Scenes from a Funeral
One day, Arthur was discovered dead. Arthur, the child who everybody despised. He had drowned in the little pond near the back of his house. He had somehow gotten out the window of his bedroom, gone down beyond the garden, and slipped past the screen of trees to the edge of the water. His father had happened to be in the area at the time, taking a walk. He had tried to revive the boy, but it was too late. A few minutes earlier, perhaps … but no. In sad resignation, he brought his son’s tiny, bloated body back up to the house.
It seemed Arthur had swum out to the deep water and hadn’t been strong enough to come in again. An accident, they said. The parents grieved, naturally. He had been a curse—he had even kept, as a pet, a revolting little insect, with a hard, strong shell, a long antenna that twitched forward, and two big eyes, which horrified everybody—but still the parents grieved.
The ambulance came, covered the waterlogged body with a tarpaulin, and drove it away in the back of the van to be interred. The police decided it was a simple matter, and so did the rest of the town. A few perfunctory, routine questions were asked, the paperwork was filed, the death certificate was printed; no lengthy investigation was required.
A quick burial was arranged. Early on a weekday morning they held the funeral. The parents—husband and wife—were joined by their two older children, who hugged and comforted them outside the house. They thought it would be just them and the priest there. But when they stepped out of the car at the church, they were amazed to see that the whole community, previously estranged from them on account of Arthur, had turned out. The husband and wife were moved, even overcome. A simple service was held, a short prayer was read, and as the skies started to turn dark and windy, a small, austere headstone was unveiled above the grave, with Arthur’s name inscribed and the dates of his brief life.
Afterwards, the people all lined up in a long row, and the family walked slowly and carefully past them. The husband and wife were wearing their finest dress, and they stopped by each of the townsfolk in turn, leaning forward and nodding meekly as the mourner clasped hands and expressed his very sincerest condolences. Then they passed on to the next person in the line. They had tried their best, all the people said over and over; they had done everything they could for little Arthur, but the boy couldn’t be helped. It wasn’t their fault. And the husband and wife knew that this was true. They had given everything for their son.
Finally, with a last, doleful wave, and repeated wishes of care and condolence, the assembly scattered and drifted away under the grey skies. The priest expressed his sorrow and departed, and the family was left alone. The four of them walked slowly to the car and got inside together, the wife and husband in front, the two children behind. As they drove away from the church grounds, the rain began to come down at the bottom of the little hill where Arthur was buried, set among the thick bushes. The lone gravesite receded in the rear mirror. All four of them stared straight ahead. They said not a word to one another. In silent sympathy and understanding, the husband held the wife’s hand as he drove on. The children in the back held hands, too. They had all been through a lot together. They had suffered.
The hard, sturdy car drove on with the four of them inside, moving easily through the wet mud, the radio antenna sensitive and erect, and the two headlights beaming in front, piercing the fog and the cold. And, though the day was grey and rain-filled, the priest closing the door of the empty, sodden church fancied that he saw them smiling.