245. Recessional

Louise did not turn to see.
In the jumble of all
Rising up to sing,
The recessional had started:
          There are loved ones in the glory
          Whose dear forms you often miss.
          When you close your earthly story,
          Will you join them in their bliss?

Riah sang along, no book.
Her lips moved soundless.
Soon the boys who’d lit the candles
Would come snuff them out and
March, in their black robes,
Back down the aisle,
And then the preacher–
          Will the circle be unbroken?
          By and by, Lord,
          By and by?
          There’s a better home a-waiting
          In the sky, Lord,
          In the sky.

Louise should be last to go;
But as the next verse started,
She stood,
In full view, exposed.
She was scrabbling, Riah saw now,
For her things–
Snatching up her shiny purse,
A cotton jacket,
Tugging at the big blue hat.
She worked her way along,
Not toward the side,
But toward the center.
Fronting them,
She swung into the aisle
As music swelled,
With purse in tow–
Departing, whey-faced,
Cheeks a hectic red.
          You can picture happy gath’rings
          Round the fireside long ago;
          And you think of tearful partings
          When they left you here below.

Then she dropped it.
How it happened, none
Could tell. But
Her purse fell,
Smack! and clatter,
Plastic snakeskin slick, and
Skidded down the aisle.
She scurried after it–
The clasp had sprung–
Out tumbling came her compact,
And a bottle of cologne,
Her rouge, mascara,
Lipstick,
In a silver tube,
Sprawled on the floor.
          One by one the seats were emptied;
          One by one they went away.
          Now the family is parted;
          Will it be complete one day?

Louise crouched, but
Almost lost her hat.
She jammed it tight,
Then dropped down to her knees.
She grabbed the rouge,
The lipstick, and the rest,
And stuffed them in.
She struggled to her feet,
Now short of breath,
And hastened on–
          Will the circle be unbroken?
          By and by, Lord,
          By and by?
          There’s a better home a-waiting,
          In the sky, Lord,
          In the sky.

Louise vanished
Into the dark wind.
Riah watched, appalled, and
Thunderstruck, as if
A storm broke round her head.
Events were out of hand.

Thomas held her firmly
By the arm.

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