The small Unitarian church in Norborne had originally been a Quaker meeting hall. With the passage of time, and in response to a dwindling population, it gradually morphed into a Unitarian fellowship. The sanctuary was a light filled space with white walls, wide windows, and wooden floors and pews. A single wrought iron candelabra-style chandelier hung from the ceiling overhead, adding only a little light to the wash of mid-morning sun that shone in through the windows.
On the morning of Dennis Moore's funeral, Quinn sat beside Hampton in a pew at the front of the sanctuary. As the time the service was scheduled to start drew close, Quinn was surprised at how many people began filing into the small sanctuary for the funeral service. Looking over her shoulder at the crowd in the rows behind her, she glimpsed several students and even a few teachers she knew from school. There were also people she did not recognize. She supposed the people she couldn't place had worked with her father when he had a career, and were notified of the service in an obituary Cass had placed in the local paper.
Quinn hadn't seen her extended family on either parent's side in years. Not knowing how to get in touch with them, Quinn vaguely wondered when and how they would find out her father was dead.
She'd spent very little time in church, and like hospitals, equated them with sad events. Hampton formed a dejected figure beside her in the pew. Notwithstanding the steady stoicism he'd displayed, Toby was absent during the service. Cass was setting up a reception in the fellowship hall for after the service, and she enlisted Toby to help.
An ancient looking man with long gray hair, which he wore braided in a wispy ponytail down his back, officiated the ceremony. He wore a silver Concho bolo tie studded in turquoise. His voice was a gravelly tenor that quieted the crowd by measure of its own quietness.
Sitting in a white eyelet dress trimmed in black satin ribbon, Quinn's palms were clammy with sweat. She had the distinct pins and needles sensation of eyes boring into her back. She was abruptly aware of the minister's voice cutting through her thoughts with a quote from St. John of the Cross: -.
"And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven, and the name of that river was suffering; and I saw the boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of that boat was love."
Quinn couldn't picture a kingdom of heaven, though it stilled her nerves to imagine that something of her father remained in existence somehow. She didn't notice her cheeks were wet until she felt a hand brush her shoulder to hand her a tissue. She took it and turning, saw Daniel had slipped into the row behind her.
Turning to face forward again, she blotted the tears from her cheeks. As the service drew to a close, Daniel was not the only person who's attention Quinn held. A man some in the crowd likely willed themselves not to notice sat several rows back, confident he would not be recognized by either of Dennis Moore's children.
Everatt Neilson studied Quinn's face, noting how her almond eyes angled just enough at the corners over high flat cheekbones, to lend her features a rather muted Asiatic look. He found himself suddenly wracking his brain to remember specific details from a man's life which, current attendance at his funeral aside; he had experienced no qualms about destroying. It had been a thrill- waiting to see if and when a seemingly insignificant biological agent may blossom into an agent of death. In his youth, Neilson made amateur lepidopterology a hobby, but he had set aside waiting on butterflies to unfold their wings in favor of observing a similar, but much more powerful phenomenon in the careful cultivation of small scale natural catastrophes. Everatt Neilson generally perceived the lives of others to be small-scale affairs.
The recent visit Neilson paid Dennis Moore only reinforced his conviction that Moore's mind had long since been laid waste, and left behind only the shell of an utter burn out. Dennis Moore was seemingly incapable of scientific discourse on any subject during their brief chat, much less able to offer an explanation of how Dr. Harjo, despite an inability to produce sperm, might have managed to conceive a child with his wife all those years ago. Ironically though, here was one of Moore's own children, the same age Harjo's child would have been.
If memory served Neilson correctly, Moore's own wife wasn't even in the picture all those years ago. At the same office party where Dr. and Mrs. Harjo had taken their leave early, citing Kyoko's pregnancy as their excuse, Neilson overheard a couple of admin assistants speculating that Moore would be divorced soon. It seemed his wife had been gone for months. She was an alcoholic, or junkie, or both. Neilson only recalled this bit of gossip because it had brought to mind the girls he picked out in escort ads on anonymous social networking sites. He preferred the ones with the greatest number of track marks, and would revisit their profiles after their rendezvous for the thrill of knowing that no matter how many looked; he'd been the last to see. It had even occurred to him back then how ironic it would be if one of those girls turned out to be Moore's wife.
Presently, these memories served the function of fueling Neilson's curiosity. How had Moore managed to have a child when his wife wasn't around, at the same time Harjo seemingly lost his chance with his own wife's abrupt death? As much as he relished the thought of speaking to Quinn, just for a moment, and perhaps even touching her hand, Neilson's first instinct was to preserve his anonymity. He slipped out of the church as people stood up at the end of the service, but made sure he grabbed a program on his way out.
Quinn was relieved to finish shaking hands with what seemed like everyone at her father's service. They all told her how sorry they were; she found herself fighting the urge to remind them that it had nothing to do with them, really.
Daniel stood by as the crowd filed past, heading toward the reception in the fellowship hall. Quinn remained fixed in her spot, simply trying to recall what if felt like to breathe.
"They were sorry."
"What?" Quinn said, caught off guard.
Daniel shrugged. "They said so; every last one."
"My Grandpa died last spring," Daniel continued. "I spent a lot of time with him growing up because I had bad asthma. My parents worked. Well, my Dad worked and mom was 'busy'. As a kid especially, I was with him all the time."
Quinn stared off into space, but answered, "I think I thought my parents embodied time itself when I was a kid. I never imagined time would just go on without them."
Daniel shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I asked my Grandpa once when I was a kid, how a person can tell when they become an adult. I wanted to know if you felt different on that birthday, the one where you technically become an adult. What he told me stayed with me.
It was something like: 'It's not that you ever really feel like an adult, so much as you just stop feeling like a kid.' He said that at some point I would remember being a kid the same way I remembered dreams."
"That story makes me miss him, and I never even knew your Grandpa." Quinn said gently.
"Well, you know me. Maybe that's how we all carry on." Daniel said.
"Maybe." Quinn looked at the ground, adding, "I got an acceptance letter from the Live-Play Corporation in the mail this week, for an internship this summer. Right now, I just want to escape from this place."
Daniel nodded silently in response as they turned and walked together toward the fellowship hall together.
YOU ARE READING
A Singular WitnessScience Fiction
Quinn wants to escape her claustrophobic hometown after her father dies unexpectedly from a rare parasitic infection, and an internship filming feed in cities around the world for a software company developing a virtual running game seems like her t...