The hand-carved doors of Madrona Bay’s log church swung closed, cutting off a raven’s raucous cry. From her seat in the front pew, Kate Taylor smelled cedar and fought a wave of nausea.
They made coffins from cedar.
The Reverend John Baxter stepped up to the scarred pulpit.
“David Taylor will be sadly missed by us all,” he said. “Particularly his wife Kate and daughter Jennifer.”
Jennifer jerked at the sound of her name. Kate reached for her hand, but Jen refused the contact and wrapped her arms tightly across her midriff.
“This man was beloved of God,” said the pastor as he gestured to the coffin.
No, Kate thought. Whatever was in that box, it wasn’t David.
Sarah, on Kate’s right, whispered, “Hang in there. You can do this.”
She wished she could pull away, like Jennifer.
I hear David calling, but I’m standing wrist deep in tepid dishwater, irritated by the urgency in his voice. Plastic scouring pad in my left hand, stubborn baked-on roasting pan lumps. Today a client committed suicide.
“Kate! Come here!”
“Wait a minute!” I grab the decorative towel from the oven door and dry my fingers.
I’m in the doorway to David’s study ...
“Breathe,” murmured Sarah. “Just breathe.”
The pastor surrendered the pulpit to Penny Graham, president of the Madrona Bay Historical Society. The tears on Penny’s wrinkled face sent a sharp pain shafting into Kate’s own throat. She thought of clients in crisis being checked into the psych ward, and yearned to batter the walls with her fists until they bled.
“Until the walls bleed,” asked David, “or the fists?”
“Either ... both.”
“Most of you know David Taylor as the principal of Madrona Bay High School,” said Penny. “I remember him as the boy who wouldn’t stop asking questions when his grade five Social Studies class came to the museum. David loved the Pacific Northwest. He was working on a creative non-fiction account of our first settlers, entitled Madrona Legacy. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to finish it.”
Kate turned and saw Jennifer’s lips pressed together, strands of her black hair trapped by tears on her cheek. Even in grief, Jen was visibly her father’s child. She’d inherited his dark hair rather than her mother’s mixed brown, David’s height instead of Kate’s rounded average stature. After the funeral, they would go home together, but she hadn’t a clue what to say to her daughter. If Jennifer were a counseling client, she’d know the words, but this was life and the house rang with David’s absence.
She’ll be going back to university soon.
I’ll be alone.
Penny stepped down from the pulpit. Her cane tapped on the hardwood floor as she passed Kate with a sad smile.
One hand on the back of the pew, one foot in front of the other. She tried to find Jennifer and Sarah among the blurred colors, but the funeral morphed into a wedding and she lost her place in time.
She’d married David in this pioneer church. David, tall and thin in a gray suit, had vowed eternal love. Right here—her feet faltered two steps from the pulpit—she’d promised until death do us part while the ocean breeze whispered outside.
Only a few witnesses that day: David’s parents, Kate’s best friend from university, and three of David’s fellow teachers. Kate’s mother hadn’t attended, and she wasn’t here today.
The congregation resolved into a blur of color around Jennifer, who glared at Kate from the pew. Earlier, Kate’s nineteen year old daughter had proclaimed that funerals were barbaric. The counselor in Kate recognized Jen's words as an expression of grief, but she had been too wrapped in her own numbness to respond.
Kate spoke dry-eyed from the pulpit, because if she cried she would disintegrate.
“When David and I talked about the future, we always imagined ourselves together: attending our daughter’s graduation, her wedding, our first grandchild’s christening ... together.”
Jennifer looked away and Kate’s eyes filled with burning tears. She might not know what to do for Jennifer, but she needed to make a promise to David.
“A few days before David’s—before his heart attack, he finished the first draft of Madrona Legacy. He promised the book to the Historical Society before the end of January, but now...”
“I have your notes for the revisions, David. I’ll make sure Madrona Legacy is delivered on time. I love you, darling.”
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