C H A P T E R 1 • P A R T 5
Screech … one, two three and … SLAM!
Tyler bolted through the screen door and into the kitchen.
“Look, Mommy, it’s dead!”
“What’s dead, Honey?” Betty pulled Mr. Coffee from his resting place and filled her cup. Then she turned. And there was Tyler. She coughed over a laugh: It was the sight of barely five-year-old Tyler, sad eyes; extended hand pressing upward.
“My ant. My poor and is dead!”
Betty could see it; she thought. A tiny black dot of Tyler’s pet ant lay lifeless in his small hand.
“Well,” she paused to think, “just throw it away. We’ll find you a new ant.”
“No can do!” Randy’s slippers shuffled into the kitchen. He popped open the fridge door and recovered two large eggs in his right hand. “We’ll have a proper burial. A funeral!” He pointed his eggs at Tyler. “No kid of mine… Where’s the skillet, Hon?”
“It’s in the Captain Crunch cereal box, Daddy.” Mary Kay jammed a spoon in her mouth, and leaned her elbows on the red and white-checkered table. Sure enough, lying on the kitchen table, was the handle of the skillet poking out of the box.
“What’s that speck on the Captain’s nose?” With handle in hand, Randy pulled the box near for a closer look.
“R.J. used it to swat a…” Mary Kay looked at Tyler. Oops. She said nothing more.
“Front door, Daddy.” Randy really didn’t need Mary Kay’s instruction. It was obvious.
Betty peered out the kitchen window. Pastor Barnett’s purple Volvo was parked at the end of the drive; engine still running. “It’s the preacher,” she advised.
“Hey, great timing!” Randy headed for the door.
Great timing? Betty shuffled her blond hair with one hand, then glanced at the red digits flashing on the microwave. It would be 8 a.m. in three minutes.
“Mornin’!” Pastor Barnett’s booming baritone voice welcomed Randy as he opened the door. His flowing black bathrobe made him look more like a monk with wet hair than a financial advisor. The preacher didn’t seem to mind. He always appreciated Randy’s firm handshake and so he extended his hand for the usual warm greeting. Instead he got two raw eggs. Fortunately, Randy’s towel was still dangling from his shoulders.
“Did you ask ‘im, Daddy?” Randy wiped his hand on his terricloth robe. He didn’t hear Tyler approaching.
“Ask him what, Buddy?”
“Ask him about the funeral? If Pastor would preach the funeral?”
“Oh!” a genuine look of concern graced the pastor’s countenance. “Someone pass away? I’m so sorry!”
“My ant died,” Tyler offered.
“Your aunt! Oh, my. And when did this happen?” The pastor looked to Randy. Tyler answered instead.
“Jus’ last night. Will you preach the funeral?”
“Have a seat, Preacher.” Randy raised his eggy hand toward the sofa in the living room.
“So, what side of the family was the departed on?” the preacher asked as he settled back in the cushions.
Tyler thought for a moment. He found his ant in the side yard. That’s where his mother had her flower garden. So he answered, “Mommy’s side.”
By now the pastor had become accustomed to speaking with Tyler. “And what was her name?”
Tyler looked a bit puzzled, and, for a brief moment, gazed at the ceiling. It had never occurred to him that ants could have a name, let alone a gender. But the pastor did say, “her,” and so Tyler decided to give his dead ant a name.
“Matilda,” he offered. “My poor, dead ant. Matilda.”
“Aunt Matilda,” the pastor whispered respectfully.
“Did she live nearby?”
“She lived on the back porch,” Tyler explained. “Daddy wouldn’t let her in the house cause she kept runnin’ around and getting’ into the food and stuff. Daddy made her stay on the back porch.”
Randy covered his smile with his towel, and eased back in his chair to enjoy the conversation.
“And where will the funeral be conducted,” the preacher looked to Randy. “At Krogen’s Funeral Home, I suppose.”
“Nope!” Tyler interrupted. “Daddy gonna bury my dead ant Matilda in the back yard.”
The pastor was astonished, but considered he was conversing with a kindergartner.
“And how did Aunt Matilda die?” The pastor was careful to ask in a low tone. He had learned that sudden deaths were more traumatic than long illnesses. “Was it expected? A disease of some sort?”
“Nope!” Tyler said again. Then he stared back toward the kitchen. “It’s a secret. Nobody’s s’posed to know. Okay. I’ll tell ya’. R.J. whopped her in the head with a skillet. But nobody thinks I know ‘bout it. But I saw him last night. He whopped her hard with the skillet.”
The pastor’s eyes became rather … wide.
“Killed by R.J.?” It was hard for the preacher to imagine. R.J. was only ten years old. “Surely, you’re not saying R.J. killed your Aunt Matilda?”
“Okay,” Tyler conceded. “We’ll just call ‘im Captain Crunch. And we’re gonna bury her in the back yard today. Will you preach the funeral?” His eyes were passionate.
“Sure he will!” Randy finally broke into the conversation. “Come back about noon, if you can, Pastor. That’ll give me time to dig the hole.”
“You’re not serious?” A sheepish grin crossed the pastor’s face. He sensed from Randy’s expression that something was askew.
“Well, it’s that or flush her down the toilet.” Randy smiled broadly and stood to follow Pastor Barnett back to the front door.
Just as the preacher was crossing the threshold, Randy said, “Ant. A.N.T. Ant. Not A.U.N.T.”
The preacher looked back at Randy, and teased him with a shake of the head — and his fore-finger. “I should’ve known. See you at noon.” The door closed.
“Randy,” Ellen called, “Your eggs are done!” Father and son returned to the kitchen.
“So what did he want?” Ellen wondered, dishing Randy’s eggs onto a plate.
“He didn’t say.”
[ to be CONTINUED next week ]
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© Copyright, 2004 – Kenny Paul Clarkson