Congratulations to Mary Ellen Lives of Waterloo, South Carolina, the recipient of the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award for November 2013.
A Damn Good Funeral
It was Gerald’s mother who asked Shelly to sing, so really the whole fight was her fault. She never liked Gerald’s wife. She called Lesa trailer trash, though many of the deputies at the mortuary that day had a hard time separating the wheat from the chafe.
“I asked Shelly to sing at the funeral because she has a beautiful voice,” Gerald’s mother explained later to the WTFT reporter. “Everyone at church always said so. Even Lesa.”
Of course, that was before Lesa knew Gerald had been stepping out with Shelly, meeting her in motels when he was supposed to be on patrol. Lesa found out right there at the funeral. Something about how Shelly sang the word “grace.” Or maybe it was the way she looked at Gerald in the casket when she drew out “amazing.” Perhaps it was the glare she gave Lesa when she clipped the consonants on “wretch.”
Whatever the word, Lesa knew in that instant that Deputy Sheriff Gerald Alt, father of her six children and her husband for the last five years, had been sneaking off and screwing this skinny blond soprano from the choir loft at First Baptist. She heard gossip, of course, but refused to believe it. When the truth became undeniable, there surrounded by tasteful floral arrangements of lilies and forget-me-nots, Lesa couldn’t contain herself.
“She knows how to throw a punch,” Gerald’s partner Eddie Blanch commented the next day. “For a big girl, I mean. It’s usually the wiry ones that do the damage in a cat fight. Quicker on their feet.”
Lesa knew just where to hit, landing one right on the throat. She learned the move in Gerald’s Take Back the Night self-defense class. Lesa knew her late husband would have been angry with her, breaking the rules by going on the attack. Shelly’s hand had whipped up to her neck. Her eyes bulged, her knees buckled. Gerald’s mother screamed. Eddie ran to the front of the funeral parlor, along with Sheriff Plover who was there to pay his respects, even though he had planned to fire Gerald for dereliction of duty.
But he didn’t have to fire Gerald, him dying like that in his garage, the pick-up falling off the blocks onto his chest, caving in his lungs, puncturing his heart. Some cruel folk said it served him right, that the location and extent of his injuries were a condemnation from God for breaking the seventh commandment with a soprano.
Gerald’s mother tried to calm Lesa down but Lesa called her awful names in front of Reverand Hilt, who held his Bible in the air like something might spill out.
“You probably wish it had been me killed under that Chevy,” Lesa said.
Gerald’s mother backed away, a stricken look on her face like a secret had just been revealed.
The Sheriff ordered Eddie to handcuff Lesa right there with her children watching, including Gerry Junior, his arm still in a cast from that spill he took on the four-wheeler.
“Do you have to take her away like this?” Reverend Hilt asked. “We’re burying her husband today, after all.”
“I’m sorry, Reverend,” Eddie said. “I have to follow orders.”
The reverend gave Sheriff Plover a beseeching look.
The sheriff turned to the handcuffed Lesa, held tight in Eddie’s grasp. “Calm down now, girl. Have some respect. This nonsense can wait till after the service.”
“I bet you knew what was going on all along.” Lesa spat at the sheriff’s feet.
Sheriff Plover’s pock-marked nose flared with anger. “Take her away. A few hours in a cell will teach her.”
“But it’s his funeral,” Gerald’s mother said.
Eddie looked over at Shelly, prostrate on the floor at the foot of the casket, her face bright red. She held her throat and made strange sounds like a cat hacking up a fur ball. A siren could be heard, approaching.
“A damn good one at that,” Eddie said.
Later, the rumor went around that a melee had broken out. They said the casket was knocked over, causing Gerald’s body to roll onto the floor. But that was just embellishment to make it a better story. Still, even now, Eddie will sometimes drive over to First Baptist for Sunday service just to hear Shelly’s sweet soprano sweeping toward him from the choir loft.