by No Sweat
For Charlie Harris' Family and Gina McKnight
No body's funeral should have been on Christmas, but his was: Heaven's Gates were locked wide open. All the angels were preening their wings. A new soul was coming.
A week ago a phone call woke up the half-drunk,old Irishman No Sweat, a poor, ignorant hillbilly dwelling in dark-some eastern Kentucky, a pathetic creature who had failed at every adventure in his long and miserable life; his last means of income now rotating around his white pigeons being released at funerals.
"No Sweat, we saw your name on the Internet. What do you charge for your funeral services? "Well-now these ain't no ordinary pigeons, they happen to be the best in the world. Pure snow white. Like virgins on a deserted beach in Antarctica. I flew the four birds you'll be needing in a race down there in South Africa. Finished first, second, third, and fourth against one hundred and ninety-seven thousand pigeons from all over the world. It wasn't even close."
"What do you charge?"
"Is this going to be a big funeral?"
"We are expecting more than ten thousand people to attend the graveside services which will be held at the Audubon Alms Memorial Gardens."
"Ain't that that place where they use to raise strawberries and now all they do is plant people?"
"Yes. That field had the sweetest strawberries."
"M-m-m...well, I reckon a hundred dollars will cover it. Cash. Good money. Small bills. In advance. I'll send the pigeons over to the funeral home . Your preacher will get my instructions. I'll have them in a fancy-made thing to sit in during the ceremony; it looks like a church with a steeple."
ONE WEEK LATER - DECEMBER 25, 2015
There is snow and there is snow. Flakes were coming down at an uncommon pace, some as big as I-HOP pancakes minus the blueberries. A whole flock of angel tears turning into ice was creating the snowflakes. Nobody had ever seen it snow like this.The cemetery was covered in freezing white.The only thing of color was the blue funeral tent. About every five minutes or so Father O'Mally was going around and poking a shovel handle up against the underside of the tent knocking off the snow. He stood almost five feet tall in his black boots; four feet, ten and one-half inches to be exact. He stood there under the edge of the funeral tent adjusting his inch thick glasses setting them carefully across his face, owning the contoured eyebrows of a cooper hawks wings V-folded making its dive to catch a pigeon. He stretched his chicken neck and looked into the dense gray sky. Seven long strands of hair covered his bald head. He had slicked down the strands with Old Spice cologne. Those near him thought he smelled like a sailor. He pulled out a large megaphone and announced to the crowd "TESTING. TESTING. ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR.TESTING!."
O'Mally couldn't see any tombstones for the all the people squeezed-in and frozen together. There wasn't even much room to shiver. He looked down at the pigeons and then again back into the sky. Heaven is up there, somewhere, he thought. "Ladieeeez and gentlemen," announced the delicate Father O'Mally in his shrill voice as the veins strained in his neck. "We are gathered here to pay homage to a a stalwart among mankind. As me poor ol' Irish mom used to say as she headed to the barn, 'He's the bes' I ever set a bucket under.' And this man surely was. Now then, I am going to let this first bird go. But before I do I want to say some stuff and explain. This pigeon here is the Father. I'm letting him go now. He represents the first part of the Holy Trinity. Golly-Petesakes, watch that bird go! Now then, I'm letting this second bird go. He is the Son. Look at him! Just like A.J. Foyt on his last lap in the Indy 500. He's hooking up with that other-n. See'em up there circling! Here goes the third one. He's the Holy Ghost. Watch him! He's catching up with those other two! Go boy go!"
The angels looked down from heaven at the crowd frozen together at the cemetery. "They look like a frozen coconut milk," spoke the youngest one once a native of Bali Hai as she brushed her pet, a snow white horse with wings she called a Pegasus.
The three lost white pigeons kept circling in the snowstorm. At times they disappeared in the falling snow but would again reappear when everyone had counted them gone. Sometimes they circled over low as if in slow motion causing some people to be mesmerized. Some were almost cast into a trance. Everything was so surreal with the white pigeons and the giant snowflakes blending together as if in some strange dream.
"OK now," spoke Father O'Mally. "I've got one more bird to let loose. He represents the soul of our dearly departed. When this bird gets connected up there with the others they are all going to fly off to heaven. They will be taking a soul with them. Amen. Now here goes nothing!"
As the three lost white pigeons continued to circle unable to find a building or tree to land on to, the last pigeon was tossed into the air. None of the three young white pigeons had ever been outside their loft which was little more than a glorified chicken coop. And this last little pigeon was just barely feathered out under the wings. The baby pigeon fluttered back down landing on the edge of the funeral tent. The bird was totally bewildered and sat there dead still. Its mother had been a blue Gazzi Modena having been killed by a rat three weeks earlier. And his father was a roller who had never rolled in his life.
Seeing the baby pigeon flutter down to the tent caught the other three pigeons' attention bringing them down out of the sky to land at the edge of the funeral tent alongside him. Ten thousand funeral visitors looked on. Nobody said nothing. It was a miracle how the Father, Son and Holy Ghost had landed to help bring the soul back to heaven. They had never seen anything like this and they somehow knew they never would again.
The four bewildered white pigeons continued to hold still on the funeral tent. And then a strange and powerful sound from the sky began to emit, becoming so loud it owned everyone's total attention causing them to stare towards the sky in confusion and fear. It was a primordial noise; the eerie clicking and ghostly squawks of the ancient past done in the form of a blue heron's voice prepping to go to roost. Nobody could tell where the sound was emitting.
Angels have a lot of bird in them. Wings and things. They were making the loud noise not to frighten everyone but to communicate with the four pigeons. The four birds studied the sky. They knew bird talk. And they knew what the angels were saying.
Suddenly, the noise stopped and a blast of Arctic air lifted the birds into the sky. They were being twisted in the wind as they attempted to make one circle. And then they were gone. Everyone kept scanning the sky but there was no sign of them.
Besides performing bird calls, angels were even better at blowing air. Two flocks of them had gathered to blow the Arctic air they knew was needed.
The four pigeons were lost in a whirling white dream and it was Christmas Day. The gust of wind they were trying to survive in instantly stopped. The birds blinked their eyes. Before them was the finest roost imaginable. They flew up and landed on pearly gates. On one gate owned four roomy box roost made of solid white marble. Each bird dropped down into his own roost and then looked down. Below them they watched with the angels as the soul of the man who had died came through the gates. The man had loved his racing pigeons all his life and his soul could not have been more elated.
ONE WEEK LATER...
No Sweat wasn't worried his four pigeons had not come home. He knew they never had a chance. The birds weren't worth five dollars altogether. He concluded he had done OK, all things considered. He went out to his mailbox to get his mail, hoping there wasn't something in there showing him he was broke or had to go to court. When he looked, he saw one small plain envelope. He took the envelope inside his house and opened it. There was no writing anywhere. But, there was a lottery ticket for the upcoming 100 million dollar drawing, which would be announced that night. No Sweat looked over at the envelope and watched as it completely disappeared. I've got to stop drinking, he said to himself. Either that, or drink twice as much.
When night came, No Sweat was passed out on his couch. He had the strangest dream of winning the lottery and buying a strawberry farm where he grew strawberries and raised the best racing pigeons ever.....