The Altar Boys by John DiRicco
Funeral – 1994
It’s a big deal when someone like this dies.
The black hearse had no trouble pulling alongside the curb near the back entrance of the church. After a few moments, its driver somberly stepped out onto the sidewalk. Since he’d performed these funeral services countless times over the years, he moved with an efficient grace. His body knew what to do and where to go. But this man was never just mechanical with the dead (or the living) at a service. This man was a professional. He never forgot what his father once told him: “Every funeral is hard for someone. Don’t make a hard day harder.”
The hearse driver watched the young men, all roughly the same age, step out of a nearby sedan. The day brilliantly displayed the sun in blue skies so perfect you wanted to grab it all, store it, and then reuse it when things got harsh. Handsome young men, the driver thought. Each of them, eyes hidden by sunglasses, scanned the area around the church, a church they’d all once known so well but now approached as one would a vaguely recognizable classmate at a dreaded school reunion. The driver wondered if they were sharing a thought he’d heard verbalized at so many funerals: how odd to bury someone on such a glorious day.
As the driver ruminated, two women elegantly dressed in black entered the church and sat next to each other in a pew towards the back. Both were attractive, but for one, that adjective was barely a starting point to do proper tribute to her beauty. A wisp of blonde hair, tucked stylishly under an asymmetrical black hat, brushed against her blue eyes. For the other woman, the description of ‘attractive’ was justifiable and fit just fine. But this was clearly the highest height her looks could ever possibly reach. Tasteful as it was, there was no use describing her outfit as hardly anyone noticed her when the two women were together. Despite this long-accepted reality, however, they’d always been friends.
A lawnmower buzzed in the distance as a bus quietly lumbered up the neighboring street. As if by its own force of gravity, the hearse pulled the young men’s eyes towards the now-exposed coffin. The driver gently motioned the men to its long handles. He watched them stare at this quiet finality, the end verdict that no one escapes. The men somberly approached the coffin and took their appointed positions.
The driver was good with names, a peculiar gift he’d always had. Mark, Jake, Alex, and Lyle. The driver had been told that the four had been friends since they attended grade school here. As he had only vague recollections of his own grade school days, he wondered if these four had stayed friends in the best sense of the word. Or had they already experienced how too many friendships crumble over time like poorly mixed cement?
The church was crowded—a large share of townspeople, parishioners, former students, and teachers filled the pews. The driver took one more look at the young men in these final moments before the organ sounded and it all became real. He wondered what they’d have done differently a week ago, if they’d known who they’d be burying today.
JOHN DIRICCO was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wrote The Altar Boys because many of the threads and shards of the story come from his own life.