Thursday I received a form rejection letter ... but there was a small note below the signature line--a note so small I almost missed it--that read, "Excellent story, Christina, really well written. We just had several similar submissions. Please try us again."
Not too shabby, I guess. Unless they write that to all the submitters. ;-)
Anyway, since this story was not something I would have written removed from the contest, I decided to publish it here on my blog! Remember, all submissions had to use the same first line, word for word.
Without further ado, I present ...
Roy owned the only drive-thru funeral business in Maine. When or how it had started, he wasn’t sure. Alls he knew is that it had, and everyone in Maine, North Carolina knew it too. Which explained why a warm summer morning perfect for fishing instead found him turning the loamy earth in a graveyard. Every worm he came across wiggled a sarcastic reminder he wasn’t dangling a hook over still water.
Tommy Jordan whizzed up on his bike and screeched to a sideways stop. “Mister Roy, the funeral procession just begun. You’d better get that grave dug before they get here.”
Roy stood, pressing one gloved hand into the small of his back, wiping sweat from his face with the other. “How much time you reckon I have?”
“Maybe five minutes.” Tommy dismounted from his bike, kicked the back tire so the frame pointed in the direction he had come from, and did some kind of running leap back onto the banana seat. “Maybe less!” he called over his shoulder as he tore down the road.
If Roy’s old bones had ever been capable of such a feat, he couldn’t recall. Seemed he’d been stuck in a slow-moving body for nigh half a century. Maybe that’s why he’d been chosen to officiate the funerals. Maybe he was one of the few in town who had the time to listen to those no one really heard.
Or maybe it was because they figured he had one foot in the grave already.
He shook off the ruminations and dug another shovelful of dirt from the shallow hole. The grave probably should have been deeper, but with hanging the tarp between the two cottonwood trees for shade, setting some lemonade on the rickety table for refreshments, and procuring a tie to wear, there really hadn’t been much time for grave digging.
No one had complained in the past and he didn’t expect any grumbling today.
The blues of a harmonica tickled his ear. Soon followed the shake of a bean rattle, the jangle of a tambourine. Sounded like quite a crowd this morning. He scooped one last load of dirt from the rectangular hole and hid the shovel respectfully behind the shed.
Around the corner came the mourning party, many a folk dressed in black. Susie May even had a black veil covering her face as if she were a proper widow. A small, rough-hewn box drifted along on the shoulders of four strapping boys, each with a somber expression pinned to his face.
Roy tightened the knot of his tie and motioned the grieving folk to stand on one side of the grave while he took his place on the other. He knew the words he spoke would be repeated all over town before the sun went down, so they needed extra thought.
The four pallbearers lowered the box into the hole. One of them lost his balance and wobbled like a weather vane in a windstorm. Guffaws broke out from the crowd, which Susie May was quick to silence with a whip of her head.
Roy cleared his throat. “And who will we be setting in the ground today?”
The most sober-faced whippersnapper stepped forward. “One-eyed Jack, him heaven bound.”
“Ah.” Roy laid his hand across his heart. “May the good Lord, who loves all creatures great and small, give Jack unlimited fields in which to run, a full dish at every meal, and all the bones of the largest dinosaur. Amen.”
“Amen,” intoned the group as one.
Little Susie May sashayed to the front, stooped for a handful of dirt, and flung it onto the coffin. She tore her grandmother’s veiled hat from her head. “Now that ol’ Jack’s dead and gone, Mama said we can get a new puppy.”
Tommy Jordan tugged on Roy’s sleeve. “Great service, Mr. Roy. Wanna come to the fishing hole with us now?”
“You all drink up the lemonade and maybe we can fry some catfish for lunch.” Roy removed his tie and donned a floppy, lure-laden hat.
The rest of the children dropped their mournful expressions and cheered. Ol’ Roy might have one foot in the grave, yes indeed, but the joy of the children was his strength.
I had a great time writing it. What do you think? We all have three months to enter the next one. :-)