Fiction 2013 / flash fiction / Volume 43

Young Man Pallbearer — Peter Madsen

“I’m taking my mother and my sisters to the Opera and that new Persian restaurant downtown for Aunty Amelia’s birthday tomorrow.” My mother tells me at the dinner table.

“Well, aren’t you going to invite the guest of honor?”

“Honey.” A pause. “She died last year. You carried the casket. Remember?”

“This’ll be your toughest carry ever, boys.” The mortician tells me and my brother as he pins red flowers to our chests outside of the church. “They’ll all be milk runs after this. Down the center aisle, outside to a big, grand staircase and straight to the hearse. Straight shot.” He claps his hands together. His right hand shoots forward. “Simple as that. But that turn— it’s something. Don’t know what they were thinking when they built it. The boys and I almost had to flip the old lady on her end getting her in.” The church is old and the congregation meets upstairs. The narrow stairs switch directions in the middle. Downstairs, the women of the church make sandwiches—two pieces of bread and two thin slices of deli meat—for the homeless. He steps back and straightens my brother’s flower, declaring us ready with reassuring pats on the shoulder. “Nope, this is a fine way to start your careers as pallbearers, boys. All milk runs after this.” The stairs creak and threaten to fall out from underneath our feet. My brother and uncles and I walk down the stairs, keeping her level.

I read Marquez all day before dinner; I can’t remember who’s dead and who’s not. I say, “Oh yeah. The stairs.”

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