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Monday, August 03, 2009

FAR Future, Episode 99

Friday, May 19, 2045
Funeral for Our Friends

Rene woke me up yesterday morning shouting “¡Mama! Papa!” and something in Spanish I didn’t catch. By the time I threw on a robe and came down the hall, he was on the phone. He was obviously stressed, switching back and forth between English and Spanish, and I caught a word of the latter: muerté — that explained why. Guillermo and Maria had “checked out” overnight.

“The ambulance will be here in half an hour,” he told me. “I have to call Christina.” Serena joined us, then went to get Daughter Dearest after embracing Rene as he made the call. He went back upstairs as they came back in.

“I let Dean know,” Daughter Dearest said. “The Smiths and Joneses, too.”

“I’ll call the priest,” I told them. “They would want last rites.” Serena nodded, and I told my gadget to find and call the local Catholic mission. Guillermo and Maria had never wavered from their old faith, even attending Mass online most Sundays and holding confessions over the phone. Father Alvarado, their confessor and pastor, agreed to come immediately and arrived on a Commuter Scooter shortly behind the ambulance. In the meantime, Rene had come back downstairs and told us Christina (and the rest of their family) would be here early tomorrow.

The doctor stepped out and nodded to us. “Natural causes,” he said, “and within an hour of each other. I’ve heard of things like that, but never saw it for myself. You’ll want a couple of minutes with the deceased, I assume?”

We nodded, Rene went in, then stopped; I had just enough time to duck around him, then saw and stopped too. Father Alvarado bumped into us from behind, and Serena ran into him. “What is it?” she asked.

We stepped aside to let them see. The doctor had pulled the covers back, and Guillermo and Maria had died holding hands. Maria had the quiet smile she often had when the day had gone well. Guillermo’s free hand rested on his stilled corazón; he, too, looked quite content.

Father Alvarado nodded, lifted his crucifix, and performed the last rites. “They were good people, faithful,” he said afterward. “They deserved to be taken to Heaven together like this. I appreciate you calling me.” He opened a box he’d kept in an inner pocket; it contained wafers, a small bottle of wine, and another of holy water. “Now, if you are willing, kneel and receive the Body of Christ.”

“Um, Father,” I said as Rene knelt and crossed himself, “I’m not Catholic.”

“Have you received Christ and His baptism?” I nodded, as did Serena and Daughter Dearest. “Then you are invited to His table.”

I knelt with the girlies and smiled. “That’s different.”

“This century has brought many changes — and not even the Church is immune to change,” he chuckled as he prepared the Host. “These matters are now left to the conscience of His servants. There are many places now where there would be no congregations if we insisted on some of the old certainties — and we would be poor servants indeed if we shut the door of grace to all.” He served Rene first, so the rest of us could take our cue from him. Dean slipped in as he served us, and he joined us in the ritual.

Finally, we filed out of the bedroom and let the doctor and EMT carry our friends out to the ambulance (a Heehaw with what looked like a fat aero-cap). I know they still have a few diesel ones around; they probably use those when it’s not too late. They drove away, and left us with a huge void.

The funeral was this afternoon at the mission, with all of us in attendance. I found an old photo I’d taken of Guillermo and Maria — with their kids — shortly after they came to FAR Manor to live with us, found a frame, and sat it on an easel they had for the purpose. When the priest asked if anyone had anything to say, Rene and Christina nudged me forward. I gave them the they were your parents look, with a smile, and stepped forward trying to collect my thoughts.

“Guillermo and Maria came to us so many years ago,” I began, “I can’t think of how long. Sometimes, it seems like they — and their children, now my children-in-law — were always a part of our lives. They never asked for much, not even taking a few days off when I offered them. Some people considered them our servants, or even slaves, but to me they were equals, a brother- and sister-in-law. They sat at our dinner table and helped to run the farm. They always gave their all to any task. And I fear that I’ll be serving them in Heaven.” That got a chuckle or two, as I had hoped.

Last night, I imagined them in their own resting place: a Mexico that never was, where campesinos sing as they bring in the harvest and join the eternal fiesta. Or perhaps it’s a Dia de Los Muertes that never ends?


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