by Bobbie Jean Huff
Let me begin by offering my condolences, I said,
holding out my hand. She shook out her umbrella
and placed it open, just beside the altar. They thought
it was an ulcer, she said. They gave him some tablets.
Did he have any special requests? I asked. Favorite
hymns? Or something for Communion, like maybe
Water Music? He was worse by Christmas, she said.
He couldn’t manage the pumpkin pie. He always loved
my pumpkin pie. The King of Love is nice, I said. I
opened the book to page 64. As an alternate to Crimond,
you know. Most people don’t recognize it as the 23rd
Psalm. In January his feet turned black, she said. Toe by
toe. It took exactly ten days. The shadow of a branch
moved slowly back and forth behind the stained glass.
I thought: When I get home I’ll check my toes. Will
there be Communion? I asked, finally.
The last three days he started to hiccup, she said.
He wouldn’t take any water. It never stopped, the
hiccupping. Not once, not one minute until he went. I
could play Pachelbel’s Canon. That’s very popular now.
There’s no reason it can’t work at funerals as well as
weddings. At the very end, she said—then stopped, her
eyes squeezed shut behind her glasses—as if the
rejected water, each wretched hiccup, and every
blackened toe formed a chain she could use to haul
herself back to September, when she would claim
him, finally whole again.
She reached for her umbrella and frowned. Play
what you like, she said. He was never fond of music.
Not hymns, anyhow. Only once in fifty-three years
did I catch him singing. You are My Sunshine, I
believe it was.
Bobbie Jean Huff has published short stories, essays, and poems in various Canadian literary journals and newspapers. She has been the recipient of a Canada Council Arts Grant as well as an Ontario Arts Grant, and she received first prize in a cross-Canada fiction contest sponsored by Queen’s University. She has just finished her second novel and has begun the process of getting both published.