Half the town, it seemed, was gathered at the door, peering in, peeking over shoulders, querying, feral rumors slinking around the edges while, closer to the front, more respectable theories were being advanced in hopes of winning a laurel of knowledge for the price of a guess. But no one knew. Mr. Henkle was one of the most dependable, successful men in town, having led the seemingly perfect, enviable life, with the business, the home, the wife, the kids. Never a whisper of trouble. The news was unsettling, inexplicable. The world was no longer right. Everyone liked Mr. Henkle. He had always made sure of even that.
The sheriff emerged. A path opened for him through the crowd, but he answered no questions, offered no explanation, only studied the ground with furrowed brow as he made his way to his car. When the sound of the sedan’s engine faded, the widow’s sobbing could be heard again, leaking out from around the crossed-arm deputy standing guard at the entrance.
The gurney finally appeared, one of its rubber wheels fluttering aimlessly, the landscape of draped white sheeting peaked where the toes, chin and nose would be. There was no blood. The contraption’s legs folded into the ambulance, and the vehicle’s doors were shut, one and two, more firmly and loudly than seemed necessary. What remained of the man who had been seen smiling his usual smile that very morning when he dropped off his dry-cleaning was driven slowly and forever away.
The coroner lingered inside, hoping to outlast the crowd, but the crowd waited, and he didn’t want to be late for dinner. Black-coated, bespectacled, he came to the doorway, blinking at the low sun. Judging by their faces, he wouldn’t be allowed to pass until he gave them something.
The deceased, he announced perfunctorily, had been found hanging in the study, suspended beneath the light fixture, the chair below him tipped and fallen. There was no note. No sign of foul play. That was all.
He stepped forward but their phalanx remained closed. “What did he use?” Mrs. Beezitch asked. She lived only three doors down and needed to know. “A rope? A belt? A cord from the blinds—?”
“One of his silk ties?” Tom Greeley smirked, grunting when his wife ground a heel into his toe.
The coroner hesitated, but word would get out soon enough. They may as well hear it from him. “That’s the thing—” he said, mouth pinching sideways—“he was just suspended there in mid air, by nothing that we could see. Quite dead though, and had been for some time, head tilted, body and spirit broken right at the neck. Came down easily enough—whatever was holding him up wasn’t much. I’ll have to do a full autopsy, of course.”
The crowd opened ranks, giving him wide passage, Mrs. O’Malley and Mrs. Sanchez crossing themselves when he passed as if he were a priest come fresh from an exorcism.
Mr. Williams remarked to no one in particular, “You know, as good a man as Henkle was, I was always been under the impression that he was never really good enough for himself.”
Mrs. Snow, who worked the breakfast and lunch shifts behind the counter at the diner, was overheard saying as she retied her apron, “For hanging yourself, an unrealistic standard is as good as a rope, I suppose. Just takes a bit longer. A shame, too. He was a good tipper.”
“Might have been unreasonable expectations,” Mr. Williams offered, not to be out-hypothesized. “You get a few of those twined together and they can trip up a caesar’s chariot. Put a man right in the hospital or worse if he gets wrapped up in them wrong. It was unreasonable expectations that drove my Uncle Seamus to drink before tying him down to his chair for good one night. By the time we found him a couple of weeks later, it was too late—they had rooted all the way down into his heart.”
“I’ll put my twenty dollars on general perfectionism,” piped in Old Man Killebrew “—the perfect often being the enemy of the good and Henkle being about as good as they come.”
That was as far as the speculation went for the time being. The crowd dispersed, having generally agreed and conceded that they should wait for the results of the autopsy rather than spread rumors or risk starting a panic about anything that might be contagious. Yet the town was abuzz and unsettled for the remainder of the evening, culminating in an all-out barroom brawl at the Fatted Calf, the fracas having started as a polite-enough discussion as to what might qualify as an acceptable standard of perfection for fallible beings lacking omniscience and omnipotence, warming to an argument over perspectives on perfectibility as held by the Stoics and St. Augustine respectively, with the escalation to physical altercation being traceable to the glorious Molly McClennan’s offer to demonstrate perfect form in cracking a chair over Tom Greeley’s head should he fail to discontinue poking her in the shoulder every time he wanted to make a point. It was universally agreed afterwards by those who witnessed the incident that Ms. McClennan had given Mr. Greeley fair warning and that her form was indeed faultless.
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Copyright 2015, Quent Cordair. All rights reserved.
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Don’t miss GENESIS, Part I of the epic 5-PART series IDOLATRY. “Beautifully written, on the order of Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, with the historical insight of James Michener, it brings to life a time of great thought, great art, and its clash with religious fanaticism. Cordair writes with a poet’s sense of scene and nuance and gives us a great deal of insight into the mind of a sculptor; I found this an exciting and easy read.” 5-STARS. — Alan Nitikman.
In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adoptive son. Part I of the *Idolatry* series, an epic story in five parts. $4.99. Now available on Amazon.
“It is extremely difficult to believe that this is a novella when you finish it. You feel like you’ve followed the entire burning course of an epic romance, the life of a young bright mind carelessly following a difficult road, and a dramatic plot against anything glorious. Cordair had a way of bringing tears to my eyes in his previously published short stories. He has a way of creating scenes of emotional wonder and then forcing you to linger on the emotion in sorrow or defiance or happiness. His characters are larger than life, probably larger than his readers…but he makes his readers feel like they can be just as big. Cordair leaves us with the feeling that any obstacle, any voice that says with any amount of force that we can’t be exactly what we want and know we ought to be, is too small to care about – and the consequences of ignoring such a voice can never be so bad…. Cordair’s craft is a triumphant inspiration, the kind a soul can yearn for more of in whatever part of the tale comes next.” 5 STARS — Joseph Hampel
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