It was a festive day in New York as the blimp’s super tech Good Year clock marked February 14, 2001. However, it was not February 14 as it was the middle of August and the people were fully aware of it, if only because of the scorching heat. Thus it could not be any Valentine Day. But all loved Valentine Day and also loved the big blimp and if the blimp said it was Valentine Day let’s make it a Valentine Day and all were entitled to be out shopping for their dear ones and all. No one mentioned the word glitch. That was New York in one of its rare moments of generosity towards its citizens.
The Cherry Slip was an unassuming small church at the end of an alley. It stood on a desolate knoll in the midst of a gloomy web of fires escapes, a sort of no man’s land at the limits of China Town, a frontier where the air was a mixture of distinct smells from different kinds of foods pertaining to different races, a large stench which bespoke of many different putrefactions. Cherry Slip was the name of that thoroughfare.
However, that day the small chapel was almost over adorned with flowers, not of the kind that would usually greet the arrival of a newborn or that of a young couple who had chosen to tie their knot in that tiny enclave in China Town. Nor those flowers were a tribute to San Valentine whose anticipated recurrence nobody had been informed of; those wreaths were there to honor the memory of Sean Flynn, a young man who had left to Cambodia as a war reporter never to make it home again. Ribbons bore the names of those who had sent those flowers, people that only George and Lavinia Pentecoste knew; the latter were his adoptive parents. The largest wreath was that of The People of The Republic of The Box, the community of the New York homeless to whom Pentecoste devoted so much of his life; the wreath was next to those of the many dignitaries of The City of New York including the Major with whom the epidemiologist was in daily contact. No one had expected so many flowers, certainly not the Pentecostes that never had said a word about the event; news of the funeral of a young New Yorker whose remains amounted to nothing but a tooth, spread by word of mouth and touched off a chord in the toughest, thick-skinned, stiffest, callous and stoniest hard city on earth. From its janitors to its major the City wanted to be present.
Given the size of the church and its lack of parking space, just the wreaths would have given sufficient witness to the City’s tribute. Instead, all came and since there was no room inside the church which counted only six pews, most remained outside crowding the adjacent streets: Delancey, The Bowery, Grant, and all those alleys South of Houston, say SOHO. The church together with its churchyard had totally disappeared under those flowers.
A coffin was placed in the middle of the short nave; it was open and in it, the remains of Harold Pentecoste lay in state: the remains were just a tooth disposed on a velvet tray.
George Pentecoste and his wife Lavinia were waiting in the front pew. Although a lot of pain had harbored inside their heart, nothing of their deep wound could be detected. In the pews behind clusters of people were jamming in. Lin Chin was already at the organ. People were filtering through the crowd to pay their condolences to the Pentecostes who returned to all a nod of acknowledgment and silent appreciation. However, not for a moment they raised their eyes from that tooth which a beam of light treated it as if it were a jewel.
Suddenly the crowd parted to make room for an old curvy Chinese woman advancing with the help of her cane toward the coffin where she was met by Father Hornblower. There she took out a large picture from a manila envelope and George was there to hang it on the south side of the coffin. It was a picture of Harold Pentecoste in the uniform of marines although he had not died as a marine.
“Hi Sean,” said the woman in a surprisingly firm voice. She then turned to the crowd that was taking her in with curiosity. “I am Qin Shang, born in Phnom Penh 72 years ago and today an American citizen. Harold and I were together in Cambodia and both became prisoners of the Red Khmers. I was myself a reporter for LIFE. I spoke the local language and Harold was always next to me. After a short imprisonment in a regular prison—although we had no regular prisons in Cambodia—we were moved to Kampong Trachcave which would later become known as one of the largest mass grave of the country, of the world in fact. We remained there a week in the hardest conditions and then we were deported to Rung Khamao, another mass grave. Once we got there, Sean and I were separated as I was called to Phnom Penh where I was ordered to work as an interpreter. That was the last I saw of Sean. The rest you know, or you don’t know and it’d be better this way.” The woman turned towards the picture and dropped a silent kiss.
When the woman returned to her seat, Pentecoste made a sign to the Father who approached the coffin and gave his benediction. The Father had baptized the young Pentecoste and now was overseeing his funeral. Moreover, that tooth belonged to him as much as the Pentecostes for he had been on its trail ever since the fall of Pol Pot. It was all said by the intensity of a glance.
After that, the guys of the service began to close the coffin. At that moment, Lavinia Pentecoste moved a step forward and placed her cell phone next to the tooth of her son. Lost interrogatives flashed up in the eyes of bystanders. The answer was all in a mother with her right to trust to the extreme: beyond logic, beyond technology, beyond batteries and all.
Suddenly a large concert of horns began honking extensively from the city and over the city and that had nothing to do with the funeral and all. All those inside the church moved outside. The reason was immediately clear, the blimp had adjusted its timepiece and the people signaled to have received the message. However, the glitch had not been fixed properly as the temperature announced was well below zero when in fact it was still August.
L. Bruno di Belmonte is a young curmudgeon happily married. This is the story of Sean Flynn’s demise.