Fiction Friday: THE BANDBOX HAT

Yes, I’ve missed a few Fridays, thanks to Thanksgiving and some work that came my way and just being busy. Thanks for your patience as we get back to Sarah Jane and her family.

PREVIOUSLY: When Sarah Jane got home from work, there was a sheriff’s patrol car in the driveway. It was Frank, one of Jake’s friends and a man like a brother to Sarah Jane. He said her dad had collapsed and was at the hospital. She rushed there to find that Dad had a heart attack and surgery.


Chapter 13


I watched the pine box as it sank into the ground. My heart followed as my tears dripped off my chin.

A strangled sob and a sniff sounded next to me. I clutched Nathan’s left hand while Carlene had a hold of his right elbow so tightly it’s a wonder he still had blood flow to his fingers. She’d shown up at the hospital with a fruit pizza before the doctor finished his “We did everything possible” speech. We’d been huddled in the waiting area but when he invited us into an even tinier room for a “private consult,” I’d grown cold, already knowing what was coming.

Dad’s heart seized. He collapsed. The doctors tried. Dad died.

Logically, I knew the sequence and what happened, but my emotions couldn’t follow. Dad wasn’t supposed to die, not now, when we might have found Rachael. When he could be reconciled with his oldest daughter. God wouldn’t take him before they’d made up. He wouldn’t do that to us. He’d already taken Momma when she had unfinished business here. Why would he do it again?

But he had. The coffin holding Dad’s earthly shell proved God didn’t care about after all. In spite of the years of going to church, gleaning the orchards and donating to the food bank, buying quilts we didn’t need at the annual Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale auction in Fresno, in spite of all we did for God, He’d taken Dad.

My tears dried up and a deep fury hardened in my stomach. If we did all those things so God would treat us kindly, why bother? A growing resolve grew. It wasn’t worth it. Doing the right thing all the time and losing my parents anyway. Being stuck in Rosedale, living with my brother and his family like a spinster from a gothic novel, watching my sister and friends move out and move on with real lives.

Pastor Sam was wrapping it up and I forced my attention back to his creased face, kind blue eyes, and tremulous smile. He’d been Dad’s closest friend for longer than I’d been alive.

“Let’s pray,” he said, bowing his head. The rest of the small group gathered around the gravesite followed suit but I stared ahead. Pastor Sam’s scalp glistened with a thin sheen of sweat, the result of wearing a wool suit coat on a May afternoon. His head was ringed with a hair, giving him a beatific aura.

“Amen,” Pastor Sam said. “Amen,” everyone echoed.

I jumped and blinked.

Nathan eased himself loose from both Carlene and me and moved to thank Pastor Sam for performing the service. Anna leaned forward. We locked gazes. Her eyes widened and she jerked her head toward the car.

My jaw clenched but I followed her unspoken directive and made my way to the station wagon so I could get to the church first and make sure the sandwich platters were set out in anticipation of the late lunch we were hosting for all the mourners.

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and put the car into Park then rested my forehead against the steering wheel.

Daddy was gone. Rachael. Momma. I’d felt lonely before, but never so truly alone. Sure, I had four brothers, a sister-in-law, a niece, and assorted friends. But now I was alone in a way I never expected.

A metallic knock jerked my head up. Anna glared at me from the front of the car. With a sigh, I shouldered open the door.

“What’s the use of sending you ahead to help with the setup if you’re just going to sit there and wait for me?” she asked.

“I needed a moment.” I fished in my bag for some lip balm.

“Well, come on, now we’re behind.”

Anna’s sharp tone cut through my grief and I stopped. “I’m not feeling well, Anna. I’m going home.” I turned back to the car.

“Oh, no you don’t. You’re not leaving me alone to do all the work and talk to everyone. He was your father, you know.”

I whirled back to her and took a step forward. “Gee, I almost forgot, my father died. Thanks so much for reminding that I’m an orphan now.”

Anna’s face paled and she took a faltering step away from me. “I just meant—”

“I know what you mean, Anna. And I’m going home.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Sarah Jane. You’re obviously distraught and—”

I didn’t let her continue. I jumped back into the car and had the key in the ignition before she finished her patronizing platitude.

I accelerated out of the parking lot, narrowly missing a Prius turning in. A flash of blonde hair from the driver caught my peripheral vision and I whipped my head around.


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