The burial took place on Saturday morning. Jack Bigsby was laid to rest in a closed, hardwood casket. Although the details of his death were shrouded in mystery, his daughter Claire found some sense of comfort in the closed coffin. Not being able to see her father’s face helped her quell tears and keep her composure through this time of sorrow. Instead, she remembered him as he was—always smiling, his lips parted with tender kisses and words of encouragement.
There were several hundred in attendance at the burial site, a number showing the tremendous support the community had for Jack, especially after the Celebration of Life service at the church. Claire knew many of these people. She often felt caring hands on her shoulders here, heard warm whispers of sympathy in her ears there, and experienced many hugs in-between. As the service concluded, many in the crowd dispersed, while others formed a line to share their condolences with her.
Susan Jett came forward and wrapped her arms around her. “There, there now. It’ll be all right. You will do fine,” she whispered in her ear. Susan wore a black pantsuit with a yellow blouse. Her short red hair was peppered with hairspray and her perfume hinted that she had spent the morning picking fruit from a peach orchard. She held onto Claire for a long moment. “You call me any time you need
me.” She leaned back and looked her directly in her eyes with a warm smile. Then her expression turned serious. “For any reason.”
“I will.” Claire responded.
“Even if it’s just to talk hubble-bubble.”
“I promise. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of things to talk through,” Claire said, attempting a smile. She wiped the tears from her cheeks that had escaped the reservoir of sorrow in her eyes.
“I learned a lot about the business from your father. I’ll share whatever you want to know.” She turned to leave, then stopped and glanced back at her. “Claire, he truly was a great man.”
“Thank you.” Claire responded, touched. She swallowed hard.
As Susan stepped out of the way, Claire caught a glimpse of a man standing in the field of headstones along a distant hill. He was just outside of the crowd and didn’t fit with the people who had attended the funeral. Many of the attendees were leaving and walking past him, but he stood as still as the headstones around him, facing her in the opposite direction of the people leaving. He wore a
brown overcoat which ran down past the knees of his black slacks. A gust of wind caught the belt of his coat and flapped it against his side. Claire could make out the top of a striped peppermint tie that disappeared underneath the overcoat. He was bald and had the face of a mannequin—without a smile or compassion. He appeared withdrawn. The lines of his face suggested disgust or possibly hate. He wore overly-large mirrored sunglasses, yet he seemed to be staring right at Claire.
A brief chill ran up her back. Although the crowd was large and the moment was brief, it appeared to Claire that they were the only two people present in the cemetery. His gaze mesmerized hers as if she were in the trance of a snake.
John Swellson stepped into her line of sight, blocking her view of the man and, in effect, breaking the trance. “Claire, I’m so sorry,” John said, smiling at her. For most, a smile in this setting would seem strange, but John was an eternal optimist and always had encouraging words for people. His heart was as big as his six-foot-four frame and he had worked with her father for many years. “If there is anything I can do for you, I want to be at the top of your call list. I so enjoyed working for your father. Keep in mind, we will have to discuss some things later on, but that is obviously a topic for another time. When you get a chance to catch your breath, call me. I miss him so much already.”
“Thank you so much for coming. I know we have to talk. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but yes, let’s get together soon,” Claire responded warmly.
“You have my most heartfelt condolences.” He hugged her tightly, towering over her for a moment with her head against his chest and told her again she could always call him if the need arose.
As he stepped away, Claire noticed his eyes were glassy as he repressed his own inner turmoil. She felt as doted on as if she were a teenage girl, even though she was thirty-three. Many in the community had given her emotional support since her father had died, and she was both encouraged by it and drained.
Mark and Beverly Chapman were next. As they approached, Claire lifted her eyes to the headstones on the not-so-distant hill.
The man with the mirrored shades was gone.
“Mark. Bev. Thank you so much for being here,” Claire said through her tears. Seeing her neighbors, her friends made her weep again. “I’m sorry.” She clamped her jaw closed, trying to repress her emotions.
The couple, both in their mid-sixties, had lived next to Claire for over four years now. Throughout that time, they had become the best of friends. Bev had been a source of wisdom and conversation for her since that time and Mark, had looked after her as if she were his own flesh and blood, even though they had never had children of their own.
Bev embraced her and Mark put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “You have nothing to apologize for. Mark and I are here for you. If you’re lonely in that house of yours, just come knock on our door.”
“We know this must be such a hard time, sweetheart,” Mark said consolingly. He embraced her and held her for a long moment. “With time, the hurt will heal. The best thing you can do is get back to work as quickly as possible. It will force you to take your mind off of the loss. If you need anything, please let us know.”
Many more people shared memories, told her she was loved and told her how much her father meant to them. Claire was emotionally exhausted by the time she’d reached the end of the line and wanted nothing more than to sit alone for a little while by her father’s casket.
Eventually, a man would lower the enclosure and cover it with dirt. Restless, yet not ready to leave, the autumn afternoon helped her decision as a gust of brisk wind sent goosebumps across her arms and neck. Chilled, she stood over the casket and touched the side of the smooth top. The last opportunity to see her father’s face passed as she left the gravesite.