by Gary Fincke

THIS PLAN WAS FOOLPROOF.  Absolutely, for sure, Robert had told himself.

Didn’t the local newspaper, at deadline, take his mother’s obituary on faith rather than fact-check, that much of his idea spot on? What sort of low-level editor in a hurry would take the time to confirm with a funeral home more than three hundred miles away, the one Robert had Googled, careful to make sure he used a real name for one in his mother’s neighborhood? All he had to do after that was call in at work to leave a heartfelt message just before midnight. His car was already packed up with gear for camping and fly fishing. The three bereavement days he was allowed would run right into the weekend like a brief, but well-deserved vacation.

Yet there they were, three old women who hadn’t yet moved farther south like his mother had, one after the other calling the newspaper first thing in the morning. As if they opened their newspapers at six a.m. As if they started with the death notices. Those crones, Robert thought, were probably never even her friends, just Facebook addicts who saw his mother had posted only eight hours before, bragging about the weather. Busybodies who butted in, wanting to be the first to correct an error like it was some sort of community service.

He hadn’t killed anybody. It wasn’t as if he’d been stopped at an airport gate, his passport updated and ready to present for a flight to a country without an extradition agreement. He hadn’t stolen anything but time. He’d slept in an extra hour like anyone would on vacation, so he wasn’t even dressed when the police had arrived like characters in a parable for shame. Right away with the story of the three gossipy witches. Right away, their smirks. Right away with all of his fishing gear arranged in the back seat of his car.

Next, his immediate unemployment. Shortly thereafter, his story in that same local paper. A radio host using Robert-the-Obit-Man as a punchline. The stares of his neighbors in his townhouse development. Look, Robert wanted to scream, ‘Didn’t my mother say, when the newspaper called, she understood that her son just needed a little time to himself, no reason, at least, for him to be prosecuted?’

Now, all he wanted to say was there’s another way of looking at this. That obituary had shown his mother nothing but kindness, his paragraphs listing her positives because he was a good son, proclaiming her decency while she still lived and breathed? Anyone could see that he’d set the tone in the very first sentence, using the phrase “entered into heavenly rest.” He’d launched, first paragraph, a boatload of her best qualities, cargo enough for sainthood, citing, first of all, her sixty years attending Lutheran churches exclusively no matter where she lived.

Hadn’t his mother always preached, “Truth, Robert, is in the details?” Well, he’d been specific and precise, showing even the skeptical how that early assumption had already taken place: Her years of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and neighborhood recycling projects. Her late afternoons delivering for Meals on Wheels. Her belief in tithing.

What other mother could clip such passages and slip them in among her collection of cherished souvenirs? Whenever she felt like it, she could read about her perfection while she still lived and breathed. Best of all, she could show it to her new friends like a cherished photograph. Sure, there’s a risk in that, but once those women, probably mothers themselves, got over their smiles, his mother would enjoy, whether they showed it or not, the envy every last one of those seniors would feel.

oOo

Gary Fincke’s latest collection is Nothing Falls from Nowhere (Stephen F. Austin, 2021). His flash fiction has appeared recently at Craft, Wigleaf, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, Flash Boulevard, and Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the annual anthology series Best Microfiction.