The Home Viewing of Victoria Poulin

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“She stays here,” Nazaire yelled as white knuckles squeezed one edge of the coffin. Spit flung from his mouth as he rocked on his heels. They want. They want. What about him? What about what he wanted?

Victoria’s family wanted the home viewing of her body at their parents’ house. They got their way in most matters when pressed, but wouldn’t it be a kindness to let everything be? Nazaire should make the decisions. It was his spouse who was dead.

The farmhouse jumped with activity as family members and neighbors unpacked a wagon filled with borrowed chairs. One of Victoria’s sisters rummaged in the children’s bedroom for clothes, packed a small bundle under her coat and left, but not before she had taken the children, all of them. Didn’t even ask. The blood in Nazaire’s chest pumped double-time when it dawned on him. What would he do without his children? His world was falling apart.

Varis, Nazaire’s father, had worked on the rough-cut coffin in his drafty barn all night. He smoothed the edges as best he could with numb fingers. Victoria’s brothers arrived and immediately helped to milk Nazaire’s cows, and water and feed Nazaire’s animals. They talked of decisions to be made.

Victoria’s family spoke little as they prepared the kitchen to receive dozens of relatives. The farmhouse had no sitting room and no salon; therefore, the coffin remained on the old kitchen table. The room held scant space to walk around. The wives of Nazaire’s brothers made the funeral cake of honey and flour.

THE SWAN BARRETTE

Victoria’s sisters fixed her hair in a loose bun behind her head the way she liked it with her delicate swan barrette. The house had no silver, only four cups in the cupboard. The wicks of lanterns were nothing but stubs. Someone placed a beautiful silver crucifix near the head of the coffin. Two full candles burned in ornate silver candlesticks, one on each side of the cross. Victoria’s face, light and creamy, held a waxen cast. Bright, new lanterns with fat wicks bathed the room in soft shadows.

Joyce

Joyce Derenas is a historical fiction author who writes stories based on the real lives of her French-Canadian ancestors of the Beauce Valley in Quebec.