An American flag was draped over the end of the coffin in which an old man dressed in fire fighter blues lay. The hum of conversation filled the parlor as the crowd stood in little cliques. Those watching the slide show of photographs sometimes laughed and sometimes wiped away tears as they relived good times. The air was heavy with the scent of the cut flower bouquets that filled the room.
With the service scheduled to begin within the hour, a middle aged man walked in. He wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a long sleeved denim shirt. His brown hair, streaked with gray, curled slightly at the ends as it reached for his shoulders. Watchful pale blue eyes surveyed the crowd. His left hand pressed across his cheek.
After quickly surveying the room, he strode to an aisle seat five rows back from the coffin and sat down, folding his hands in his lap. Whispers spread across the room, resulting in a momentary hush as people caught sight of what his hand had hidden. Red, mottled flesh, cratered with ridges and valleys of scar tissue, covered the left side of his face. The corner of his mouth drew down into a perpetual grimace, while his eye appeared shrunken in its socket. Slowly conversation resumed.
“My gosh, what do you suppose happened to him?”
“More importantly, who is he and what’s he doing here?”
“I’ll bet that’s the cousin from Romania. Probably got caught in the explosion of an IED.”
“Or an exploding meth lab.”
“That’s a story I’d like to hear.”
“And would you believe any of it if you did?”
Wild and imaginative speculation as to who the man was and how the scars had been seared into his face swirled through the room for the next several minutes. A young boy standing beside his father tried not to stare but found his gaze continually drawn to the hideous scars on the man’s face. Eventually the pale blue eyes locked onto the boy’s, holding him spellbound for several seconds.
Suddenly the boy strode away from his father and stopped within a foot of the seated man. His hand reached out as if to touch the scarred face. Instead the boy extended his hand to the stranger. The man gazed at the boy intently before nodding his head slightly, then grasping the small hand in his own. Speaking in low tones, a conversation began between the two.
Within minutes, the young boy ran back to his father. “Dad, you’ve got to come meet this man.”
Having carefully watched the exchange, his father said, “Slow down, son. Who is he?”
“He knew Grandpa. Grandpa rescued him from his burning house when he was about my age. He said he came to “pay his respects”, whatever that means.” The boy shrugged. “Anyway, this is so cool. He said Grandpa was a hero. Come meet him.”
He grabbed his father’s hand and they started for the aisle seat five rows back from the coffin, but the seat was empty. Hand in hand, the boy and his father ran out of the funeral home and into the street. It was empty as well. The man was gone.
Slowly they walked back into the building. A hush came over the crowd as the boy and his father walked up to the coffin. With the father’s arm around his son, the crowd watched as father and son talked earnestly.
“That was weird. What do you suppose that guy said to the lad?”
“It looked pretty intense.”
“Did you see the way they ran out of the building?”
“Looked to me like his dad definitely had something he wanted to say to that fellow.”
“Wonder what it was?”
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