Mystery Suspense


Kate was nine years old when her great-grandfather, who had spent the last years of his life with them, died. Great-grandfather Orlando was ninety-two and he had been very strict. He had often reproached her for her disobedience and had often repeated to her that she was rude. And when he said it he made a disgusted face and said:” Ah, those! They allow you everything” referring to her parents.

The great-grandfather had died after a few days of illness during which everyone knew he was going to die.

Kate had never seen a dead before. Her great-grandfather Orlando was the first person she saw dead. The first thing that struck her when she saw him dead was that he looked dwarfed. And in the features of his face, stiffened, he seemed even more gruff and severe than he had been in life. For Kate death until then did not exist except as an abstract word. When she saw her great-grandfather dead death became something real, it became an inanimate and stiffened body that stopped breathing, whose heart stopped.

Funeral home attendants came, they washed and dressed the dead great-grandfather and placed him in the coffin. The coffin was lined with a violet cloth. Violet, a color so much loved by Kate, became for her the color of death.  The coffin was placed on the bed where he had died and four large candles were lit around the bed.

Everyone in the house spoke in a low voice, whispering, murmuring.

In the bedroom of the great-grandfather, transformed into a mortuary, flowers were also placed and it was sprinkled with incense.  

In the following hours started to arrive a lot of people. Many of them were distant relatives and friends of her great-grandfather that she did not know, as well as others known to her.

Her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts were very busy cooking. That night was the funeral vigil ( wake) at which Kate was present until she fell asleep.  The participants in the funeral vigil ate and drank abundantly, recited prayers, and even talked about the deceased, remembering episodes of his life. The great-grandfather had participated in both the First and Second world wars. He had been wounded and taken prisoner.

People participants in the funeral wake also talked about…to die and death. “ Death is for everyone, sooner or later” was one of the phrases that Kate heard repeat.

“ Everything ends with death” claimed his uncle Aldo, arousing the disapproval of many others who believed in the immortality of the soul and for whom death was not the end of everything but the passage to another life.  These were speeches and words that Kate had also heard in catechism, which she too had believed, but now, faced with the dead body of her great-grandfather she no longer knew what to believe.

Before falling asleep ___it was late at night and the participants in the wake were talking about the immortality of the soul _____Kate saw a fly circling and approaching a candle flame and then her great-grandfather’s face, on which it was placed. “ Flies are attracted to corpses,” someone said and that sentence made her think, who knows why, that the immortality of the soul did not exist, could not exist. What did that fly smell, what did that fly attract, great-grandfather’s soul or his dead body? Even believing in the soul became difficult. What was the soul? Where was it? If in death the soul separated from the body, why one could see only the body and not the soul? Kate fell asleep with her heart pounding and she dreamed of her great-grandfather’s body entirely covered in flies, as if they were a carpet.

The following morning the necrophores arrived to close the coffin. Kate watched from the door. The lid of the wooden coffin, which had been leaned against a wall, had a metal crucifix on it.

The necrophores placed the lid on the coffin and then nailed it down with screws. The screeching, the noise they made had something frightening. The great-grandfather was closed, and sealed into the coffin. His body also disappeared, which she would never have seen again. Those blows on the coffin, to close it, had something definitive, irrevocable. They made Kate think to hell. Would her great-grandfather have gone to hell? Even if her belief in the existence of the soul wavered, those blows on the coffin made her think of an escapable doom.

The coffin was carried to the church for the funeral. It was placed beside the altar and sprinkled with incense. The smell of incense and candle wax filled the church. To Kate, it seemed the smell of death but also the smell of a suspended time, as if waiting for something decisive.

Maybe her great-grandfather would wake up from his sleep, he would scream and he would return to the living. Perhaps the coffin would open and he would leap out.

During the funeral a dear friend of the great-grandfather, Louis, remembered him, praising him lavishly. Louis said that Orlando had been a good, just, and merciful man, that he had been a good husband, a good father, and a good grandfather. Louis did not mention any faults or sins of the great-grandfather Orlando who had also been very short-tempered and certainly too severe for Kate.

The priest spoke of the life and death, of the soul, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ whose sacrifice had saved humanity, guaranteeing everyone the resurrection of the bodies.

Kate listened with trepidation. Why would the resurrection of the bodies have happened in the distant future? Why not make the dead resurrect immediately as Jesus had done with Lazarus?

Kate was waiting but the miracle didn’t happen. The great-grandfather remained closed in the coffin. After the church ceremony, the coffin was carried to the cemetery, where the pit had already been dug. How deep that pit was with fresh, living clods of earth. When the coffin was lowered into the grave ( pit) Kate thought again of death, not only her great-grandfather’s death, but of her own. One day, sooner or later, she too would be closed in a coffin and lowered into a pit, then covered with earth. She too would have ended up rotting underground.

Of course, it was a comfort to be able to believe in the survival of the soul and in the resurrection of the body, but she couldn’t believe it anymore.

July 07, 2023 23:24

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