Bernie F.

I had on my black suit, form fitted with a slight flare cut to the leg. My white shirt was starched and I was wearing a prussian blue tie. My shoes were shined and reflected me back at myself when I looked at my toes. I was all dressed up to go to Bernie F’s funeral. I’d known Bernie F for almost 40 years, having met him just before I joined the army. From then on, Bernie F was a part of my life, and a good part of my life in spite of the fact that I never did find out what the F stood for. I assumed it was his last name, but who knows for sure. I asked him his name when we met and he said his name was Bernie F and I took his word for it.

But now Bernie was dead, the victim of a pistachio nut that got lodged in his throat. I’d never known Bernie to be a pistachio eater, and maybe he wasn’t and his inexperience was the reason he inhaled the nut instead of swallowing it. Anyway, all of us from the neighborhood had gathered to say our last goodbyes to Bernie and so we’d filed into the little omni-denominational church that sat on the edge of town, right near the clutch of birch trees that were the only birches for hundreds of miles. It tended to give the church a kind of notoriety, being the only church near the only birch trees. But the undertaker had set Bernie in the church and not under the birches and that was fine with us, what with it raining like cats and dogs.

About 20 of us came to say goodbye, there were the Benoit family, Fred and Myra and their two twin boys, Ermine and Mink. The Dalleys were there too, Mr. and Mrs. both, which was nice since they never did like Bernie. The Purvals were there, the whole clan, so many of them I can’t name, but they filled up eight slots of the twenty what came to the funeral. Then where was Bernie’s mom, who we didn’t know but had come down from one of the cities in one of the other states and I have no idea which or which. I was still taking a nose count when Mink started screaming that Bernie was still alive and how he saw his nose twitch.

That caused us all to rush over to the casket to look at Bernie F, because we had all read oddities in the news and were all aware that the darndest things could happen and this might be one of them. We were all circled around Bernie and just staring at him, nobody saying a word. We looked and then we looked some more. Mink said he swore that he saw Bernie F twitch his nose and Ermine sorta punched him on the arm and called him a liar. Myra reached in and boxed both boys on the ears and told them to mind their being respectful and the boys both looked at their shoes. Then Mink said “did too” and Ermine said “not” and then they were hitting each other again and getting louder when Fred said we’d ought to find out for sure whether Bernie F was dead.

He stepped real close to the casket and reached in and grabbed Bernie’s nose and squeezed it between his thumb and forefinger. He was squeezing pretty hard too, what with how his knuckles were a bit white from the exertion. He gave a good twist to the nose, turning it kind of like the channel changers back on old televisions. When he let go, Bernie F’s nose stayed pointing to 3 o’clock instead of 12. That made it easier for Mrs. Purval, who was holding a compact mirror in front of Bernie’s nose and lips, to see if it would fog up from Bernie breathing. The mirror stayed clear and after we all looked at it for a good couple of minutes, we all started nodding to one another and agreeing that even if her wasn’t dead, he sure as hell wasn’t breathing. Which, of course, was good enough for all of us.

Each of us took a turn standing in front of Bernie F and saying a kind word about him. People allowed as how he always wore pants unlike some of the people in the neighborhood that were known to hang around their front yards in their boxer shorts, and how he was nice enough to be quiet when he came home drunk. The Purvals said they were really happy that he’d been a good enough man not to hit on any of their six daughters which brought nods and ahhh noises from everyone because we finally realized all the Purval kids were girls. I had to think to myself that Bernie F probably never made a pass because no one could tell for sure about those kids.

When everyone had had their say about Bernie F, we all filed out of the church and were heading over to our cars when Ermine asked his dad loudly what would happen to Bernie F now? Just about everyone stopped and looked at each other, then looked at the dust that the undertakers car was leaving as it drove up the road. We could look back at the church and its wide open door and see that Bernie F, still in his casket, was still sitting on saw horses at the front of the church. I mentioned aloud that I didn’t have a shovel with me and sped up my pace to the car. Behind my back I heard all the neighborhood making the same excuse and their footsteps speeding up. Last person out is stuck with the job of seeing Bernie F off to the promised land.

I was the next car behind the undertaker, who, I really thought should be the one to put old Bernie in the ground. After all, I assumed someone had paid him for the job. It was later on at the bar, toasting old Bernie F, that I found out that the undertaker had been given the job by the sheriff of the next county. We didn’t have a sheriff of our own, and so this one would occasionally show up doing sheriffy things like trying to arrest us for driving our rigs drunk. He finally quit that when we kept on just going home and not going to court because we didn’t have a court in our county, in fact, we didn’t really have a county. We all lived on unincorporated land and claimed a township without there really being one. We figured that since we didn’t have running water, electricity garbage or sewer service we didn’t need a government telling us how to use them. So we voted never to vote and it passed unanimously.

I guess someone took care of Bernie because a month or so later one of the Purval kids got hitched to a guy from the city and no one complained about a bad smell or anything. Of course, most of us were all talking about the guy from the city and how he was able to figure out his bride to be was a woman. We’d known that family for a long time now, and we still weren’t sure, even in spite of the Purvals swearing their kids were all girls.

That, of course, reminds me of something I can’t remember and I was going to tell you about it. But since I can’t recall exactly what it was, I’ll tell you later.