The Viewing

By Jerome McFadden

Momma Johnson brushed imagined dandruff from her son's shoulders and adjusted the knot of his tie, finally smoothing out the lapels of his jacket, as she had done a thousand times when he was alive. She then leaned over the casket to kiss him lightly on the forehead, It all felt so normal, so day to day, as if he was just taking a nap and would wake up in a few minutes to tell her he was going out and didn't know when he would be back and not to wait up for him.

She sighed and stepped away from the dais, taking the last chair at the end of the front row so that everyone coming to the viewing could stop and talk to her as they came away from the casket. Her ankles were too swollen and her feet hurt too much for her to stand up for the next two hours to accept everyone's condolences. Her sister Stephanie, Jason's aunt, was already in the adjacent chair waiting for her. She was two years younger than Mama Johnson but almost as heavy.

"These folding chairs gonna bust my butt if we sit here too long," she said as Momma Johnson sat down.

"You can live with it. It ain't going to be that long," Momma Johnson replied, sitting her overlarge shoulder bag on the floor next to her. It hit the floor with a loud clunk.

"What you got in that bag? A load of bricks?"

"Things," Momma Johnson said. "Things. A box of Kleenex, some hand wipes, some chocolate chip cookies, a Pepsi. Things I need to get me through this."

Aunt Stephanie patted her gently on the arm, "I know, Sweetie, I know. This ain't going to be easy."

"It never is. You don't expect to out live your children."

"Ain't that the truth."

Momma Johnson managed a sad smile and said, "But he is looking nice, ain't he? All dressed up. Nice suit. Shaved. His hair trimmed real nice."

"Fit to kill," Aunt Stephanie said, instantly regretting her words.

Momma Johnson gave her a glance that let her know that those words would come back to haunt her at some future family argument.

"The bullet wounds don't even show," Aunt Stephanie added lamely.

"The funeral home did a good job," Momma Johnson admitted. "Those evil boys blew away half his chest and they managed to reconstruct it. Looks normal, you know, up there in that casket."

Aunt Stephanie patted her arm one more time. Momma Johnson knew that the patting and squeezing was going to go on all night. It was going to be more than she could bear but she knew Aunt Stephanie was trying to be nice, "He was a good boy. We all knew that. He got into trouble now and then but they all do that. That time in Juvie didn't hurt him, much."

Momma Johnson huurphmed in disagreement. "Those two years in Juvenile Home did him good. He learned a lot. Got some education. Made some friends. There are some good boys in there. Some good boys. Made some good contacts, too. It ain't like he joined a gang. More like he gained an extended family. Like that what-do-ya-call-it, like those war movies on HBO, you know?"

"Like 'A Band of Brothers'?" Aunt Stephanie asked.

"That's it. Like a band of brothers."

"If you say so."

"I do. They had him working as soon as he got out. Making good money, too."

Aunt Stephanie knew she should back out on this but she couldn't help herself, "Finally got him shot, didn't it?"

"Not by his friends. That was that other gang. Bunch of lowlife dopers. Their were trying to horn in on his territory. That just wasn't right. They will pay for it, too. You mark my words."

The two sisters did not have time discuss it further as the first guests started filing into the room, signing the visitors' book, then coming across to look at Jason. Some nodded sagely, some made the sign of the cross, others just stared wide eyed at the dead body, their hands in their pockets.

All of them finally came over to quietly console Momma Johnson and Aunt Stephanie. The older folks hugged the two sisters, the really older folks shook their hands first and then hugged them. The younger people mostly mumbled a few words.

The commotion started while Momma Johnson was talking to old Mrs. Greer. She heard several chairs tipping over and saw people scattering to the back of the room. She turned to see a boy about Jason's age standing over the coffin, a gun in his hand. He looked down at Jason and shouted, "You miserable slime bucket! I ought to shoot you dead!"

Old Mrs. Greer backed away from Momma Johnson as if she had suddenly spouted smallpox and scurried out of the room and out of the door as fast as her old legs would carry her. Momma Johnson and Aunt Stephanie froze on the spot, mesmerized by the boy waving the gun in the air. Momma Johnson finally found her voice and said, "He's already dead, boy. Can't you see that?"

"Not dead enough for me!"

"How much more dead can you be? There is no such thing as half dead."

Aunt Stephanie nudged her sister's shoulder to whisper, "I think the words are half pregnant. You can't be half pregnant. You can definitely be half dead. Happens all the time."

"I don't need your help on this," Momma Johnson hissed back.

The boy fired his pistol into the casket. The sound of the shot was deafening and the acrid smell of cordite immediately choked everyone's throat. The boy waited for the sound to settle, then said, "How much more dead is that? That felt damn good."

"Stop that! You're ruining his suit. Just stop that!" Momma Johnson shouted.

The boy looked at Momma Johnson and said, "Screw you!" and shot Jason two more times.

Momma Johnson was now jumping up and down in outrageous anger. "Don't you shoot him in the face! Don't you shoot him in the face! That would just ruin everything! I don't care about the suit but don't shoot him in the face!" If her swollen ankles and sore feet didn't hurt so much, and if the boy didn't have a gun, she would have rushed up there to slap him along the side of the head.

The boy smiled when he heard Jason's mother yelling not to shoot him in the face. "Hell, I hadn't even thought of that," He pointed the gun at Jason's face but a booming voice from the back of the room said, "Stop that, you fool!"

The boy looked up and said, "Who you calling a fool?"

"I'm calling you a fool."

The boy raised his gun and fired at the back of the room, shouting, "Well, screw you, too!"

The voice from the back of the room returned the shot, splintering the side of Jason's casket. Aunt Stephanie made an Olympian effort to wrestle Momma Johnson to the floor and pulled their two metal folding chairs over them for protection.

"Let me up! Let me up!" Momma Johnson said, struggling against Stephanie's grip. "I gotta stop this nonsense. I paid good money for that casket. For that suit."

"Stay down! You could get shot!"

"They ain't shooting at me. They're shooting at each other."

"Those bullets ain't got no name on 'em. They kill anyone who is standing in front of them."

"I know those boys. They're friends of Jason. The one at the casket is Dejean Jones. And the one in the back is Leon Washington."

"They don't sound like friends of his right now," Stephanie said.

The voice in the back of the room yelled, "Drop your gun and get out, Dejean. You are disrespecting one of the brothers."

Dejean jerked off a shot, yelling back, "Like he didn't diss me? He took Jeanette and when I called him on it, he told me to piss off."

"Who's Jeanette?" Aunt Stephanie asked Momma Johnson.

"Cute little girl. She and Jason were all over each other. She called me to say she was coming tonight. I hope she doesn't walk through that door any minute now. That would be a mess."

"As if it ain't a mess now," Aunt Stephanie commented to no one in particular.

Another bullet whacked into the coffin. "Get out of here, Dejean."

That pissed Momma Johnson off. She reached over for her oversized bag and fumbled out the contents, until a huge revolver thunked against the wooden floor.

"What the hell is that?" Aunt Stephanie asked. "It looks like a mobile cannon."

"Jason said it is a .357 Magnum. His gun. It's supposed to be able to blow off a barn door."

"What the hell you doing with it?"

"I was going to hide it in the coffin after all of the people went home. I didn't know how in the hell else to get rid of it. I didn't want it in the house."

"If you go shoot that thing at either one of those dudes, you know they gonna shoot back at us and we ain't hiding behind anything but a couple of folding chairs."

Momma Johnson wrapped her hand around the enormous gun and said, "If I hit 'em, they ain't shooting back."

"You'd better use two hands. That is one big dumb ass gun."

Momma Johnson nodded and said, "Good idea," then gripped the gun with both hands to aim it a Dejean. The .357 Magnum exploded with a roar, knocking Momma Johnson back on her butt and taking out a huge chunk of the funeral home wall. Aunt Stephanie grabbed her ears in pain, knowing she was going to be hearing impaired for at least a month. Momma Johnson spun on her butt and fired another blast towards the back of the room, blowing a massive hole in the wooden door.

Dejean yelled, "Jesus!"

Leon Washington yelled, "Hey, I am on your side, Momma Johnson!"

"I want both of you out, now!" Momma Johnson yelled back.

There was a long silence, then Dejean said, "Don't fire that damn thing again. I'll go. But you gotta promise me not to shoot at me when I move away from this wooden box. That goes for you, too, Leon."

"I won't shoot if you move your sorry ass out of here right now. But you hesitate any longer or look back at Jason, I'll blow you a new asshole."

"I won't shoot either," Leon yelled.

Dejean made some fumbling noises from behind the casket, then took off in a dead sprint across the room and through the double side doors, apparently not keen on acquiring a second asshole.

After he was gone, Leon yelled, "I'm leaving, too, Momma Johnson."

"Wait a minute, Leon. Come and get this gun. The funeral director finds me with this gun, he gonna make me pay for all of the damages done in here. Stephanie and I still be here when he comes but if there ain't no guns, it ain't our fault for all the mess you two made."

Leon came down past the rows of chairs and took the gun, not saying anything. He was a good looking boy, about the same size as Jason but a little bit older. He walked out the back door casually as if nothing had happened.

Momma Johnson pulled herself up, with the help of Aunt Stephanie, and flopped onto one of the chairs. "See if you can find any of them chocolate chip cookies in my bag."

Aunt Stephanie picked up the bag and sat down next to Momma Johnson. "All of that over a girl. Can you imagine? We never had any shootouts over us when we was young. That would have been something, wouldn't of it?"

Momma Johnson stared at the hole she had blown into the far wall, then said wistfully, "Yeah, that would have been something."

Jerome McFadden is relatively new to fiction with several stories appearing on the web. In June he received 2nd place in The Bullet Awards for the best crime fiction to appear on the web for June 2011. He has also had a short story read on stage by the Liar's League in London.

Copyright 2011 Jerome McFadden. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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