As the cars disappeared and the dust settled, Clyde, Joe, and the cemetery workers were the only ones left. Joe walked back to the gravesite.
Still standing by the drive, Clyde heard the wench groan and watched as the gravediggers lowered Mary’s oak coffin into the copper-lined vault, attached the lid, and transferred the mound of dirt. After the workers dismantled the tent and stacked the funeral parlor chairs into the van that had carried the bouquets and left, hat in hand, Clyde walked to the flower-draped grave. The ribbon on a spray of yellow roses said, Beloved Mom. A wicker basket of white lilies, lavender gladiolas, and green asparagus fern had a white ribbon with gold words, Cherished Grandmother. Aunt was inscribed on the ribbon in a bouquet of sunflowers, yellow daisies, pink roses, and baby’s breath. A white ribbon, saying Great-Grandma, was wrapped around a heart of red rosebuds. There were more, but these were the only bouquets he cared about. These were from his family
He knelt on the grass surrounding the grave and recited the Lord’s Prayer. He asked God for forgiveness. He had said things he regretted. His actions had caused harm. Clyde was sorry, and he would repent, if he knew how.
The sky sparkled in the sun like it a sapphire, and as Clyde watched a lone cloud float to the east, he heard a familiar voice. “Clyde, are you okay?”
It was his sister-in-law, Zora, Roy’s wife. “I didn’t see you.”
“I was in the car with Charles and Leta, but decided to get out and come back.”
Clyde looked to the sky. “I was wondering if the sparkling sky is God’s way of hiding heaven. Do you think Mary can see us? Would she be laughing at me standing by her graveside, showing love, too little, too late?”
Zora and Mary had been active in the Methodist church and remained friends after the divorce. “Mary and I didn’t see as much of each other after she moved, but I knew her bitterness didn’t lessen. I’d imagine she’d tell you to go home to Ethel, your wife.”
“I wish I could have said something to Mary before she died, but her stroke was so quick. I’d like to know what she’s feeling now. It’s times like this that I fear death has the final word.” Clyde paused a moment looking at the grave. “Zora, not one of my kids came over to give me a hug, shake my hand. No one looked at me as they were leaving.”
“Clyde, you stubborn old fool. You think it’s all about you. Your kids, your grandkids should come to you, console you. Today is not about you. It’s about Mary, her family’s love. Thinking only of yourself is what got you here, alone.”
Anger was coming to a rolling boil in Clyde. His mouth began to open, ready to spew irate words. With little facial expression, Zora stood firm and watched, pursed lips the only sign of anger. Clyde chose to leave the comment be. “Have my kids forgiven me?”
“Clyde, your kids haven’t forgotten, but they’ve moved on. They took care of Mary when she needed help. I don’t know if they’ve forgiven you. Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re right. I’m a stubborn old fool. My pride won’t let me ask for forgiveness.”
“This ain’t politics, Clyde. This is family.”
“Zora, remember our Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Swagart?”
“Yes, but why in heaven’s name are you bringing her name up? She’s been gone a long time. Mrs. Swagart would have said you need to be with your family, no matter how uncomfortable you feel, and she’d slap you up the side of the head or rap you on the knuckles with a ruler.”
“She talked about a God, who would listen to your words of repentance. She said He always forgives.”
“Well, Clyde, if you still believe that, then I guess you best get talking.”
“I did talk at Mary’s grave, asked her and God for forgiveness. I’ll never know if either heard.”
“None of us do.” Zora picked up a red rose from a bouquet, smelled it, and stuck the end in her purse. “I’m going to press this in my Bible” She paused a minute to look around the cemetery. “I’m going to leave you with your thoughts, Clyde. I need to go scold my husband.” Zora pointed in the direction of a row of monuments all saying Baker. “Your uncle Ben, his brothers and sisters, and your dad are all buried over there. When you’re done, come get me. I expect you to walk to the church with me. You can be with your kids. We’ll make it in time for dessert. My mouth is watering for some of Leta’s apple dumplings, and I know Bessie made your favorite cake, chocolate. You hear me, Clyde?”
Zora walked away. Clyde believed in God, and Christ, but he wasn’t sure about life after death, except what lived in his memories. He closed his eyes, attempting to see Mary and himself, good times before their marriage was torn apart.
There were many moments Clyde could’ve recalled. At church, Mary played piano for the choir, helped with bake sales, and led a ladies’ prayer circle, all as Mrs. Clyde Baker, not Mary. Mrs. Clyde increased his presence in the community, as if the deeds were his. As a wife, Clyde expected Mary to manage the home. He longed to see her in the blue bib apron with sunflowers, her hair in a bun as she cultivated her vegetable garden, hoed , sowed seeds, and planted cabbage, onion sets. He knew all summer Mary was busy harvesting her crop, red and yellow tomatoes, snap peas, green beans, pole beans, beets, and corn. She picked leaf lettuce, pulled radishes and onions, pickled cucumbers, made sauerkraut, and homemade horseradish.
Between church, home, and entertaining Clyde’s political friends, Mary had little time to herself. She and the kids did the work. Clyde’s time was increasingly devoted to politics. But this was the role he expected of his wife and kids.
Clyde remembered these things, but he could only see her still, silent, stone cold body locked within a coffin beneath. He would never see her face again, hear her voice, or taste her apple pies.
He thanked Mary for supporting him, his politics, and the kids, but his words lingered over the grave, then nestled among the funeral flowers to be thrown in the trash when cemetery crews cleaned.
Clyde knew his kids could not forget their mother’s loneliness after the divorce. Mary depended on close friends visiting her. It didn’t happen often; they continued with their own lives in Weldon. Mary struggled to keep food on the table, even though she still canned from her new, smaller garden.
Behind his closed eyes, Mary’s death mask faded, and Clyde was left with nothing. Was this black void all Mary was seeing? He mouthed the words, rest in peace, and opened his eyes. Clyde still tried to see her face, but it was blown away with the wind rustling leaves in the gnarled oak tree, causing shadows to dance across Mary’s grave.
Clyde walked through the cemetery, the path of his genealogy, but he only saw death as a vast unknown among the granite, marble, slate, fieldstone, and sandstone headstones. He saw family names engraved on them along with: anchors, angels, arches, crowns, conches, columns, palms, poppies, pillows, lambs, lilies, laurel, and lions.