by Michelle Barger
A Summer Snow
August 30, 1968
The sky was dark over the ridge. The blue thunderclouds lay heavy against the timberline, which seemed to reach to the tips of God’s fingers. The day was wet and gloomy. Jeb was sitting in his living room chair. His shoes were off. “It sure is a blue day,” Libby said, looking out the front door. Jeb didn’t speak. “There seems to be a bite in the air for this time of the year,” said Libby. The sky toward town was filled with clouds. “I may be crazy, but I believe it is beginning to spit some snow.” Jeb didn’t answer her. She turned to him. He was still sitting up straight, but his head was tilted back slightly. His eyes were as clear as glass, and he seemed to be staring at her. He was smiling. His skin was pale. Libby went to him and picked up his right hand. She patted it ever so softly. “Honey?” He didn’t answer. “Jeb?” She never called him by his name. Still holding his hand, Libby sank to her knees in front of him. She began to cry, not a deep wail, but a soft tender sob, while rubbing his knee and lower pant leg. Even though the temperature in the room hadn’t changed, she shivered as she sat on the floor in silence. Strangely, she decided that he might be cold, so Libby rose from the floor to get an afghan from the couch and draped it across his lap. Her fingers gently closed his eyelids. She leaned over and kissed his forehead and then his lips, barely touching them with hers. His lips were soft but cool to the touch. This was the first time he had ever not kissed her back. She thought how strange that felt to her. Bewildered, Libby wasn’t sure what he could see or feel, if anything. She sat down in her chair, beside his, and took his hand. Her mind was telling her to reach out to someone, to call someone, but she was reluctant. When his hand dropped from hers, she slowly moved toward the telephone. She was very composed as she dialed the number of the hardware store. Libby was shocked when Dillard answered the phone himself. Even though Libby had thought about this conversation a thousand times since Jeb became ill, she couldn’t think of the right words. She gulped a breath of air and said softly, “Dillard. He’s gone.” Neither of them spoke until finally, Libby took another deep breath. Slowly, she formed a simple phrase that set into motion the madness that would follow. She didn’t wait for him to respond. She gave clear, concise instructions. “Go find Lurline. It’s Friday afternoon, she’s probably at Wendy’s Beauty Shop. Dillard, don’t you call her, she will go all to pieces. I don’t want her to find out from anybody else.” Libby knew that Lurline would melt into a puddle when she heard her daddy was gone. Dillard muttered something she couldn’t understand. “Don’t tell a soul until you find her. Are you hearing me, Dillard?” Libby thought he answered her, but she wasn’t sure. “After Lurline knows, go by the funeral home. They will know what to do. We’ll be waiting here for you.” She hung up the phone without letting Dillard speak and sat back down in her chair. Soon the chaos would begin, she thought. Her house would soon be filled with flowers, visitors, soggy chicken and tuna casseroles, mounds of dry pound cakes, and cackling old women. Noise and confusion would fill her ears and mind, but she wouldn’t hear any of the conversations or taste any of the food. Libby felt numb. She wanted this time alone with Jeb, it would be their last time. She brushed away a few tears that were streaming down her face. There would be time for that later. The telephone rang five times, but she didn’t move. A few seconds later, the phone rang five more times. She wasn’t going to answer. The world would just have to wait.
Four days later, Libby stroked the long black hair of her granddaughter Julie as they sat on the front pew at Abrams-Shapiro Funeral Home. Even though she was an adult, Julie laid her head over into her grandmother’s lap. “Baby girl, you need to go home and get some rest.” As the hours passed, Libby watched her only granddaughter growing weary as each visitor greeted her and passed before the casket to pay their respects. Each time someone reached out to hug Julie, her lip quivered and she had difficulty speaking. “Where did your mama get off to?” Libby said. “Probably out sneaking a cigarette. She thinks we can’t smell the smoke on her clothes,” said Julie. “Then she will be back directly. Honey, let your young man take you home. Tomorrow is going to be an awful long day.” Julie nodded and smiled as Libby gently rubbed Julie’s cheeks. She kissed her grandmother on the forehead and went to stand before the casket one last time for the evening. Julie’s boyfriend joined her. Tenderly, he placed his hand on the small of her back. His long hair hung below his shoulders. After a few minutes, Libby watched him gently guide Julie to the door. He turned and looked in Libby’s direction giving her a slight smile. Libby nodded approvingly. Libby sat alone on the front pew of the chapel. Her pocketbook rested on her lap; her hands folded across it. Dillard came and sat down beside her. “You know Dillard, it’s amazing how fast your life will pass.” “I know. Just the other day I was in high school trying to get a date with Lurline. Now we will be married twenty-seven years next month.” Libby chuckled, “She was crazy about you.” “Well, she acted pretty cool to me, like she didn’t want anything to do with me.” “Lurline was just trying to keep you on your toes. Still does, I imagine.” Dillard arched his back a little and crossed his legs. “Yes, she does.” They sat in silence for a while. Dillard shifted in his seat. Libby was steadfast. “I like Julie’s new boyfriend. He seems good to her,” she said. “I think so. But good grief, did you see his hair? And his nickname is Jupiter?” said Dillard. “Jeb and I talked about it a few weeks back. I told him that’s probably not the boy’s Christian name. And Jeb said, ‘It’s only hair.’” Dillard nodded. “Seems like Jeb and I should be out setting trot lines for tomorrow morning.” Libby looked at her watch. She knew the funeral directors wanted to close but she knew that Dillard would not want to push her to leave. Dillard glanced toward the dozens of large and small floral arrangements which sat on small gold stands resembling miniature footstools. A large casket spray of five dozen white roses, green ferns, accented with baby’s breath and red ribbons streamed over the sides of the oak casket. A folded American flag was placed inside the casket next to the open lid. Arrangements of red and yellow gladiolus flanked both sides of the casket. A single red rose with a matching red ribbon was strategically placed near the flag with a tiny card that read, “Love you Pawpaw, Julie.” Dillard rubbed his chin with the side of his hand. “I wouldn’t swear to it, but I believe there are more flowers here than when Mrs. Stephens passed. Kate did a beautiful job on the spray and the side pieces. She has a real talent.” “Do you think he looks alright?” Libby asked. “I think he looks great. Just how he would have wanted it.” “No, he would have wanted us to dig a hole the day he died and been done with the whole business,” she said. “That’s probably true, but everyone said he looks real natural.” “Jeb hated that expression. He would say, ‘If you look naturally dead.’” Libby watched the funeral directors turn off the lights in the overflow room to the chapel. “Boy, that hailstorm was something the day he died,” said Dillard. “You don’t have to skirt around me, Dillard Carlisle.” “Mama, the funeral home is wanting to close.” “Well, then they can close. Lock the door.” “I know what you have in mind, but no one does that anymore.” “I am not going home. This is his last night on this earth; I’m going to spend it with him.” Dillard stood and joined Lurline to speak with the funeral directors at the back of the chapel. Libby, uninterested in the conversation, looked straight ahead. When Dillard approached her again, she said, “I am paying for this, all four days of it. So, go tell them to re-figure tonight and add it to my bill. I’m not leaving him.” The group minus Libby finally decided that Dillard could stay with her until she was ready to leave, but the funeral home would be closed to the public. Libby didn’t have to agree because she had already made up her mind. Lurline came up to sit with her mother before she went home. Libby opened her pocketbook and took out a small piece of wax paper held together by plastic wrap. “Do you know what this is?” she asked of Lurline. Lurline smiled. She recognized the item from her daddy’s wallet. Libby carefully unwrapped the plastic and the wax paper to reveal a lock of fine, blond, curly hair. “Your hair was just like this when you was a baby.” The tuft of hair belonged to Lurline’s older brother Leif. He was seven years older than her. He was a big baby, who had grown into a very healthy child. Leif was tall and a little thicker in the middle than most children his age. His chubby cheeks, dotted with deep dimples grew red as he raced to keep up with his father on the farm, feeding cattle or plucking dirty orange-hued carrots from the garden. “That boy was a rounder,” said Libby, handing the soft locks and frayed wax paper to Lurline. Leif was five years old when he suddenly grew ill. He was seemingly lifeless for six or seven days. The doctor rode a horse out to the farm twice a day to care for the child and try to determine the grave illness. “Your daddy loved that boy. Leif was so big, and I couldn’t rock him but a few minutes at a time. But your daddy would sit and rock him for hours and hours in the front room. That room was a tad cooler than the bedroom.” Libby stared off into the distance. “One day, your daddy dozed off. He had been up with Leif all night long. Leif was almost asleep, and he made the strangest little whimper. It was a queer little sound. I can still hear it. I was standing at the kitchen sink washing the breakfast dishes and I knew right that second what had happened. Your daddy jumped to his feet to take that baby to the doctor. I went over and rubbed Leif’s little head, and I said, ‘No, he’s gone.’” Jeb took the child to the bedroom and laid him on the bed. He knelt beside the child and wept uncontrollably until the undertaker came for the body. “The day before he got sick, I was peeling potatoes and washing them in a bucket. He was playing in the water and got that ole brown stain on his hands. We couldn’t wash it off for nothing. I had to bury my baby with brown stains on his hands.” Jeb dug Leif’s grave himself. Hobart and other men in the family offered to dig the grave for him but he declined. He selected a spot in the family cemetery where he knew water wouldn’t stand. He had dug many graves in the cemetery and knew the soil of every inch of land. “We didn’t have anything but wildflowers. Girls in the community made paper flowers and dipped them in paraffin so they would stay pretty.” Libby looked tired and drawn, her voice was weak, especially when she talked about the old days. “Mama, I think you need to rest.” “No, I need to tell you things. Your daddy wanted another boy, but I had such a terrible time having you. You would never come, and when you did, he said, ‘I don’t want no more youngins.’ I guess the good Lord obliged, because we didn’t have no more.” “Mama.” “That’s why when you was born, he would sit and watch you like a hawk. I should have known this was coming when it did. Three days before the baby died, a blackbird was in front of the porch, flapping its wings like a hummingbird. The day before your daddy died, a bird got in the house and flew around the living room.” “Mama, those are just crazy old wives’ tales.” “You hush up. I know what I seen and I knew both times, death was a coming,” said Libby. “Mama, are you sure you want to bury Daddy way out there? The cemetery in town has plenty of nice plots and it would be so much easier to look after,” said Lurline. “And leave your brother out there by himself?” Libby said. “Seems like lately no one is keeping the cemetery up.” “That’s because your daddy kept it up before he got sick. He wants to be buried with Leif and that is where he is going to be.” Lurline began to cry. Dillard brought her a Kleenex. Libby patted her knee. “I’m gonna tell you what I told your little girl. Go home and get some rest.” “Mama, I don’t want to leave you,” she said. “You need to rest.” Lurline finally agreed. Libby was surprised when her daughter leaned over and hugged her tighter than she had since she was a little girl. Around midnight, Dillard heard a knock at the door. Jupiter had stopped to check on everyone. Dillard asked him to stay while he went home for a few minutes. Jupiter agreed.
When Dillard pulled his black Buick Electra into the driveway at half past midnight, he could see every light in his house was on. Lights even streamed from the basement windows. He didn’t bother going into the house. Even though he was wearing his navy-blue suit and dress shoes, he slipped and slid down the hill to the small dock house beside the river. He knew Lurline would be there. The small wooden structure held ropes, fishing tackle, extra life jackets, and tools. Especially tools, he was always working on his little runabout. Lurline’s eyes were closed as she lounged on her Adirondack chair in a dark corner. A lit Virginia Slim long burned between the index and middle fingers on her right hand. Her hair was soaking wet and hanging down on either side of her face, something he hadn’t seen for a very long time. He touched the soft ends of her hair. Without opening her eyes, she said, “I got it wet in the shower. I called Wendy and she’s going to meet me at the shop at six and fix it.” He pushed the dark black hair back from her face. “I was standing in the shower crying like an idiot and got my hair wet. How stupid was that?” “Oh baby. It’s okay. That could happen to anyone,” said Dillard. She opened her eyes, pulled the cigarette to her lips and the smoke into her lungs, and exhaled. He took the cigarette from her fingers and flicked it over the rail and into the river. She didn’t resist. “Baby, you need to try to get some rest, six o’clock is early.” She ignored him. He knew she wasn’t going to sleep tonight anyway. Lurline was completely exhausted, having not slept in days. There was an awkward silence between them. “This rain isn’t going to stop, and I can’t put him in the wet ground tomorrow, in a grave standing full of water,” she said. “The funeral isn’t until two o’clock, I’ll drive out and check it myself,” he said. “No need,” she said. She crimped her wet hair with her hand. She lit another cigarette. “Thomas and a couple of guys from the lumber yard went and covered it with boards this afternoon. They covered the boards with a tarp. Thomas said the funeral tent is already up and it’s holding off the rain,” Dillard said, as he leaned on the handrail. “A few planks, a tarp and flimsy tent isn’t going to keep this kind of rain from standing in his grave. Hell, with this wind, that tent has blown half-way to Virginia by now,” she said as she took heavy drags off the cigarette. “The decision is made. The grave is dug. It’s over,” he said. She jumped up from the chair and began pacing the length of the dock. Despite the cool, damp air, Dillard noticed as she walked into the light that she was wearing one of his white T-shirts and a pair of knit shorts. She was barefoot and for a split second, he thought she looked kinda sexy. “No! I’m not having it! We can postpone the funeral one more day. What would it hurt?” she said. “Lurline, all of the family has already come into town. Businesses have closed for tomorrow. It’s just too late,” he said taking the cigarette out of her hand. “Do you really think I give two shits about the people who would have to eat runny macaroni salad or make more deviled eggs? We are talking about my daddy’s eternal rest here,” she said. She grabbed her cigarette case from the wide chair railing and lit another Virginia Slim. “You are the great and all-powerful Dillard Carlisle. You own this town. People do what you say. You can stop this!” “No! This is what your mother wants. This is what your daddy wanted. It’s done.” He jerked the cigarette out of her hand. “I thought you quit smoking?” He flicked the cigarette over the rail and into the rushing water. “I did until my daddy died.” “Bullshit!” Dillard said. He grabbed the cigarette case and hurled it into the side yard. It landed on wet grass. She drew back her right hand and slapped him across the face. She was stunned and placed her hands to her mouth. He never flinched. Dillard stomped to the opening of the porch. He didn’t look back at her. “Grow up Lurline, you are forty-six years old. Get your hair done in the morning and bury your daddy with a little dignity. Everything isn’t about you.” He left her standing cigarette-less, crying at the boat dock. He felt guilty because he knew this was about her and he had hurt her feelings.
Libby had asked Dillard to take her home about six a.m. to change for the funeral. She asked the funeral director to wait for her to return before they moved Jeb to the church. As they passed through town, Libby was stoic. A small bouquet of roses which matched the casket spray cascaded from the metal handle of the hardware store door. Similar versions hung on the doors of the First National Bank, Gladdue Florist and outside the funeral home. Black ribbons adorned every business on Main Street, signifying their closure for the day. Dillard drove her home. He wanted to wait but she told him she would be fine. Julie would bring her back to the funeral home. She turned the small copper key in the lock that Jeb had placed on their front door. Libby felt the loneliness immediately as she entered the living room. In the bathroom, as she slipped off her dress and undergarments, she felt a chill run across her shoulders. She sat in the tub for an extended period of time sobbing, and repeatedly turning on the hot water, trying to figure out how she would fit into the world now. The warm water seemed to calm her nerves. Libby took her time dressing. Today would be a long day. She combed her hair, pulled it back and fastened it into a tight roll on the back of her head. Her underclothes were already laid out on their bed. She took her long green gloves from her stocking drawer to put on her pantyhose. She remembered Jeb made fun of her every time she used them. She would scold him and say, “Pantyhose are too expensive to rip when you put them on.” Finally, she was ready to put on the dreadful black dress. She had bought it for Julie’s high school graduation and Jeb had hated it from the minute he laid eyes on it. She sighed slowly as she took it from the closet and unzipped the back. Who would zip her dress now? Jeb had always lovingly completed that task. Julie would zip her up today, but she wasn’t sure about tomorrow. She wasn’t sure about anything. Libby debated wearing a hat but changed her mind. She heard a car pull into the driveway. Moments later, she heard her granddaughter’s soft voice, “Mawmaw, we need to hurry.” Libby didn’t want to rush. She didn’t want to put the only man she ever loved in the ground. As Jupiter pulled into the funeral home parking lot, Libby saw Lurline out of the corner of her eye. She was standing near the back of the building, puffing on a cigarette. Lurline was dressed in a straight-cut black dress with cap sleeves, black stockings, and a small black pillbox hat with a black mesh veil. Her lipstick was bright red. “Good Lord, your mother thinks she is a Kennedy,” said Libby. Lurline quickly dropped her cigarette and crushed the fire out with the toe of her black heels. As Libby entered the funeral home, she saw a small group of men who were there to help move Jeb to the church. Not dressed for the funeral yet, the collection of men each had meant something different to Jeb. They waited on the front pews for Libby. Some of the men were from his Sunday School class, others were Odd Fellows, a few were family. The funeral director had already closed the lid and removed the casket spray. The men rolled the casket to the door. After the short drive, the men carried the heavy oak coffin up the steps and into the church. The funeral director asked everyone to leave while he arranged Jeb for viewing. Kate had already moved the floral arrangements to the church earlier in the morning. The funeral director reminded Libby that Jeb would look different when they opened the door and the natural light fell upon his face. She was ready. “I’ve seen the deceased without pink funeral lights before,” she said. She still wasn’t prepared. Libby sat in the front of the church to greet visitors when they arrived. She noticed the end of his casket was positioned in the exact spot where he stood with the other deacons for prayer before taking the Sunday offering. Dillard and the men had left the church to dress for the funeral, Lurline to smoke more cigarettes. As the funeral director positioned placards on the pews to designate family and pallbearers, Libby motioned for him to come to her. With a questioning look he sat beside her. “I know you have a certain way you do things,” she said. He nodded. “I have two requests. After people file before the casket, I want you to usher them out the door.” “We just don’t do that. Everyone sits back down until everyone has passed by the casket.” Firmly she said, “I want everybody out of this building and the door closed before the immediate family goes up.” Libby had put a lot of thought into this decision. “I know how upset Lurline will be and I don’t want people gawking as she says goodbye to her daddy. I guess the pallbearers have to be here, but that will be okay. At least it won’t be the full church house.” “That’s not protocol, but I believe that would be the best,” he agreed because he was already concerned about Lurline’s state of mind. Her eyes were bloodshot. She looked gaunt, and he was afraid she might pass out. He patted his breast pocket where he carried his smelling salts for every service. Libby looked straight at the casket, as if looking for Jeb’s approval, although she knew his heart. “Immediate family would be me, Lurline, Dillard, Julie, Jupiter, our niece, Kate, and her daughter Rachel.” She felt ridiculous calling him Jupiter but she didn’t know his real name. “Oh no, that’s not negotiable. You will be seated first, Lurline beside you, then Dillard. Julie and her boyfriend, Jupiter. . . ” He stumbled over the boy’s name. “Will be seated behind you. Kate and Rachel will sit with her in-laws Hobert and Maudena, and their family.” “The seven of us sit on one pew. Nobody else.” Libby was determined to have her way. “Kate works at the florist; she will need to bring the flowers to the cemetery. Maudena will need to care for the child.” “Dillard already made arrangements for someone to move the flowers.” “I’ll speak with Dillard when he gets back,” he said. Libby, making one of her very first decisions alone in life, stood her ground. “Did I write you a check for this funeral or did Dillard?” she asked. “We don’t think of it that way,” he said. “You were thinking of it that way when you presented me with an itemized bill,” she said. People were beginning to file into the church and the funeral director didn’t want to make a scene in front of the other mourners. The time for the service came quickly. The church was filled to capacity and the funeral director and his assistants set up folding chairs. As the director began moving people to designated seats, Dillard motioned for Kate and Rachel. Rachel’s mother-in-law Maudena picked up her purse and she and Hobart moved forward. Dillard waved them off but motioned again for Kate and Rachel. The service would be short, just like Jeb wanted. He had repeatedly told Libby that funerals were too much folderol. A Pentecostal snake-handling preacher stepped to the pulpit. The ill-fitting black suit pants rode up his back. His jacket hung longer on the right side. He spoke in short, clipped sentences. “I didn’t come here to preach you a death sermon today. I have been to many funerals in my day where the preacher tried to preach the departed into heaven.” His sentences spilled out in cadences. The congregation began to look around at each other. Lurline’s eyes were fixed on the preacher. “I must admit, I have preached a few of those in my day. The day Jeb and I met, he called me on that very subject. But today, I ain’t preaching nobody, nowhere.” The preacher wiped the sweat from his forehead with a white handkerchief. “Two weeks ago Thursday, I stopped out to the house, and he gave me explicit instruction. He said, “Preacher, I’ll already be gone, and those people certainly have better things to do than listen to you go on about the possibility of me getting into heaven.’” A man in the back row chuckled aloud. Dillard looked around to see who it was. Libby kept her eyes forward. “But all that aside, I don’t believe I need to preach him into Heaven. I believe he is already there.” “Well, that’s a relief,” Lurline said quietly and sarcastically. The preacher opened his Bible to read scripture but set it aside. “Now, as most of you know, and I think it is common knowledge. Several Sundays, well pretty days as it were, when you and I were here in the church house, Jeb was out on the lake fishing.” “Oh Lord,” Lurline said. Libby shushed her. “It just happens that one Saturday afternoon, he and I were at the lake. He cast his line into the lake and said, ‘Preacher, if I step out of this boat, what do you suppose would happen?’” “I said, ‘You would sink to the bottom like a rock unless you know how to swim.’ He assured me that he could swim but he acknowledged that he would slip under the water for just a bit.” “But then he said, ‘Have to be a pretty powerful man to step out on the water and never sink, to just make ripples in the water as you walk across.’” The preacher lowered his voice, “In his quiet way as he looked out over the powerful majestic lake, I knew he found his salvation.” Dillard leaned over to Lurline. “And a big bate of crappie.” “He told me that he thought Heaven was made up of the really important things on earth like the way the ground breaks apart when you till the earth. Or the way a gladiolus blade shoots up from the ground on a warm spring day.” Clearing his throat and placing his hand on his Bible, the preacher said, “Jeb told me, ‘Preacher when you are out here at the break of day or when the sun is starting to set, that’s as close to God as you can get, this side of Heaven.’” Lurline sobbed as the preacher finished. The processional to the casket by the mourners took longer than the service itself. Lurline was bawling. She kept saying, “Pap, Pap, Pap. . .” Dillard tightened his arm around her shoulders. After passing in front of the casket, Maudena headed back for her seat. The funeral director stopped her and said, “I’m sorry this is immediate family only.” Maudena shot Kate a nasty look. Kate smiled sweetly at Maudena. Lurline didn’t want to leave the casket, but Dillard took her by the right arm. She seemed to be hyperventilating. Libby, who seemed to have one-hundred percent composure said, “Dillard, get her to the car. I’ll be fine. Go on baby. I need a minute,” she said. The pastor, the funeral director, and the pallbearers had stepped out to the vestibule to give her privacy. Libby bent down and kissed Jeb softly on the lips and the forehead. She stroked his hair a few times. She patted his hand, which was hard and cold. It wasn’t the warm loving hand that had held her for more than forty-five years. “Even though I know you aren’t in pain, it’s still hard to let you go.” She wasn’t sure if she was even talking aloud. She knew he could hear her. “I know you are with Leif, and he’s happier than a lark to see you. He was your little shadow.” She wiped the corner of her nose with her hand. Somehow, she had lost her handkerchief, but she didn’t care. As she turned to leave, she stopped and opened her purse. She slipped the small piece of wax paper into his shirt pocket. She kissed his forehead again. Tears were streaming down her cheeks now. Her fingertips softly raked through his hair near his forehead. Libby cocked her head to the left and exhaled, leaning her right hand on the white draping that hung on the casket side. She thought about how the white satin fabric would be bunched up on his arm for all of eternity, but there was nothing she could do at this point. Libby wasn’t sure how she could leave him. She would have the same thought again at the cemetery. She didn’t look back as she left the sanctuary. In the vestibule, she shook the pastor’s hand and lied, “The sermon was beautiful.” She hadn’t heard a word he had said during the service. Outside with her head hanging low, she watched them load her man into the hearse. Dillard switched on his lights as Libby got into the car. They eased onto the highway behind the hearse. A black and white police car with a red bubble strobe and no siren led the procession. Cars on the opposite side of the road pulled to the side. Farmers in their fields stopped working. People on their porches stood in silence. The ride to the cemetery was long. Jupiter switched on the lights of his Volvo as he followed behind Dillard. Julie, Kate, and Rachel rode quietly in the car with Jupiter. One by one, cars filed out of the parking lot. Hobart and Maudena were five cars from the end. “I’ll never get a seat under the tent at the cemetery,” Maudena said. The cars crept along at forty miles an hour for the fifteen-mile drive to the old cemetery, turning and twisting down country roads. The entrance was flanked on either side by a makeshift gate Jeb had built from two old metal bed frames. Rounded at the top, each metal post, adorned with fleur-de-lis, was propped open by huge brown rocks. A rusty twisted wire latch hung loose. “This place needs a new gate,” said Lurline as the car turned into the driveway that was more mud than gravel. The hearse pulled as close to the blue funeral tent as possible. The family exited the cars but waited in the gravel drive for their cue from the funeral director. The tent held a dozen metal folding chairs with velvet covers to shield the family from the cold plastic seats. Small green pieces of Astroturf carpet contrasted with the backdrop of hundred-year-old trees, and a mixture of old moss-covered and modern tombstones. After the pallbearers had the casket in place, the funeral director motioned for the mourners to approach. The women struggled to climb the small hill as their heels dug into the still-wet ground. Lurline exhaled every time she worked to unstick her heel. “The ground looks soaked to me,” she whispered to Dillard. “Shhh . . . Checked this morning. It’s dry.” He squeezed the upper portion of her right arm to steady her as she walked. The tightly closed light oak casket with a honeycomb stain was posed next to the freshly dug hole, which had been obscured with planks and pieces of the green ground mat. After the family was seated, the pastor made a reference to Second Corinthians; to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord. He recited The Lord’s Prayer. The service was finished. Libby gazed at the casket. A cold shiver ran across her shoulders. She was alone.
Michelle Russell Barger holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. “A Summer Snow” is a selection from her collection of linked stories, Dead Man’s Secrets. She is a 2021 recipient of the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Endowment for Fiction. Michelle and her husband Terry live in Somerset, Kentucky. They have two adult children, Eric and Sarah.