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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Hmph! (03/04/10)

TITLE: For the Love of June


I know something about love. At least what it looks like, what it sounds like. It doesn’t always correlate with a casket purchase. One person will choose a top-of-the-line mahogany with bronze fittings and velvet lining, while another will buy a simple pine box—each motivated by love. Or not.

Yesterday, Cora Sanders ordered a casket—one step up from the cheapest—was how she phrased it.

“Listen, Frank,” she said to me in explanation. “My husband, Martin was a small man. Didn’t accomplish much or leave me much. Pressed particle board will suffice.” The widow Cora nudged her sister, who was cradling the maligned man’s charcoal-gray suit and black Oxford lace-ups. “Isn’t that right, June?”

“I don’t know,” the sister stammered. “I don’t think he’d care about the casket—that’s true. But…but, he was a big man…carried a lot of other people’s burdens on those shoulders.”

Cora emitted a noise that traveled past her air-tight lips, out through her nose. June’s eyes welled. I tried not to judge. I know something about grief. It doesn’t always correlate with the number of tears shed.

“We’ll be back in the morning, Frank,” said Cora. The paisley-print chair cried in its own way at her rising. “Make sure everything’s in order.” She was out of my office before I could say, “Of course.”

June’s face reddened. “I’m very sorry,” she said.

“People react differently in sorrow. Don’t worry. How about I take those?” I lifted the suit, laid it across the loveseat. Set the shoes below. Mr. Sanders had become the Invisible Man.

“He looked good in gray,” June said. She stood up, smoothed the jacket’s lapel. Suddenly I had the impression that it was she who had loved Martin. It made me do something I never do. I left the safety of my office to walk her to the front entrance. I held the door open—though one foot remained on the interior carpet runner.

Outside, the April rain proved steady.

Morning has finally broken, and from my office window I watch the sisters park a Ford—four-door, mid-size. It’s a tentative operation, ending on lines. Cora, the shorter, slighter of the two, flings open the passenger door hard enough for it to bounce back onto her booted calf. The lines at her mouth slant downward at an oblique angle. Her husband, God rest his soul, had looked less severe when he had been brought in two nights ago via a different entrance.

June trails after Cora in the splatter of rain puddles across the pavement. June . . . June . . .her name forms the beginnings of a kiss. What will June think when she sees what I’ve done with Martin? Chances are she won’t be thinking what I’m thinking—that the space between inveterate observer and participant isn’t the gulf I’d imagined it to be.

Cora’s rap at the open door startles me.

“I hope everything’s ready,” she says.

“Yes, yes,” I assure her, coming around, leading her by the elbow to the hallway. I nod at June. She answers with a crooked smile—the overflow of a timid heart. I know something about timid hearts.

The hall feels simultaneously too long and too short. We enter the viewing room, where static surrounds my nerves. The casket is open, polyester lining gathered at the corners. I gesture for them to go ahead without me.

Several seconds pass before I hear a reaction. The first comes from Cora—disapproval expelled from nostrils. I wonder how God interprets disapproval, disdain—if He takes it personally.

June’s response takes longer.

“What are you crying for?” asks Cora. To me she says, “What’d you do to his shoulders? He looks like a linebacker.”

“Stop, Cora.” June’s imperative comes too swiftly for me to offer an answer. She turns to me. “He’s exactly how I’ve always seen him.”

Cora hmphs again, but this one lacks emphasis, conviction. Two trembling hands find rest on the edge of the composite wood; her gaze drops to the man she slept with for thirty-two years. She caresses his temple, his cheek, the lapel of his charcoal-gray suit.

After the public viewing, when solitude is close at hand, a newly developed panic surfaces. I walk June to the entrance, searching for words. June . . . June . . .

The rain has stopped. Green nubs of daffodils peak through the saturated earth. “They’re late,” I say. “Very late.”

June’s crooked smile returns. “None-the–less, they’ve arrived.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 03/11/10
Oh my, what an opening thought, "….love….It doesn’t always correlate with a casket purchase." I had to smile at the "one step up from the cheapest" (how many times have I done that with something else, so as not to APPEAR cheap!) I love the symbolism between what Cora considered her husband, "small man, didn't accomplish much" and June's "he carried a lot of other people's burdens" and that "for the love of June" Frank enhances Martin's shoulders! You have so much in here, I loved "the paisley print chair cried in it's own way at her rising" and the "late daffodils" almost to the [month] of June. Yes, heartwarming…and superb in so many ways…
Bryan Ridenour03/11/10
I agree with Beth. Small in stature does not mean that Cora's husband was a "small" man. It seems she missed what a wonderful husband she had. Some great lines in here. I especially liked the paisley chair crack. Well written.
Earl Taylor03/13/10
Very, very nice... lovely use of the right words that set the right tones in the exact spot... perfect!
Jackie Wilson03/13/10
Beautifully written, crammed with so many meaty details in so few words, a veritable feast for the mind! Wonderful!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/14/10
A very different type of story, but I really enjoyed it. you did a good job making the characters seem so real.
Lyn Churchyard03/14/10
Ooh, this is so good-everything about it.
Dialogue, thoughts, actions. Beautiful! Well done indeed.
Gregory Kane03/15/10
Exquisite writing. I loved the line: "June . . .her name forms the beginnings of a kiss" Wonderfully understated throughout.
Rachel Rudd 03/15/10
I really like the contrast you painted between these two sisters. Your description of Cora without describing her was excellent. :)
william price03/15/10
I believe this is the best you have written to date. In fact, one of the best I have read in a long time. The tenderness, subtle tones, prickly details that reminds us how real it is, and then the story. A real love story told from a unique perspective. Bravo. So very smart and touching. God bless.
Donna Wolther03/15/10
I don't think I can add anything, but wanted to say I love it also.
Marita Vandertogt03/15/10
Your characters are so real, I can almost hear them breathing as they speak.
Connie Dixon03/15/10
So many great lines in this fantastic piece. I especially loved the line: Cora emitted a noise that traveled past her air-tight lips, out through her nose. I laughed out loud on that one. Such great writing...you set the bar so high.
Ruth Stromquist03/15/10
I agree with all of the above, except my particular most favorite line was "Didn’t accomplish much or leave me much. Pressed particle board will suffice." Which made me laugh out loud. I know a wife who would likely say exactly the same thing about her husband, so it gave me a good chuckle.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/16/10
This defines "out of the box." Such lovely, lovely writing with so many nuances that are shared as if secrets for the reader to ponder. This is a story I will not forget. Kudos!
Sarah Elisabeth 03/16/10
As always, I was unable to breathe from the first line until I'd reached the end. What a gift with words you have Lisa!
Carole Robishaw 03/17/10
So glad to see that Cora actually loved her husband, she just had a difficult time showing it. Nice writing, I hope things work out for June.
Judy Wood03/17/10
I liked the ending where Cora did show some feelings for her husband. What a superb job of making us familiar with these characters.
Edmond Ng 03/17/10
Excellent work! Original and captivating.
Mona Purvis03/18/10
Lisa, if I could string the words like you do...
What an entry! What characters. Just superb in every way. An EC for sure.

Joy Bach 03/18/10
Lisa, what a wonderful piece. And to think I actually know you. As Connie said, the bar is very high.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/18/10
Happy Dancin' with you!!!!
Beth LaBuff 03/18/10
Congrats Lisa and June! I was excited to see this on the EC list!
william price03/18/10
I still think this is one of the best I have ever read here. If my muse wouldn't have messed you up last week, you would have had an almost perfect quarter. felicidades. God bless.
Carol Penhorwood 03/18/10
Lisa, this was MARVELOUS! Others have said it so much better than I. It seemed every sentence was filled with nuances that were delightful. I felt I was a mouse observing it all myself, it was so real. Absolutely enchanting and so well deserving of your award! (This bar is too high for me! LOL)
Jackie Wilson03/18/10
Congrats on the EC! Wonderful!
Catrina Bradley 03/18/10
Lisa, I feel like there are layers of meaning underneath your prose. I want to read this piece over and over, because I'm sure I'll see something new each time. Your writing holds depth, and your words are poetry. Congratulations on your EC - you deserve it.
Patricia Turner03/18/10
Lisa, this is so wonderfully wrought the reader hungers for more. I agree that you have such a way with words. Wow! Congratulations on another EC!
Laury Hubrich 03/18/10
Congratulations on your EC, Lisa!
Carol Slider 03/18/10
Oh, Lisa, I'm awed by this! It's so deep, so rich, so multi-layered... Wow. Many, many congratulations!
Karen Wilber03/18/10
Wow. Oh wow. Very nuanced with little details that revealed the characters. Congrats on a well deserved EC.
Rachel Rudd 03/19/10
Congratulations, Lisa on a well-deserved win! Your gift for words is amazing....
Joan Campbell03/21/10
A belated congratulations Lisa! And I think by all the comments before, you can see what an impact this had on everyone. The characters and details are what really stood out for me. I'll save it to my favourites and use it as a learning tool!!
Henrietta W. Romman06/27/10
Hello Lisa, this is taken out of life so glorioussly ! If I close my eyes...I can almost feel the presence of the speakers. Bless you for it, and Congratulations.
IT has been long for me recuperating. So now (in June)I caught up with you in this good narrative. You are so clear and the words are brilliant....Lord Bless you and all your writings Amen.