooner or later. If you want to get started you’d best do it now. I don’t think you really need me to preach to you, although I will if you want, I think I’d be of best service to listen,” The clergy man said. Atticus nodded. “You’d best get started.”
Atticus gripped to podium with two hands then dropped them awkwardly back to his sides. He could get the words out.
“Just start talking,” The clergy man said, “Let it kind of flow out of you.”
“My father told me that the two most important relationships in your life are to God and then your spouse,” Atticus said, “He used to tell me when I misbehaved that I shouldn’t make him choose sides between her and me, because he would pick her every time. He loved her very much. I don’t remember them fighting at all. They stayed married until he died. Most people don’t stay married anymore. I could always tell their relationship would make it. It would have been the worst shock of my life if they had gotten a divorce.” Atticus shook his head. “Is this okay?”
“Just keep talking,” The clergy man said.
“When he died it was like I lost two parents,” Atticus said, “I never knew any different than when they were together. My mother was always with my father. I never thought of her as a single person. She was always Mom. I don’t even think our relationship ever got past when I was a child. I kept growing but she didn’t allow our relationship to grow. I remember her saying things like, ‘The best times were when your father was alive and you were small.’ I didn’t know what to say about that. It was like she made a choice of where she was comfortable with me and that’s where she stayed. Time’s a bitch though, it doesn’t allow for anything to stay the same.”
“That’s not all, is it?” The clergy man said.
“No,” Atticus said, “Sorry I said bitch.”
“I think part of her not changing was that I wasn’t a very good person. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had no real plan for my life. I had a way of messing things up. I was barely eeking by and my life was ending one day at a time. I don’t think I’m a very good person. I don’t think I’m worth very much. I don’t think anyone will give a shit when I’m dead. My mother probably thought the way she did because when I was little my life had endless possibilities. The older I got, the more my useless reality began to set in. I’m nothing. Why would any Mom want a nothing for a child?” Atticus frowned.
“What happened to your mom?” The clergy man said.
“I don’t know,” Atticus said. He began to cry.
“You said you were the one who’s supposed to die alone,” The clergy man said, “How come she’s the one?”
“I told you I don’t know,” Atticus said, “I kind of lost track of her, you know? I got older and moved out. I got a job. I didn’t call, write or visit much. I just kind of lost her. I don’t know what she did every day. I don’t know who she spent her time with. Why she’s alone at her death? I don’t know.”
“What do you think about that?” The clergy man said.
“I think that maybe I’m more like her than I may have thought,” Atticus said, “Maybe I’m just as guilty of not wanting our relationship to grow past what it was. I know I was bitter when my father died. I had my own life and didn’t want to be saddeld with taking care of her. She was always very touchy when I saw her and I’m not that kind of person. I think she always knew this but would invade my personal space anyway. It was like she thought she had a right to hug and kiss me just because I was her child. I didn’t have the courage to tell her I was uncomfortable to her face because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. However, I think she used that to her advantage too! Her personal space blitzcrigues made me avoid her all the more. It’s very complicated.”
“Where are you going with this?” The clergy man said.
“I feel like I’ve failed in my life again. Just another link to a long chain of fucking up. Here I am at my mom’s funeral and there’s nobody here. I should have known this was going to happen. I should have known my mother was alone.”
“Maybe,” The clergy man said, “She’s not totally alone. You’re here. She’s not even really ‘here’ anyway. Was your mother a Christian?”
“I think so.”
“Did you ever go to church with your parents when you were a child?”
“We went to a Methodist church for awhile,” Atticus said.
“My family was real involved with the church,” Atticus said, “We were there almost every Sunday. They left because a lesbian couple wanted to have their adopted baby baptized in the church and the church wouldn’t do it.”
“So they left?” The clergy man said.
“They did. They didn’t think the child should suffer for the parent’s decisions. The church may have a beef with what the parent’s were doing, but they shouldn’t have an issue with a baby,” Atticus said.
“What did you think about that?”
“I used to agree with my parents,” Atticus said, “It just doesn’t make sense to not baptize anyone, especially a baby. When I got older and thought about it more, by having a baptism with a lesbian couple in the front of the church the church is making a pretty huge public statement. I can see both sides of the issue. I still think they should have baptized the baby. Love the sinner, right?”
“It would have probably taken a lot of courage on the part of the church to do that baptism,” The clergy man said.
“Anyway, they left the church,” Atticus said, “They never went back. My father told me that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Do you agree?”
“I think that could be true. There really isn’t any perfect formula to becoming a Christian. It all boils down to a person’s personal relationship with God,” The clergy man said, “Do you believe in God?”
“I think so,” Atticus said.
“You either do or you don’t,” The clergy man said, “Would you come down here please? It feels kind of odd talking to you standing up there behind that podium.” Atticus walked over and sat in the chair next to the clergy man. He continued, “Where your mother is now is between her and God. If I were you I would feel confident that he is taking care of her. It sounds like you and your mother both faltered a bit in your adult relationship with each other. There’s nothing you can do about that now and it will do you no good the suffer yourself about it. Say goodbye to your mom. Make your peace. Get your ass in church and get on with things.”
“I will,” Atticus said, “should I pay you now?”
The clergy man looked around the empty room. “I don’t think I would feel right taking money for doing this. Show up in church, any church, and we’ll call it even,” he said.
“Okay,” Atticus said. The clergy man patted him on the shoulder, got up and left.
Atticus stood up and walked over to his mother. She didn’t look like he remembered her. Her skin shined and a plastic kind of way. Her flesh looked sunken. She was thin. Atticus didn’t know whether this was from the funeral director’s preparation of her body, or if she’d lost weight before she died. Atticus thought she was wearing too much make-up.
“Goodbye mom,” Atticus said. He thought he should kiss her, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Randolph, the funeral director, spoke softly to him from the door.
“I hope everything was satisfactory,” he said, “I hate to do this but we are well over time to begin the burying ceremony. May I begin preparations to move your mother?”
“I’m done here,” Atticus said. Randolph walked in and gently closed the coffin lid. Atticus tried to keep in his mind his last look at his mother as the shadow of the coffin lid passed her face and shut her away forever.
“I won’t be going with you to the graveyard,” Atticus said.
“Everything is prepared. Are you sure?” Randolph said.
“I think you took advantage of me,” Atticus said.
“I only did what you asked. Nothing more. Your mother couldn’t have had better care upon her passing. What else would you have had me do?”
“Forget it,” Atticus said, “Enjoy my money.”
“I regret this conversation,” Randolph said, “I really do.”
“I hope you so,” Atticus said. He walked out of the funeral home and made the miles slowly home on foot.