The latest installment in my short-story serial. Find the last installment here.
It was a beautiful autumn day. The sky was cerulean blue, with just a few wispy clouds above the horizon. The leaves had started to turn to vibrant reds and oranges, but had not yet fallen. The air was crisp but not too cool, and they sun shone brightly in the midday sky. Anna tucked a loose hair back up into her bonnet. Most days she didn’t wear one, but it was required for Sunday meeting and funerals, as were wide brimmed hats for the men.
Anna found her seat in the rows of chairs laid out beneath the largest oak tree in the community. Her shoes crunched over acorns as she made her way. Her hands smoothed out her skirt and she reminded herself to breathe slowly and calmly. The midwife and her apprentice were constants within the community, symbols of the continuity of faith and devotion they’d held onto since their forefathers settled this land. They needed to be strong, so others could take strength from them.
Joanna crunched up the path and sat beside her. “I miss him,” she said frankly in that honest way of hers. “But it’ll be a mighty fine funeral, you can be certain.” With that she nodded firmly, as if the matter were settled. “After the service you and I need to talk about what comes next,” she whispered quietly to Anna. There was a matter which most definitely was not settled: who would be the next minister.
Ordinarily the position would go to Micah’s eldest son, but he had died years ago in a drowning accident. Micah’s nephew Peter and his younger brother David both seemed to think they would be next. And as far as anyone could tell, Micah hadn’t made his wishes known before succumbing to illness and age.
Caleb Archer walked to the front of the chairs and turned to face them. Afterwards they said it was a lovely eulogy, but Anna didn’t catch most of it. A few phrases crept through, like “devoted husband and father, leader in the community” and “beloved by all”, but Anna’s mind was distracted with thoughts of succession. Minister was not just a spiritual position within their community. It was everything. The minister dealt with the outside world, so the rest of the community didn’t have to. He risked exposure to sin and vice to protect them. When taxes needed to be paid to the government using currency, the minister took care of it. When some few medical supplies or farm tools had to be gotten from the outside world, the minister took care of it. The minister saved them from greed and provided for all their needs.
Peter was young, handsome, and kind. He was also not very shrewd and he walked through laugh with a confident smile, convinced he could charm his way out of anything. Anna didn’t know what the outside world might do to someone like him, who had won the heart of everyone in the community before he was six years old. She wondered if he could be serious enough to do the hard parts of being minister, like funerals of people he loved.
Then there was David, older and wiser. David loved to read as much as Anna did, and had persuaded his brother to bring in many more books as minister. There had been a time when Anna was younger, before she’d been made midwife’s apprentice, when she had spent many hours in David’s cottage reading from his library. She had thought he might ask her to marry him. He was quite a bit older but not so old as to be completely unattractive. But he hadn’t, and so she’d been given the job of spinster. David’s mind was certainly sharp like a knife, but would that knife be used to protect them?
A scuffling of chairs told Anna it was time to stand up and walk away. The funeral was over.