They came to say good-bye to one of there own...
|It was a long time ago and it was like yesterday.
It was seven on Saturday morning and the weather was co-operating. Charley John knew, as young men do, that his plan was going to work.
His plans usually did.
“I remember a Saturday morning more than fifty years ago today,” Charley said softly into the microphone. “I was at home with my mother...”
He saw himself sitting in his mother's kitchen looking outside through the ice coated window, watching the snow fall, loving the sight, knowing they could raise the sixty-five dollars if the snow kept falling.
“It was 1968 and it was snowing just like now,” Charley said to the solemn church. “Like a son-of-a-bitch!”
The church hummed in quiet laughter.
Just then the over head lights flickered on and then off and then on and finally went off and stayed off and the fake candles ceased to flicker over the closed casket of Charley's mother behind him.
“There was a power outage just like now...” Charley said with a smile in his voice, and the church folk tittered in nervous laughter and raised there eyes to the rafters where the light bulbs were now gray.
“Would you care for some hot chocolate, my mother asked me,” Charley said. “You all remember how she spoke--'would you care for some hot chocolate?'” he mimicked.
He gazed across the half smiling faces sitting in neat rows before him.
“Do you remember?” he asked loudly.
The congregation said: “Yes!” and “You bet!” and “Boy howdy!”
“Do you remember?” he asked again, more loudly still.
“Yes!” they said from their seats. “Yes we do!” They tried to match him in volume but didn't come close.
Charley was pretty sure his mother was in her flannel nightgown at the time she asked him if he wanted hot chocolate. He was pretty sure she had little pink curlers in her hair. He was pretty sure she had cold cream rubbed into her face which wasn't completely rubbed in and the cold cream had little popped bubbles in it.
“I said, 'yes',” Charley said, continuing his story. “And she said 'yes what?' And I said, 'yes, I fuckin' want some hot chocolate,'” Charley said into the microphone, his voice now even tempered..
They laughed out loud from all corners of the little church this time.
“That was my mother,” Charley said. “Some of you remember her only as the grouchy old 'elderly neighbor', and she was that, but she was much more than that,” Charley said. “Aren't I right, Sammy McNeil?”
“You're right for sure, Charley!” Sammy called from the left hand side of the church.
“Aren't I right, Morgan Shaw?”
“God bless your sweet ma, Charley John!” Morgan said from somewhere far in the rear.
Charley swallowed and watched the congregation smiling, nodding their heads.
There was a great silence in the church. Charley knew that if his voice broke no one would fault him, but he didn't want to cry. He swallowed and continued, “We knew we had to make money fast or we'd lose the house. The Governor was threatening to call in the National Guard. The roads needed clearing, and none of you could get out your houses and we, my mother and me, had the only snow blower in town!”
The church went deathly still.
Charley stood over the podium looking down at each face; face after face. “And we took that snow blower to house after house, and we said 'pay us what you can,' and we cleaned those driveways all the way up to your front doors—Do you remember? We cleared your houses and your roads and your kids all got to go out sledding for the day!”
The church, but for the slow squeaking of the roof, was silent.
“Do you remember?” Charley called loudly out to the people sitting—their eyes like cold river-rocks peering back from the pews.
Mr. and Mrs. Mallory stood up from the mid-rows and walked toward the doors in the back. Charley was quiet while they made their march, and everybody watched them push and pull the doors with no result.
Mr. Mallory turned and looked back up to Charley at the podium.
“Do you know,” Charley said, “that not one of you fine folks ever got around to paying one slim dime?”
The roof top went on making a slow, high-pitched wood against wood squealing sound as the snow continued to gather weight.
“We lost the house,” said Charley simply.
Several men got up and tried their own hand at the thick front door.
Several people followed Father Malkinow down the back steps to the side door and they found those doors locked as well.
The roof was now groaning in a louder, more sinister manner.
“What's going on here, Charley?” someone asked. “What have you done, Charley John?”
Now everyone in the church was standing, listening, watching the roof.
They could all see the roof swaying back and forth in long and lengthening motion. The sound of the old timber reminded Charley of the sound copulating feral cats make.
Charley began to laugh, a deep throaty chuckle. Snow leaked in through the rafters and two of the stained glass windows cracked and then shattered. People made their way crawling over each other toward the windows which were way too small and high above their heads to escape through, as other people began putting their heart and soul and shoulders to the front doors, and Charley was laughing long and hard into the microphone, as the snow fell in greater volume into the church through the roof and the squealing of agonized timber began to over-ride the plaintive calls to Charley from his old friends; “What have you fucking done, Charley John?”