False Guilt: At the Funeral

I think of what follows as a short “sequel-prequel” to my book, False Guilt, because it fits between the first and second parts.

Blog 59 ImageBetween the minister’s sombre sentences, one of the wooden doors of Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church thumped shut. Paul turned to look from the front pew and caught his breath. Grace had appeared, five minutes late for the funeral service. She slunk into a back row and sat alone.

An hour later, Paul had helped carry the casket to the hearse and his duties were done. The burial was for family only. He stood on the front steps of the church and pushed a hand through his hair. He wondered if he was doing the right thing waiting for her.

It didn’t take long to find out. Her tall, slim body was one of the last to exit the church. As soon as she saw him, Grace stopped under the arch. Caution, not pleasure, crossed her face.

A surge of May air cleared some strands of black hair. “Hello,” she said.

“I saw you,” he said, clearing his throat. “From the front row. I just wanted to say hello.”

“I just beat you to it,” she said, testing a smile. “How have you been?”

“Oh, busy. With law school and stuff. But second year’s finished now.”

“How did it go?” she asked.

He shrugged. “They still haven’t told me yet. You been busy, too?”

“Very, yes. With dance and work and stuff.” She paused. “I was going to call you back. But I knew you had exams.”

“Of course,” Paul said. “That was very considerate of you.” He felt his face flushing red.

“This is all so tragic,” Grace continued, glancing for a second beyond the front lawn at traffic. “And you knew him a lot better than me.”

“I guess. This whole thing is like a bad movie that won’t stop. And for a guy who always made things work for him. At least until recently.”

“I just hope they find out who did it, really soon.”

“Me, too.” He looked down and pawed the step he stood on. “So, I was wondering, you know, now that I’m done with school, if I could see you again. I enjoyed the time we had coffee.”

“I did, too,” she said. “But I might have some travel plans.”

“Oh, I see, sure,” he said, pawing again. “Well, let me come right out and ask, because, to be honest, I’ve been thinking about you a lot.” He cleared his throat again. “Do you—do you have any interest in me?”

He wanted to say more. That he’d yearned for her since their coffee and intimacy six weeks earlier. That he was sure there could be a connection. That even the menace of the past several days hadn’t changed those feelings.

But her eyes held pity.

“I really did have a nice time with you, Paul,” she said. “It’s just not the right time for me now.”

She began to walk down the steps. He touched one of her forearms. “Are you sure?” he asked.

A hint of impatience joined the pity. She sighed and bit her lower lip. “And I just don’t feel the passion,” she added.

Gutted, his hand fell to his side. He was certain he would never see her again.

But fifteen years later, at the funeral of another friend, he would.

And she would feel differently.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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False Guilt: A Short Prequel

FalseGuilt_FrontCover_Blog 44“Take her nice and slow,” their grandfather said, stroking the white stubble on his chin.

David tightened the recoil pad against his shoulder and drew his face alongside the stock. He pressed one eye shut, squinted through the front sight with the other and took a deep breath.

“Nice and steady,” Granddad added.

Paul stood ten yards back, fingers plugging ears, watching and anticipating.

A second later, a boom echoed through the Northern Ontario forest and the shotgun kicked high in the air. In the distance, a target pinned against a tree stump took it hard in the centre. Paul envied his older brother’s shot.

“Maybe you still got it,” Granddad said to David. “Despite everything.”

“What about me?” Paul asked, walking toward them.

“We had enough for today,” Granddad said. He intercepted Paul with an arm around the shoulder and lowered his voice. “I got to talk to your brother. Hang back a bit, okay?”

Granddad emptied the handgun and two shotguns of ammunition. He gave the handgun to Paul to carry, and David and he each took a shotgun. They began the trek along the worn path to Granddad’s truck.

At first, Paul respected the request and stayed back ten yards. But curiosity drew him closer.

“What are you, twenty now?” Granddad asked.

“Ah-huh,” David said.

“Well, don’t you think it’s time to act responsibly? Hell, when I was your age, I was lookin’ to get married already.”

“Different times, I guess.”

Paul knew where Granddad was heading.

“Not so different, son. The drugs and that crap are different, though. Why are you involved with that stuff?”

“I’m not really,” David said.

“According to your mother you are. And I can see it in how you hold the guns.”

David grunted. “I nailed that last shot.”

“You were miles wide with the others.” Granddad sighed. “You need to take your well-being seriously. What you do affects people.” Granddad snapped his head back toward Paul. “Especially him.”

“I’ll try to remember that.”

“You do that.” Granddad paused. “And one other thing.”

“What?”

“You can talk to me if you want to. I don’t think your mother’s any good at that. Too excitable.”

In his mind, Paul agreed. Then he imagined, and dismissed, telling Granddad the secrets David had shared with him.

“I’ll try to remember that, too,” David said. He slapped the back of his neck. “Man, there are a lot of mosquitoes out today.”

“I’m immune,” Granddad said.

The path opened to the end of a dirt road. As he opened the doors to his pickup, Granddad held his head low, worry crimping the lines across his face.

Paul scrambled into the middle of the truck’s bench seat. “Can I have this one day?” he asked, looking at the handgun. David slammed the passenger door shut, his broad shoulders crowding Paul. He hunched in sullenness, looking back at the forest.

As he started the truck, Granddad gave a low, growly laugh. “You wish. Put that thing in the glove compartment. I don’t want nobody to see it.” The pickup crept forward, tires crunching gravel. “How do I know you’ll be careful with it?” he added.

“Cause I will,” Paul said. “You know me.”

“I suppose I do,” Granddad said. “You think your mother would allow it?”

“Yup. I do.”

“You’re wrong there. But I’ll think about it.”

“Great,” Paul said, his legs starting to bounce.

“But only when I die,” Granddad said. “And that’s not somethin’ I’m planning for a long while yet.”

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.