Knick stood silently looking down into his father closed eyes. His face was mask like but good looking, the mortician had done a good job. Oscar’s fine silver hair was combed back, giving his father’s appearance a regal farewell for those soon to be coming to pay their last respects. Knick knew the town would be pouring in to bid Oscar, or Ossie as they all knew him the final farewell. For some odd reason he thought of weddings and the typical admonition the preacher usually gave saying, “this is the best they will ever look, so remember it.” Well this was the stillest his father would ever be and it was unnerving to Knick.
Rita silently slipped her hand into Knick’s and placed her hand on her fathers breast pocket adjusting the handkerchief for the second time. He looked over into her grey swollen eyes. Knick thought to himself she would be better off leaving with me and for one moment felt that guilt of abandonment come over him. However the feeling passed quickly like the years since he had left Defiance and never looked back. He pressed Rita’s hand softly and whispered, “bye Ossie you lived well and I’ll miss you.” Rita knew her big brother was sincere and she knew he would be leaving shortly. She let out a breath as another set of tears rose to wash away the years of memories, her cheeks still full of the glow of womanhood and maturity were streaked with the make-up that often hides the scars and years. Knick looked at her beautiful face and again thought to himself she doesn’t need make-up, but now she needs cleaning up. Rita simultaneously looked up into a mirror that reflected the scars inside her as the streaking on her cheeks slowly flowed to her jaw. She turned toward Knick and he turned toward her. The two embraced in an attempt to bridge the gap that was really a deep chasm in their family’s lives. A temporary meeting. Knick, tender as he felt toward his younger sister, broke the embrace first and said quietly to Rita, “I’ll see you back at the house.” Rita knew he would be late, he was always late, sometimes too late. Knick turned and strode several feet toward the door when the shape of an old friend caught his eye.
Rory Whitlock was sitting in the small room off to right staring out of the side window. Rory was his oldest friend in town but they had not spoken to or seen each other in years. Knick quietly thought what’s he doing here so early? He knew Rory always carried this banner for Rita despite her failure of a marriage to an older fella Knick never knew. Maybe Rory finally caught her attention. She could do much worse. Knick broke with his stride, turned and stepped into the side room. The smell of lilacs filled the room. Knick thought how appropriate after all the lilac was the official flower of Defiance and he couldn’t imagine a scent more fitting to overwhelm the aura of death surrounding them. Rory glanced up as though startled from deep thought, his face broke into a muted smile. Knick saw the one gold front tooth and was flooded by the memory of the day he knocked it out by accident. What are friends for?
Whitlock stood up straight, his blue eyes blazing as they always did. The azure stare had a way of creating awe and fear in others, but Knick sensed the friendship behind the eyes had not been lost to the years. The two large men did a brotherly embrace smiling at each other which seemed to wash the weight of the moment away. “I’m sorry about Ossie, he was a good man, good to me and so many others.” Knick knew this well and echoed Rory’s simple well chosen words in the silence of the room. For a moment a flood of memories washed over Knick, he took a deep breath, ” Say Rory, let’s meet at Bud’s in two hours. We can catch up over pie and coffee, I have to get out of here.” Rory studied Knick’s face, he thought to himself come on man this is your dad’s layout. Knick could read the expression almost word for word. Knick meant what he said and Rory knew it. Knick always stood by his word and there was no negotiation. Rory looked into Knick’s narrow eyes and said, ” I’ll be here with Rita and it might be three hours.” Knick knew Rory was a man of his word and said, “I know” as he blinked and turned toward the door.
The Mortuary Director of the only funeral home in Defiance was readying for the guests by the front door when a robust woman dressed as a Park Ranger arrived at the door. The heavy oak panels were nothing for Willa Stoneheart who easily moved through the opening unchallenged. Stoneheart, known as Stoney throughout the region, was a very old family friend of the Tuffins. She and Ossie became close again when Joan, Ossie’s 4th wife had died five years ago. Knick spied her entry from the side room and headed into another hall with an exit. He looked over his shoulder and saw Rita moving toward Stoney. He wasn’t ready for Stoney and he didn’t want to see her quite yet. He gripped the solid brass door knob and quietly slipped out the side door.
Stoney stood stoically beside Rita. “Oh Rita my child, come with me” she whispered. The two of them went into a comfort room where Stoney grabbed a box of tissues and started dabbing at Rita’s cheeks. There was a softness in the strokes of this work hardened woman and comfort in her calming tone as she nourished Rita’s skin back to its healthy glow. Rita wanted the care, wanted the calm, wanted the past, wanted some peace. Stoney was the balm.
Knick climbed into the cab of his baby blue Ford F 100. He had the truck since Ossie gave it to him when he turned 15. As he gripped the over sized steering wheel, he slipped into the time stream of memories recalling hours of restoration. He and Ossie worked side by side, day by day up to Knick’s sixteenth birthday with the final paint a week before. Ossie knew what a car meant to Knick. Freedom. A simple yet complex word to his middle child. In a split second Knick remembered his older sister, Jasmine. The dark memory of her mysterious death cast a long shadow across the family and was the reason for the first divorce from Knick and Rita’s mother, Anita. Perhaps the other two divorces as well. Knick never met his fathers 2nd, 3rd and 4th wives, he was studying over seas. Knick stared ahead from the drivers seat. Today seems filled with impressions, dark thoughts and memories. He knew from the training this darkness had meaning not just tied to the days sad events but to the future and the past. He was puzzled as he hit the ignition. The old Ford fired right up and hummed a tune of constant care. Knick shifted “Old Blue” into gear and eased out of the lot and down the road.
Rory had seen Stoney and Rita as they walked arm and arm comforting each other. Secretly he wished he was the one easing Ritas’ pain and for a second he thought that alone could ease his. He stopped himself from sliding down the slope of self sorrow and steadied his gaze. It was good to see Knick he thought to himself but what the hell happened to him all these years. Rory found himself slipping into investigation mode and stopped thought. I don’t have to be a cop today.
Stoney looked into Rita’s lovely but weathering face. She understood the storm behind Rita’s eyes and the flood in her heart. Rita looked into Stoney’s face and saw the years of outdoors and she could swear she smelled fresh air on her breath. It was really the cool air from the door opening and closing as townspeople and friends began to arrive. The two of them walked together looking at all of the family pictures Rita had assembled. They stopped in front of the one with “Old Blue”, Ossie and Knick. Rita stared at the picture and felt a flood of tears welling, “You know Knick was here”. Stoney held her hand gently but increased the pressure slightly and said, “was here?” Questioning. Rita was silent for a moment and then spoke up,” you know Knick, he never wanted to come back here, he’s been gone so long he doesn’t want to explain anything to anyone. All of his secrecy, he never told us anything, it’s like he is protecting us.” Stoney stood silent probing Rita’s eyes. “He did say he would see me later, much later knowing him.” Stoney detected a certain uncertainty in Rita’s tone. She gave Rita’s hand another gentle squeeze, ” You’ll see him, we all know he keeps his word.” Stoney looked across the room as familiar faces were appearing and thought to herself, thank God Knick is here, there are a lot of questions that need answering.