Final Grade

by E.D.Cota

The funeral parlor was beautiful and Laura was glad to see Aunt Mary show up. It had been a long time since she had seen her, what, with her being ill and all, and a sense of comfort filled her at this point. Aunt Mary leaned on an old wooden cane and limped slowly to the pink, silk laden casket. It was accented with brilliant golden handles and held a magnificent shine. Vibrant red roses were draped over the lower, closed half and two large, floral wreaths had been donated and placed next to the head and foot sides of the church truck, where the body rested comfortably within the confines of the casket. The lights had been lowered and softened, giving the whole setting an ominous glow, and more flower arrangements were brought in, encompassing the deceased. Other people began to file in and Laura recognized most of them. A few were colleagues from work, close family and distant relatives she hadn't seen in years. One by one, they all filled the room and shuffled tearfully to the well loved corpse perched in the front of the chapel. Laura's mother, Vivian, came up next and kneeled at the blue velvet prayer bench. She was crying so hard, all the words she proposed to speak, came out as indiscernible blubbering. She reached out and lightly touched the right hand of the cold body. Icy fingers of the once warm and vibrant, young flesh made her gasp in shock, flooding her eyes in a torrent of tears. She wailed horribly as Laura's father, who was also visibly distraught, took her under the shoulders and pulled her up from the bench, carefully placing her into the closest seat he could find. Laura hated seeing her parents like this. It made her feel sad and hollow to see them in such a state. In fact, there was not a dry eye in the room. She could barely hear herself think over the immense grief that filled the chapel. More visitors made their way to the body to pay respects, bawling, shaking their weary heads in disbelief.

" Soon It will all be over." she thought.

A distant door slamming, interrupted her thoughts, and the crowd settled down a bit. Footsteps clopped by her rather noisily, to reveal a hefty man in a pressed black suit donning a white collar, with thinning silver hair and horn rimmed glasses. He stopped at the lectern, and plopped down a medium sized black book. The pastor motioned for the directors to shut the back doors. They closed with a gentle thud, which for some odd reason, Laura thought quite considerate of him. He flipped through pages for what seemed like forever, and stopped when he found what he was looking for. Looking out into the sea of watery eyes and runny noses, he began to speak. The service had begun.

The pastor's gruff voice bellowed passionately and his belly shook as he spoke of the many departed souls crossing over into God's kingdom. How their suffering was over, but not in vain. He directed his audience towards his own life experiences, citing different passages from the bible, weaving them into his eulogy, trying his best to comfort the grieving families. Laura remained still and silent as she listened. After a half hour or so, he summed up his speech, and invited people to come up and share a few words about the deceased. Five or six people rose to their feet and formed a short line at the podium. Laura shifted into a daydream and missed most of the conversations, just catching bits and pieces of words, tangled in belts of sobbing. Laura wondered how priests and ministers could go on such blind faith, pointing their condemning finger at everyone who didn't follow the same path. What was the right path? What does the scorecard need to read to get a passing grade into heaven? If a single point was missed, did that mean a straight, razor blade slide, into the fiery bowels of Hell? Gazing motionless in a whirlwind of thought, her mother's voice pierced Laura's thoughts, jerking her back from the dream. The outpouring of emotion was overwhelming. Vivian recalled of earlier days, a different time, when life was just a bit less complicated, and although she didn't understand God's plan, she reluctantly accepted it. Laura heard her mom break down hard at the end. The sorrowful tone of her voice plunged deep into Laura's heart, making her dizzy, but she continued her unwavered silence. With the service over, the group all stood and made their way to the casket for a final farewell, before the trip to the cemetery. Laura didn't move. All the emotions in the room danced around her head like a moth to a flame, decreasing her equilibrium. As the last of the visitors left the chapel, the last thing she witnessed, was a tall man dressed in a black suit and tie, stretching his arms in her direction, then she blacked out. The trip to the cemetery didn't take very long, but the roads were very bumpy. This jostled Laura into foggy consciousness, shifting her back and forth as the funeral car made it's way through the twisty turns and broken pavement inside the cemetery grounds. She kept her eyes closed the whole time. After what seemed to be a few, rough minutes, the car came to a perfect stop, followed by a multitude of slamming doors. Laura felt wobbly as she was assisted through the grassy hillside, arriving at a canopied clearing. The cries and broken voices of the chapel attendees soon followed, becoming louder, filling the crisp, autumn air. Suddenly, she became still and calm again. The fresh air, mixed with subtle nuances of raw earth, crept slowly over her face in tiny, short wisps. Laura could barely make out the muffled tones of the mourners as they hushed, allowing the pastor to perform his graveside services. He went on for the better half of an hour, again regaling the crowd with his tales of saints and sinners, as most priests often do.

The pastor cleared his throat, and went on for a short while longer. Laura waited patiently as he finished his sermon with the usual, ashes to ashes, dust to dust theme. Suddenly, there was a great bang, like someone had deliberately kicked the side of the casket. Then an audible squealing, like that of a malfunctioning shopping cart wheel rang in her ears as her whole body began to vibrate. The mourners around the casket sobbed heavily and gathered closer as the bottom edge disappeared from view. Bright flowers of all origins stacked high upon the top, covering it with a spectacular array of colors, spilling onto the ground. That dizzy feeling came over her again in a massive wave. She wondered, as she slowly descended, fully encased within six feet of neatly carved earth, a final thought, one unanswered question infiltrated her subconscious, seconds before she came to rest at the bottom.

"Did I pass?"

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