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Sneak Peek, Chapter 3: The Funeral

Here is your “sneak peek” at Chapter 3 of “Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness.” Unpublished copy, all rights reserved. (c)Beverly Scott

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Chapter 3: The Funeral

I had awakened with that knot in my back again and my stomach was churning. As I dressed, brushed my hair and wound it up on my head, a shiver moved through me. I wasn’t sure if it was the cold or the emptiness that lay ahead.

I had coaxed the fire awake, blowing on it and throwing on some cow chips. Now, it burned with enthusiasm, warming up the room. All three boys reached out stiff fingers toward the heat while the body of their father lay covered by a quilt next to the wall. As I took a fresh batch of biscuits out of the oven, Daniel grabbed one and popped the whole thing in his mouth. The other boys copied their older brother.

“Where are your manners?” I demanded. Then I reminded myself they had just lost their father and I gave them a forgiving smile.

We sat around the table sharing fresh, warm milk and dunking biscuits. Patricia was sitting on my lap sucking on her fingers. When they’d finished eating, Petey asked, “Where did Papa go if he’s dead?” It was a question I’d been dreading.

“He didn’t go anywhere,” Daniel said, jumping in before I could respond. “His body died. He can’t go anywhere.”

“But,” Charlie said, his forehead was wrinkled in puzzlement, “what’s it mean to go to Heaven? Maybe he’s in Heaven.”

“What’s ‘aven?” Petey asked.

I set my cup of tea on the table. “God, who created everything, including us, gives us a period of time on earth,” I said. “When our time’s up, our bodies die because our hearts stop beating. That’s what happened to Papa. His heart stopped beating.”

I needed to pause to hold myself together. I resented that I even had to have this conversation. I’d always relied on Sam’s wisdom for questions like these. But now he was gone. I glanced at Sam’s body then I looked at the boys. Daniel gazed at me with anticipation. Joe looked bored and stared off into empty space. Charlie’s eyes were wide with curiosity while Petey was looking at me patiently, still waiting to learn about heaven.

I took a gulp of my tea and then plunged on. “The spirit that lives inside our bodies doesn’t die like our bodies. It goes to live with God.”

“So that’s what Heaven is… living with God?” Charlie looked relieved.

“Yeah,” Joe said, grinning as he looked over at Papa’s body. “Up in the sky…that’s where Pa is.”

Daniel frowned. “Don’t be funny, Joe.”

“I want my Papa,” Petey wailed.

“Petey, come here,” I said, handing Patricia to Daniel and then gathering up Petey on my lap, rocking back and forth, soothing him, lightly rubbing his back.

“We all miss Papa,” I said as I looked at my boys. Tears were silently rolling down Joe’s and Charlie’s faces. Daniel’s face scrunched up and the tears soon welled up in his eyes and spilled onto his cheeks too. I opened my arms to gather them all in, swallowing hard. Then I let my own tears flow.

“But Ma, how’re we going to make it?” Daniel cried. “We can’t grow anything on this land!”

Petey’s sobs had turned to hiccups now and the other boys were sniffling.

I needed to be strong. I sat up straight, breathed deeply and looked at each of my children. “I don’t know for sure, but I do know this–we will be together and we will all be strong for each other.” I paused and took a breath. “Now, let’s get cleaned up and get dressed to go into town for the funeral.”

I moved slowly to prepare to leave. My arthritis had gotten worse since Sam got sick and it was taking longer for my joints to loosen this morning. I felt very stiff.

“Joe, come and help me carry Pa out to the wagon,” Daniel said.

Joe nodded his head and they prepared to carry their father to the wagon wrapped in one of my quilts.

“I want to help.” Charlie went over to Sam’s feet and grasped them. They lifted him gingerly at first. They seemed to assume he would be heavy—after all he had been a big man. But his illness had whittled him down to nothing. They were able to lift him easily.

After a brief service, Preacher Van led the small gathering in the Lord’s Prayer. With the final “Amen,” I prepared myself to receive the condolences from the few families who had come. They were all kind and well-meaning people. I wondered how it would feel to stay here among them in New Mexico.

Many of them asked me about my plans and I found myself repeating, “I haven’t decided yet.” Then Mrs. Argon came over and said to me in a loud whisper, “My dear, you shouldn’t stay here. All the wives will worry every time you speak to their men. No one will trust you as a widow woman.”

I winced and turned away.

Preacher Van overheard her cutting remark and hurried over. “Mrs. Martin, you know you are welcome to stay. Not everyone feels that way.” He paused. “Still, you might be better off with your family in Nebraska.”

I pulled my shawl around me and tried to swallow the ache in my throat as I stepped cautiously toward the wagon. The boys were waiting, shifting from one foot to another, shivering from the cold.

“I hate this place,” Daniel said, pounding his fist on the wagon.

“Me too,” Joe added as he walked away from his brothers.

“But where can we go?” Charlie whined.

“Oh, be quiet!” Daniel hissed.

I knew they didn’t like it here, but did I really want to take my family on the long perilous journey back to Nebraska?

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