This weekend, we get a look into a father’s life–an Episcopalian father, presiding over a funeral. Father Patrick Quinn is a man with normal desires: faith, sex, automobiles. How can he get what he wants while still playing the role of head of his parish? —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
Patrick Quinn fingers his collar and watches the funeral director instruct the pallbearers. The grave site is steep. Two days ago the widow had joked with him, Father, you’d better wear your golf shoes with cleats.
Quinn follows six beefy pallbearers to the rear of the hearse where the funeral director, a woman, gives directions. She is dressed in a smart black pants suit, contoured at the waist and hips, three-quarter sleeves, high-waisted flares, and sensible black pumps. The pallbearers look like high school linebackers. They can’t take their eyes off her, either.
Quinn has worked with her before, but where? His parish draws folk from three rural counties, cradle-to-grave Episcopalians who line up for death and are plucked monthly from the back rows of the country church where he has served for 12 years.
A small plane drones overhead, and a late summer breeze blows through oak and maple trees. Below, a creek flows steadily to the Little Miami, from there to the Ohio River, and eventually into the Mississippi. Reared in New Orleans, Quinn has never gotten used to the staid funerals of these stoic Midwesterners.
Catherine left him for a podiatrist in town. In bed watching a new vampire series, she’d turned to him and said, “Jesus, Quinn, I thought you knew? We weren’t exactly discreet.” But Quinn hadn’t known. In the parish, he is always the last to know. People hide bad news. Quinn has booked a flight to Connemara, County Galway. But first, this funeral. This director. What is her name?
He opens the Book of Worship and recites the opening sentences. The psalms and the prayers he intones solemnly, in plain song, as the widow had requested. Quinn is conscious of his brittle tenor, and of the woman who stands beside him, watching.
Frankie. Her name is Frankie. They had ridden out to St. Paris in the black hearse for the Bleeker funeral, not long after Catherine moved out, a week before their 20th anniversary. Which he will spend in Ireland, alone.
Quinn listens to Frankie’s voice rise beside him, a low alto. She uses the old language, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Placing his right hand on the casket, above the silent head, he stands on the narrow spit of land between the casket and Frankie’s small feet, on green Astroturf that covers freshly dug earth.
Quinn pronounces the benediction. He plucks a white rose from the spray on the casket and gives it to the widow, who breaks into tears. Quinn comforts her with the ancient wisdom of the church, aware that Frankie has not left his side. His parish is comprised of mostly post-menopausal women, and Quinn feels the heat from Frankie’s body, not two feet away. He recalls that her boyfriend is a body builder, a hypochondriac unable to sire a child. She is the lapsed daughter of a deceased fundamentalist minister in town, a man Quinn despised for his narrow-mindedness.
Birds sing their late summer song. The creek moves fast, the current deep. An orange kayak floats downstream. Quinn has parked his BMW in the shade of a live oak. He gifted himself after the divorce.
The family scatters. Happy to be done with the funeral, Quinn thinks of his upcoming trip to Connemara. Frankie trades war stories with two cemetery caretakers, men Quinn has worked with often. Quinn laughs at their recycled stories. He would like to take the BMW’s top down and follow the creek around the cemetery.
Frankie recalls a picture-taking ceremony. Family members took turns leaning into the casket with their faces next to the corpse, she says. They had big cheesy grins. They handed me a camera and made me snap away, till everyone had a keepsake. I’m sure it all wound up on Facebook.
She has braces, the kind that blend in with the teeth, so all you see is a thin white wire. On the drive to the cemetery she’d confessed to Quinn that she was often accused of being too perky for funerals. She bares her right arm and shows them her tattoo, a grocery list. Quinn laughs.
They admire the day, the gentle breeze, the dexterity of the kayaker. Quinn says it’s a great day to take a ride in a convertible, and hears a trio of voices. “What convertible?”
Mine, Quinn says. Oh, you didn’t, Frankie says.
You got a minute? I can show you how it works. Frankie shrugs and says sure. The men walk to their truck.
Quinn waves the key like a wand at the keyless ignition and fires the 300-horsepower twin-turbo engine. The BMW is fire engine red with a cream interior. The dual exhaust pipes play a throaty duet. Frankie arches a trained eyebrow. She has a small cluster of freckles around her nose, and that one clear line across her teeth.
Quinn presses a button and the red top begins to lift. The top slides back into the trunk. Four windows disappear.
Sweet, Frankie says. She opens the passenger side door.
Quinn punches up the volume of “Thunder Road,” and navigates the creek bend. He slows to a stop to allow a family of ducks to cross. Frankie’s alto harmonizes with Springsteen, “the door is open but the ride ain’t free.” The goslings follow their mother in a straight line.
Quinn sets his clerical collar on the console. In one week summer will be over, and it will be Labor Day. Frankie is no more than thirty. All men are mortal, he remembers from logic class. Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.
Frankie twirls Quinn’s clerical collar like a Frisbee. The ducks make their duck noises, and the creek flows. Quinn lifts the collar from Frankie’s pretty finger and places it around her slender neck. He prays every prayer he knows.