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**PRINT: 1997, by C.T. Ballentine (with an assist by Doug Milam), the first in our 8.5-by-11-inch mini-broadsheets series, easily printable on readers' desktops. We encourage active participation in distribution from any interested parties. Follow the main link above for more.

**PRINT: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER, by Chicago resident and native Kate Duva, is THE2NDHAND’s 33rd broadsheet. Duva's been plying the brains of THE2NDHAND readers for several years now, and her characteristic stylistic mix of arch-weird and arch-real in story makes for an explosively brittle manifestation of reality in this the longest story she's published in these halls, about a young woman's sojourn at what she sees as the edges of American civilization, Albuquerque, N.M., where she works as a nurse in state group homes for aging mentally disabled people. Catch Duva Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler in Chicago at the second installment of our new reading series, So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? This issue also features a short by THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine.

**WEB: WING & FLY: A MESSAGE FROM HAROLD RAY -- Nerves of Steel Feb. 8! | Todd Dills
MINNIE LEE's FUNERAL Anne Whitehouse
BASEBALL Alec Niedenthal
UNBEARABLE LIKENESS Christopher Fullerton
RABBIT Irene Westcott

Anne Whitehouse

Anne Whitehouse is the author of the novel Fall Love and, most recently, the poetry collection Blessings and Curses. Lately, she's been guest-blogging at the "Jewish thought" journal Poetica. See her latest contribution here. "Minnie Lee's Funeral" is set in Birmingham, Ala., where Whitehouse was born and raised.

Red mud glistened on the sides of the road. We were on our way to Minnie Lee's funeral that February morning in the cold and rain that means winter in the South. She had died two days before of a cerebral hemorrhage. Everyone was shocked at how swiftly death came, without signs or reason. On the way there I kept seeing Minnie Lee's face in my mind, remembering last Thursday when she'd come to work, the same as she'd been doing for six years. She hadn't looked sick to me then and I never remembered her complaining about her health, only that her back sometimes ached. "Those crickets in my bones," she used to say. It wasn't that I didn't believe in death, just not in Minnie Lee's death.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

My father asked directions to Minnie Lee's Baptist Church from her brother, but it still took us awhile to find it; it was an old wooden house that had been fixed up with a steeple, and it was off the main road. We almost got stuck twice driving up to it.

The church was already full by the time we got inside. It was too hot in the dry winter way of overheated rooms that makes your head pull together and feel faint. There was a bronze crucifix over the entrance like in hospitals, only bigger, and one stained glass window on the right near the front showing Jesus as a shepherd with a flock of three little lambs. The wood was light unfinished pine, some of the knots oozing sap in the heat. A strip of red carpet led straight down the center aisle past rows of black faces up the pulpit. Underneath the murmur of voices I could hear a radiator keeping time in irregular beats.

"Mama," I whispered loudly over the noise, "those other people Minnie Lee worked for didn't even show up. And she worked for them much longer than for us."

"Some people have no respect." The radiator stopped its knocking halfway through my mother's sentence, made the last words come out loud, too loud.

"Let's sit in the back," my father said. I felt grateful because I could feel the rows of eyes on us, people nodding and whispering. We were the only white people in the whole church. My father guided us to a back pew but a man came up and started talking to him.

"They want us to sit up front."

"Do we have to, Daddy?" my sister said. I could see the tears start in her eyes.

"They reserved a whole row for us. That man said we're guests of honor."


My father cut me off. "Don't make a fuss. There're things in life you just have to do. There's no getting around it."

"But everyone will be staring at us," I finished, but there was no one to listen. They were already halfway up the center aisle and I had to run to catch up with them.

Just before the pulpit on a little stand was the open casket. In front of the casket, four short rows were fixed perpendicular to the other long rows in the church. The man pointed to the front row and motioned to us.

"Sit down, girls," my mother said.

I slid in first, then my mother, my father, and my sister. Right to my left was the open coffin. Minnie Lee slept in her final rest, her face with its closed eyes next to mine. I had never seen a dead person before, and as I looked at Minnie Lee, the room took on another tone, dimmer and muted, like a sound when a glass jar slips over it, altering its whole feeling, and you realize you must have heard it wrong before and you don't know how to hear it right. Minnie Lee was wearing a long robe with the rough, closed texture of linen or silk. Her face, which had been a lustrous black where the expressions changed faster than glitter on diamonds had now turned a sallow grey. Before I had never noticed the grizzle in her hair, creases in the skin from nostril to mouth. She looked so much smaller lying there in that coffin than she had in real life that I wondered if dead people shrank when their souls left their bodies.

My mother nudged my arm. Someone was passing out programs. I had never heard of programs at funerals before, but I got handed a white sheet printed and folded over. On the cover was a photograph of Minnie Lee, but I never would've recognized her from it. She must have been 19 when it was taken. She was 54 when she died.

"They could've at least chosen a recent picture," my mother said.

Under the picture was printed her name, "Minnie Lee Weston," and her birth and death dates and below that a list of all the organizations she had belonged to. There must have been at least ten. "I'm a joining person," she'd always say. There was her church choir, a Ladies Aid Society, a Sunday School group, but what caught my eyes was The Daughters of the Eastern Star. While my sister and I ate the potato chips or fried pork rinds she'd bring us, we'd listen to her tantalizingly drop hints about the Eastern Star, the intrigues between the members. "You gotta humor 'em and know 'em," she said.

"Tell us more," we'd beg. "What do you do at the meetings?"

"I can't. I've sworn never to reveal a word," she would say, in low thrilling tones. As much as we'd nag her, she'd never give anything away.

Her secrets had died with her. I knew enough to know there was a lot I didn't know. I had always thought I would be afraid at the sight of a dead person, but, sitting right next to Minnie Lee's body, I was calm and solemn. I could tell by the way my mother held her gloves in one hand and smoothed them over and over with the other four fingers held straight and flat as a board that she was frightened by the closeness of that dead body to her, and I wanted to reassure her but didn't know how. While the congregation assembled in their seats, she nudged me in the side with her elbow. "Just don't look. Look straight ahead. They're all watching but it'll be over soon." Her tone seemed to assume I shared her fear and I couldn't help the resentment that rose in me against her.

If I clench my fists enough, I won't mind, I told myself. I felt points of pain start and the anger falling back and my head clearing in the too-hot dry air. Nothing mattered. I was myself alone. I looked at the marks my nails made in my palms like it was someone else's hands, watched them turn from white to red, then fade. Upon the pulpit above the casket, the choir was rising, their robes red blue red blue. They sang:

The river Jordan is muddy and cold
It chills the body but not the soul
All my trials, Lord, soon be over

The minister was bigger than a fullback, not to be dwarfed by God or man. In a voice like a bassoon he preached: "We are gathered together today in mourning for our beloved Sister in Christ Minnie Lee Weston who departed from this life February the Tenth. Rest in peace. The Lord takes back His own." There were no prayerbooks, no hymnals. His voice a cadence falling, rising in the box of a church. After awhile I forgot to listen, to catch the words floating by. My head heavy in the heat. I looked at Minnie Lee lying there in the coffin. I had heard that sometimes people died smiling as signs they were pleased with what they met in the beyond, but I could not divine an expression in Minnie Lee's face. Her lips folded against each other, smooth and flat.

If living was a thing that money could buy
The rich would live and the poor would die
All my trials, Lord, soon be over

"Today our sermon concerns the story of Naomi and Ruth in the Bible, which I'm sure you all here know, but to refresh your memory Naomi growed up in the Holy Land, a good religious girl always tending to God's word. But she was dissatisfied, Lord, yes, dissatisfied. Not content with the lot she was born to. She wanted to see the bright lights of the city shinin day and night in her face. The world never stoppin but goin on, and so she got married to a man from the land of Moab and moved there where the lights never dimmed atall and abided there in the city, never pausin to think that Moab was a godless country. Yessuh, a godless country where they didn't worship the Lord Jesus or have no Sunday Schools. But she lived there and had two sons and they married in Moab and lived there."

The minister used his hands and his body as punctuation for the sermon. He was confident, finding a central pulse in the rhythms of his words and expanding it. His voice was a rocking boat carrying its listeners along. He knew just when to pause and when to take up the thread of his story.

"But by-and-by Naomi's husband died and her sons died. Naomi was an old woman and she saw the emptiness of those bright lights and recklected the Holy Land and she said I'm goin home. Lord yes I'm goin home. And she took her two daughters-in-law and told them, Children I'm an old woman and I'm goin back to my homeland. And Orpah she kissed Naomi goodbye but Ruth said I'm goin wit you and you can't stop me. She said and I read to you today, Thy people shall be my people and thy God my God. You see, my fellow worshippers in Christ, it is not too late to turn back to the Lord. It is never too late. Think to yourselves, are you leadin Christian lives? Performin the will of Jesus? I seen the light and I seen the darkness and I tell you now that Freedom, Freedom is the way of the Lord."

I got a little book was given to me
And every page spells Liberty
All my trials, Lord, soon be over

There grows a tree in Paradise
The pilgrims call it the Tree of Life
All my trials, Lord, soon be over

Part of the time I was hearing the minister and part of the time I wasn't. It seemed to me his words were like thunder and music and it didn't matter what they said or if they said anything. People were stirring around me, swaying a little from side to side, humming under their breath. Only my family and I sat motionless; we were separate, remote from the drama that swirled around us. I looked up but couldn't see a thing out of those small high-up windows. The radiator had quit knocking and was purring and shushing like water falling. Or was it the rain outside? I looked at Minnie Lee lying there and I could feel the cold core of silence settled around her coffin.

"Now if any members of the congregation would like to speak on the subject of our bereavement," the minister was saying, "would they please make theirselves heard at this time." I heard something rustling and recognized Minnie Lee's sister, Alma, standing up. Even from where I was sitting I could see the sweat beading on her forehead. "I lost the best sister in the world always ready with her hands open and her mouth shut asking no questions but helping all," she said in one breath. She stumbled a little and for a moment I was afraid she was going to fall, but her brother caught her shoulder, relaxed her to her seat. "Amen," the congregation sang, a wave of sound rolling through the room.

Minnie Lee's brother stood up. "We would like, if you please, a word from our guests." The whole congregation looked straight at us. My sister, my mother, and I looked at my father who stared down at his hands.

"We would indeed be honored," the minister gestured to us.

My father got up, coughed a few times, cleared his throat. I was too scared to look, but I could feel eyes and eyes on us. The back of my neck itched but I couldn't lift my hand to scratch it. I wanted to hide under the coffin stand and never come out.

"It's true, like Alma here says," my father began, "that Minnie Lee was always helping people in distress. I know this for a fact because of the people she sent to me who had legal troubles. And I understand she was very active here in the church, ready and active in all her organizations." I heard a murmuring through the church and I darted my eyes up and saw that people were nodding to one another and there was a rustle of "yeses." I was so surprised I didn't hear the rest. I had never known before that my father could make speeches.

After he sat down, other people came up to speak. I listened as their voices got thinner and wispier until I lost track of them. I was tired and drowsy and heavy in that hot room. I felt if my head could stop going round with dizziness, I'd find I could put my arm straight through those rows of swaying people as if they were no more than curtains going back and forth in an empty room. It seemed to me that if I could get beyond those curtains, I would see the real Minnie Lee, not in the closed grey face but somewhere else maybe perched up on the church's bare pine rafters looking down below at the grieving congregation. Slowly she would take a long drag off her cigarette and throw her head back, blow out smoke rings so thick and blue you could put your whole wrist through one.

After awhile I noticed there was no more talking, but people rising and lining up toward the front, like they were heading for the side door behind the casket and the rows next to it where we were sitting.

"What're they gonna do now?" I heard my sister whisper.

"Paying their last respects," my father whispered back.

Someone handed my mother a flower, a white gladiolus I remember because my mother says to this day they remind her of funerals. She looked around, a little crazily, like she didn't know what to do next, then rose and stood over the casket, kissed the gladiolus, and laid it on Minnie Lee's breast. "What a shame to remember her like this," she murmured to me as she sat down again. I held her hand tight.

So many people were crowding to the front of the overheated room that I lost sight of the bare wall across from me. They blocked out the pulpit and the minister. People swollen by their heavy winter coasts pushed against us where we sat in the front row beside the casket. I couldn't tell where the line ended. Maybe ten people had filed past the casket and out the side door. There was an undercurrent of wailing in the room that had a rhythm to it, like the swaying had.

Alma was approaching the coffin. She was so close to us that I could see how the hem of her black dress fell unevenly around her calves. For a moment there was silence. Then she rushed toward the open coffin. Thrusting her cheek against Minnie Lee's motionless breast, she cried, "Minnie Lee, why did you leave me? Take me with you, with you!" Her words, through sobs, were a high peal of sound, her face hidden, hat pinned over stiff crimped hair. The congregation suspended around her, waiting, scarcely breathing. I saw her hands shake, the coffin stand wobble under her weight, steadying again. She raised herself up, gasped, and as effortlessly as a leaf falling in summer wind, she fainted, right on top of me. Later my mother would say the fainting was a show put on for "us white folks" -- or, if not that, a competition to see who could prove their grief the greatest -- for, after Alma fainted, other mourners even way back in the line toppled over, prostrated in the aisle. I'm not so sure. I watched Alma falling as if from a distance, and I knew how her weight would knock the breath out of my lungs, saw the inevitability of it in slow motion the way you do in accidents or disasters when you know you can't stop them and you wait, helpless. For an instant, I saw her eyes dilated to black before the scratchy fabric of her dress forced mine to close. I don't know how much later it was when I felt, separately, her shoulder pressed to my face, her knees digging into my shins. When they pulled her off me, I was working for breath and my eyes were tearing where the dress had caught them.

My father managed to push us all through the crowd and out of the church by nodding toward everyone we passed and heading straight for that side door. I craned my neck for a last glimpse and saw the scene repeating itself, the minister waving his arms at the people rushing toward the coffin and noticed, in the emptiness at the back of the church, the bronze crucifix punctured by shadows. The last sound I heard was the radiator knocking.

The wall of cold wet air outside hit me and I stumbled. I was breathing again; I could see my breath condense, misty and white, then dissipate before me. As my eyes adjusted to the grey light of that winter afternoon, the colors of things penetrated me, the way they do when the light is opaque and flat and reflects nothing and casts no shadows. Colors became, not a quality light brings to objects, fluid and shifting from minute to minute, but denser, something that weaves together from inside, tighter and tighter so that it's the fabric itself, the whole substance wrapping itself around you, a sadness you can't pinpoint but more real than anything else you know. It seemed to me I'd never noticed that particular red of the mud the way it was now and it hurt me so my throat tightened and I wanted to break down right there outside the church, though that same red mud had been with me all my life; I knew it inside me without seeing it. The whole time my father was opening the door for me and I was getting into the car I could feel that slick cold bank of red mud without touching it.

My father turned on the ignition, pressed his foot on the gas slowly so the wheels wouldn't spin. I heard the motor climb louder and deeper, the car edge out carefully over the mud to the shiny black curl of paved road and through the rear window I watched that box of a church shrink smaller and smaller. Then we passed over a hill and it disappeared from view.

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