Faith and Funerals by William L. Alton

A snake bit Aunt Faye. It bit her in church. Gethsemane Baptist. It bit her face. She pulled off its head but then she died. She died in church. She died listening to the prayers and shouts. She died because she was sinful and the snake knew it.

Grandpa sat in the dining room staring out the window. He sat as if he were waiting for something. “Stupid,” he said.

We had the funeral in the church that killed her. Grandpa told Pastor Foster there would be no snakes. He told Pastor Foster there would be no speaking in tongues. “It will be a quiet gathering,” Grandpa said. “Eulogy. Prayer. Nothing else.”

The church was too full, too hot. The church smelled of snake skins and dust. They laid Aunt Faye out in her simple pine box at the altar. We all filed by. I expected her to sit up and say something nasty, but she didn’t. She lay there in her red dress. Her hair all done up nice. She was no longer real. She existed, if she existed at all, somewhere else.

Pastor Foster took the pulpit. He murmured from Psalms and from Philippians. Grandpa sat in the pew shaking his head. He had something to say but this was not the time or place. Grandpa respected time and place. When Pastor Foster finished, Aunt Faye’s friends told stories. They talked about Aunt Faye’s evangelism and charity. “She could lead the darkest souls to the light,” they said. They said her death was a pity.

Afterwards, old women in their old black dresses and hats that looked like slaughtered birds gathered in groups, clucking and pecking at each other. They talked about how her red dress. “Made her look whorish,” they said, but not too loud. They talked about the time she poisoned everyone at the Fall Festival with her potato salad. They looked at Leon and shook their heads. “That poor boy,” they said. People thought Leon was stupid but he wasn’t. He just didn’t think like everyone else. “What’s he going to do with himself?” they asked. He held down a job at the slaughterhouse in town but that didn’t matter. These old women saw what they saw and thought what they thought.

William L. Alton started writing in the Eighties. Since then his work has appeared in Main Channel Voices, World Audience and Breadcrumb Scabs among others. In 2010, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published several books. One collection of flash fiction, Girls, two collections of poetry titled Heroes of Silence and Heat Washes Through, a memoir titled My Name is Bill and three novels: Flesh and Bone, Comfortable Madness, and The Tragedy of Being Happy. He earned both his BA and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.