Harvey Taylor sat in a pew at St. Patrick's Parish waiting for Mrs. Lapinski's funeral to start. As he anticipated, there weren't a whole lot of mourners gathered. Most of the people in attendance appeared to be parish regulars and not necessarily acquaintances of the deceased.
A woman entered the church and sat in the same pew as Harvey which he found slightly annoying. There were plenty of available empty pews throughout the church that she could have chosen instead of invading his space. He smiled politely but he kept his attention focused on the altar as he waited for the service to begin.
Father Fitzgerald did a good job celebrating the funeral Mass. His sermon was kind and sympathetic to Mrs. Lapinski by talking about why Faith matters - for reallove that outlasts fear and suffering to amplify a trust in the goodness of God.
"It is impossible to trust a God we don't believe in," Father preached from the pulpit. "Faith matters because hope and love can't carry the weight of the suffering on the cross without good in the world and meaning to every life no matter how wounded or flawed that life might be. We have a duty to treat people with charity and kindness even when they don't behave the same way. That requires love for God with loyalty, generosity; honesty and mercy in dealing with others and discipline and humility in how we interact with them."
Harvey thought Father did a good job in forgiving Mrs. Lapinski for her shortcomings by talking about God's love for all his children.
When it came time for the sign of peace, the woman in Harvey's pew turned to him and accepted his hand.
"Peace be with you," Harvey said courteously.
"Peace be with you, Harvey," the woman replied.
He did a double take, caught off guard to be called by his name by a woman he didn't know. Or did he?
Harvey peered at her for a long moment – she was looking at the altar and not at him now. She suddenly seemed familiar although Harvey still didn't recognize her. She had reddish amber hair, thick and full to her shoulders, and she had a shapely body in the modest black dress she was wearing for the occasion but Harvey simply couldn't place the woman.
The Mass continued and Harvey tried to focus on the prayers and the Eucharist but he was bothered by the presence of the woman in the pew because she obviously knew who he was when he was unable to identify her.
The Mass ended with the final prayers and Mrs. Lapinski's casket was wheeled from the church to be placed in the hearse for the ride to her final resting place.
Harvey left the pew first, genuflecting in front of the tabernacle before leaving the church to the exit hymn.
"Are you going to the cemetery?"
Harvey turned to find the lady from the pew a step or two behind him, looking at him with interest. He stuck his finger in the holy water font and blessed himself as he left the church, waiting until he was outside before turning to face the woman.
"I'm sorry, but I have no idea who you are," Harvey confessed as they stood in the sun outside the church.
"I know," she giggled. "I could tell by the look on your face."
"So?" He asked patiently. "Are you going to make me ask?"
"I'm Anita Scanton, Harvey," She announced.
"No you're not," Harvey dumbly replied.
"Oh, I guess I'm confused," Anita said, rolling her eyes. "Come on, I'll drive us to the cemetery. We can come back for your car later."
A dumbstruck Harvey stared at her as they walked to her car, an expensive black sporty model with the roof down. Anita popped on a pair of black sunglasses as she slipped into the driver's seat. Harvey opened the door to the passenger's side and took his seat, at a loss for words.
"I had a feeling you might show up," Anita remarked as she started the car. "You were always the sentimental and sensitive one."
"I hated her," Harvey said. "Everybody did."
"Hate is an awfully strong word," Anita replied. "Let's just say the woman was difficult. Challenging."
"Mean. Nasty. Callous. Miserable," Harvey complained.
"Nobody's perfect, Harvey," Anita said as they followed the funeral procession of limos, hearses, and cars to the cemetery. "Isn't that why you're here?"
He glanced out the window at the passing houses. "I knew she was a lonely woman forgotten by most," he said. "I was afraid nobody would show up."
"You're a good person," Anita replied.
"You always had a soft spot for her," Harvey recalled. "You were the only one."
"There was something tragic about her," Anita admitted. "I felt sorry for her."
"They say she was a young widow," Harvey volunteered. "Her husband died in Vietnam, I think. My mother said she was always a little crazy after that."
"Who could blame her?" Anita asked.
"She was never friendly or welcoming," Harvey complained. "Her yard was off limits. She didn't like the neighborhood kids. Her house was dark on Halloween and Christmas. She'd yell at us from her porch even when we weren't doing anything."
"I know, Harvey," Anita reminded him. "I was there, remember?"
"It's been a while since those days," Harvey sighed.
"Yeah," Anita agreed.
The procession of vehicles turned into the cemetery and the few who came gathered around the gravesite with the priest and funeral director. Father Fitzgerald recited the committal prayers and just like that the service was over.
"Let's take a walk," Anita suggested.
They walked among the gravestones on the pleasant summer day.
"Weren't you in New York?" Harvey asked after they quietly strolled in reflection for several rows.
"I was," Anita confirmed. "I've been back for a few months."
"Weren't you married?" Harvey asked as they strolled among the grave flowers and flags.
"I was," Anita remarked. "It didn't work out."
"Sorry," Harvey replied. "Weren't you on Broadway and all that?"
"I was," Anita said. "I got tired of chasing the dream."
"I, of course, never left," Harvey let her know.
"You're on the fire department, right?"
"I am proud to be a firefighter," Harvey recited in response. "I revere that long line of expert firefighters who by their devotion to duty and sacrifice of self, have made it possible for me to be a member of a service honored and respected, in good times and bad, throughout the world. I never, by word or deed, will bring reproach upon the fair name of the fire service, nor permit others to do so unchallenged. I will cheerfully and willingly obey all lawful orders. I will always be on time to relieve, and shall endeavor to do more, rather than less, than my share. I will always be at my station, alert and attending to my duties. I shall, so far as I am able, bring to my seniors solutions, not problems. I shall live joyously, but always with due regard for the rights and privileges of others. I shall endeavor to be a model citizen in the community in which I live. I shall sell my life dearly to my enemy fire but give it freely to rescue those in peril. With God's help, I shall endeavor to be one of His noblest Works." He gave her a look. "That's the firefighter's creed," he explained.
"Very powerful," Anita replied. "Thank you for what you do."
They walked among the stones for a while longer. The funeral director and the mourners had left and the cemetery was empty except for the workers placing the coffin in the ground with the crane.
"So," Anita wanted to know with a wry look on her face. "When are you going to ask me about the elephant in the graveyard?"