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Departures | By Stacy Appel

IT RAINED INTERMITTENTLY the day of the memorial service. I rather liked the mass of dark clouds overhead, the eucalyptus dripping and fragrant. The church lawn was lush and muddy; my 6-year-old daughter Sasha headed straight for it in her black patent shoes, my husband catching her arm in the nick of time, pulling her back under the oversize umbrella to walk together up the stairs to the entrance.

Rob guided Sasha into the front pew and busied himself undoing their raincoats, studying the small cream-colored program the ushers handed out. He was avoiding the eyes of those in the pews around him, mostly neighbors and friends, their faces full of pity or curiosity. I watched my daughter gaze timidly around the sanctuary, which she had never before visited. Neither Rob nor I were churchgoers. She was mesmerized by the beautiful stained-glass windows and the balcony, pointing enthusiastically upward until he gently pulled her arm down to her side.

I didn’t enjoy the service. The choir and crowd did an admirable job on the hymns, and the minister read a couple of Psalms chosen by my husband which I liked, but then he recited melodramatic prayers and encouraged people to make their way up the aisle to the altar to pay tribute. The proceedings went from mildly irritating to patently absurd. Marcy Sidell, who has always had the hots for Rob, got up and said I was the most selfless person she had ever known. Our next-door neighbor Lorne, apparently struck by temporary amnesia, declared I’d had a smile for everyone I met, though I screamed at him less than three weeks ago for letting his son skateboard down our curved driveway. Other contrivances followed. Even Rob, who might be forgiven for lumbering up the altar steps like a wounded bear and talking about what a wonderful wife I had been, veered off and began to refer to me as the light of his life, a rare sapphire, etc., etc.

“Stop, Rob!” I wanted to yell. “It’s me we’re talking about, not Saint Thérèse of Lisieux! Your tomato plants and computer and Jethro Tull and your daughter are the lights of your life, though I know you love me a ridiculous amount.”

I slid into the pew next to my daughter while he was going on. He was clearly stricken. I knew Sasha couldn’t see me, but I was pretty sure she could sense me nearby. Sure enough, when I brushed her elbow, she said, “Hi, Mommy,” without looking up. “Look, your picture’s on the program.”

“I know, honey. Kind of cool, isn’t it. Did you eat breakfast?”

“Just toast,” Sasha said. “Are you really gone?”

“Not really, Sasha Natasha. But Daddy thinks so. Same with most of the people here. We’ll have to have a secret club to talk, unless they figure it out.”

“Okay,” Sasha said. “Do I have to be nice to Marcy Sidell? I think she’s weird.”

That’s my girl.

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Stacy Appel is an award-winning writer in Lafayette whose work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune and other publications. She has also written for National Public Radio. Contact Stacy at WordWork101@aol.com.

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