One Night Alone
by F. D. Folk (aka Peter Vernon)
The hammering of the compressor
rattled his nerves: uncharacteristically noisy in this environment. Why the heck did they put that thing so close to this
room he thought to himself. I can barely hear myself think.
The hammering came to an abrupt end.
Now just the sound of running water, Ah,
much better. But. But what was that sound? His heart raced again. “I should check that out.” He said quietly
to himself. Don’t be ridiculous, he thought.
The compressor kicked in again, “Rdrdrdrdrdrdrd…”
He almost jumped out of his skin, his heart hammered along with it.
Only three hours to go. It was 1:00 am, David had been sitting for an hour: of his four-hour shift.
Shmira h’meit: guarding the dead. A Mitzvah: obligatory good deed. The greatest Mitzvah he was
told; if it didn’t kill him he thought darkly.
The Chevra Kaddisha: the Holy Society, we take care of the Deceased.
He told himself.
The building in the rural cemetery was dark,
but for the Chevra’s quarters: a hall, a small sitting room, two bathrooms, many closets, the preparation room,
the storage room and many doorways out: a doorway to enter with a grinding buzzer – on the outside – to catch
the Shomer’s (Watcher’s) attention when the next shift arrived, a doorway to the chapel, one to the basement
and another to the loading bay.
The compressor cut out. The water again,
the water from the Mikvah: ritual immersion pool, water collected from the sky and directed into the preparation room.
The water was kept running through the filter until needed, then it would be turned off. David loved the sound of running
water; so much like rain.
That damn compressor.
This was his first night ever
sitting. So many noises!
He hopped up from his chair in the sitting
room. It was dark outside. David could only see himself in the reflection of the windows.
I have to pee. He walked out of his sanctuary and ventured around the corner
and down the hall. The bathrooms to the left, the preparation room to the right. Not five feet from him – through the
wall – was a real dead body: cold, real cold. Shiver. I really have to pee. Goosebumps.
He opened the bathroom door, walked in and
turned on the light. On came a fan: another noise. He shut the door and… locked it.
It’s quieter in here. He opened his fly and shivered again.
Hair stood up on end, he fished himself out. Damn cold! He haltingly relieved himself. Shake, tuck, zip.
He turned on the water and washed
his hands: cold.
David opened the door, turned
off the light and fan. Running water.
He crossed the hall and walked into the
preparation room. The preparation table was right in front of him. Wooden slats nailed together making a skeletal platform,
resting on the surgical steel table. There were ropes connected to platform that could he strung over the hook on the block
and tackle hanging from the ceiling. Up on the ceiling: a track from the table to the Mikvah, so the body could be
lowered into the natural waters for purification.
He turned around and looked
at the cooler door: somebody in there. Cold.
The memorial candle burned in
the corner flickering back and forth behind sooty glass. David walked out into the hall and back down it to the sitting room.
He stood at the door and looked at the window, it was wet: must have started raining.
He turned to the left and looked
at the storage room door. What’s in there?
He reached for the door and
grasped the handle. It was unlocked. He inched it open and it was dark. Can’t make anything out.
David fumbled for the light switch, reaching,
stretching into the dark. Ah! That’s it. Click, floor to ceiling coffins. “Rdrdrdrdrdrdrdrdrd…”
“Bloody hell!” he tripped and
stumbled into the room, pulling the light switch down and off on his rendezvous to the floor.
His heart raced, pounding in his chest,
his lungs heaving in the pitch-black darkness. “Rdrdrdrdrdrdrdrd....”
He fumbled for the door, found the handle
and bolted for freedom.
David ran down the hall, around the corner
to the right. Past the bathrooms, past the preparation room and straight through the double doors into the loading bay housing
“Crap! Crap! Crap!”
he stammered. His body shuddered and he vigorously shook his head. Deep breath, deep breath, He told himself: Just
a noise, just the dark, no one here, just me; me and someone in there.
He turned and walked back into
the hall. Strolling past the preparation room, he stopped and looked in: the body he thought.
He walked into the preparation
room and looked at the cooler door. I can do this. Was that a statement or a question?
He crept up to the door and
took the handle: cold.
David pulled. “Zshzshzshzshzsh…”
A blast of cold air hit his face: bleach, smell of bleach and… cold.
The body laid on a low platform close to
the floor. Covered with a black velvet blanket, he could make out the feet facing the door, head at he other end. Man or woman? Couldn’t tell.
Big sigh. He stepped back and shut the door.
As he walked back to the sitting room the
entry door buzzer sounded. “BZZZz…”
It can’t be 4:00 am already he thought. He quickly flew down the hall turning
to the right he opened the door and walked through, turning to the left he continued down the narrow corridor, stopping at
the end facing the exterior door.
“Who is it?” David yelled through
the heavy door.
“Can I come in, it’s pouring
out here.” Shot back a small voice.
He opened the door and there stood a drowned
rat of an old woman. “Come in. Come in.” offered David.
“Thank you” she said. “I
just missed my bus out front and the next one is 30 minutes away.”
“I saw the light on and thought someone
might take a little pity on me and let me wait inside.” Said the old lady.
“Sure.” He said hesitantly,
“I’m sure it will be okay, given the circumstances.”
It is a Mitzvah after all, and I am an Orthodox
Jew he mused to himself.
“Come, I will make us a cup of tea.
Would you like that?” Asked David.
“Thank you. That would be so wonderful
Rabbi.” She said, looking at his Yarmulke.
“Oh, I’m not a Rabbi.”
He smiled to himself. “You can call me David.”
“Thank you David. My name is Minnie.”
She offered back.
“Hi Minnie, nice to meet you.”
He led her down the corridor to the main hallway and into the sitting room. “Can I get you a towel?”
“Those paper towels on the microwave
over there will be just fine.” She answered.
He handed the towels to her then filled
up the kettle and plugged it in.
“What are you doing out on a night
like this?” He asked.
“Well, it wasn’t raining when
I left or I would have taken a cab.” She said more to herself than to him. “And it was just a short walk to the
bus stop out front here.” She hated waiting at the transit station with all the rowdy teenagers and undesirables.
David pushed again, as the kettle began
to rattle, “But what are you going out so late? It could be dangerous for you.”
She smiled, “You know, I have lived
through two World Wars, The Depression, The Recession, four bouts of pregnancy and the Trudeau and Mulroney years. Give me
a little credit.” Her toothy grin widened.
“I’m sorry.” He conceded.
The kettle was boiling and he
unplugged it. Pouring the two cups he inhaled the steam: warm.
“All I have to offer you is sugar.
We seem to be out of cream.” He said as he fished out the tea bags and tossed them into the garbage can on the floor.
“That’s perfect, I just take
it black.” Minnie answered.
He handed her the tea and she took a careful
sip. “Ahhh, that warms the heart and the soul.” She cooed.
“How long do you have to stay here?”
“Oh, until about 4:00 am,” said
David, “then some one comes to relieve me. This is a Jewish funeral home and we have to stay here with whoever has passed
away until they are buried. We can’t leave them alone.”
“Mmmm.” She said, taking another
slow sip from her steaming cup. “Well my ride should be along any minute. I should get my things ready and go down to
David looked out the window and it seemed
the rain had stopped: maybe just a drizzle here of there. The stairs from the entry door to the driveway and road were wet
and dazzling with the reflection of the streetlights.
Minnie put down the last half cup of her
tea. “Thank you again David.” she smiled, like a grandmother to her grandson, “What’s your last name?”
“Katz.” He said, “David
Katz. How about you Minnie? What your last name?”
“Stewart,” she said as she finished
doing up her long dark winter raincoat “Minnie Hilda Stewart.” She said proudly, “Don’t you have a
middle name David?” she back stepped.
“No, no. Mom and dad couldn’t
agree on one.” He shot back a little distracted.
“Shame.” She said.
David walked her to the door and held it
open for her. Yes the rain had stopped, he thought.
“Can I help you down the stairs Minnie?”
“No thank you, I made it up myself,
I can get down myself as well. It keeps me in shape.” She quipped.
“Well, it was certainly a pleasure
meeting you Minnie. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood and the light is on just hit the buzzer if you want a cup of
tea.” David offered sincerely.
“I will take you up on that.”
Minnie said as she sauntered down the last of the stairs to the driveway and sidewalk. The Bus crawled up to the stop and
Minnie pulled herself aboard after the doors hissed open. She flashed her transfer and took the seat behind the driver, then
waved good-bye to David through the ample side windows.
He waved back with a big hearty grin: he
felt warm as the long diesel bus roared away into the night.
That Minnie he thought to himself. “Tough old girl; good for her!” he mused
aloud. He shut the door and returned to the sitting room.
“Rdrdrdrdrdrdrd…” he hadn’t
even noticed that compressor while she was here. To bad she couldn’t stay any longer.
What time was it? 2:55 am. Shalom would
be here soon.
David cleaned the teacups and put them in
the dish rack to drip dry. He tidied up the sitting room: arranging the cushions nicely on the couch and straightening the
chairs. Looks good he thought.
He picked up a Tehillim (Book of
Psalms) and began to read some passages, as was the custom. “Lamenatze’ach mizmor l’dovid…”
He read on for about 40 minutes challenging his mind to concentrate on the holy words over the “Rdrdrdrdrdrdrd…”
of the compressor.
The buzzer sounded and David
jumped; you would think they could get a better sounding buzzer given the circumstances.
Again, he rushed out of the room and down
the hall, through the door and down the corridor. “Who is it?” David bellowed through the thick door.
“It’s Shalom, Ma nishma? He
“Great, everything is great Shalom.
Glad to see you, its been a while.” Said David as he opened the door and followed Shalom back to the sitting room.
“So, how was your first night? The
“Okay, I guess. Nothing much happened.”
David offered back.
“Good, good. Nothing ever does if
everyting is okay, eh?” Shalom gave him a wink and a nudge.
“Ya, ya, you’re right.”
He said quietly.
“Oh, David? Did you fill out the form
here; name, time you arrived, when you left, the name of the deceased who you sat with.” Shalom asked.
“No I didn’t.” He answered.
“Okay, I got all that.” He said as he filled in the times. “What was his name?” David asked.
“Umm, just a minute, let me see if
they have it in the log yet.” Shalom grizzled as he leafed though the tattered black book from the top drawer of the
desk. “Aha, here. Yes. The burial is tomorrow at the Shara Tzion: 2:00 pm. Mrs. Minnie Hilda Stewart. Miriam Bat
David turned pale and choked down a swallow.
“Okay David, there you go, you’re
all set. You going to work now or home?” Shalom Chimed.
“ I’m” he cleared his
throat as his face burned red, “going to work…now.” He said quietly.
“You’re going to be tired today.
Are you taking the bus?” Asked Shalom.
“NO! He said, too quickly and to loudly.
“No, I, I’m driving.”
“Good, It’s a cold night for
the bus any way, no?” Barked Shalom.
“Ya, ya a cold night for the bus.” Repeated David, Real
Copyright F.D. Folk 2003
F.D. Folk is a pseudonym for Peter Vernon, who lives in Richmond, B.C., Canada. He is a child of the 60's,
married, has 3 children and works as a Spiritual Advisor in a Vancouver nursing home. He writes fiction to unwind and for
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