Chapter 16 - Folding the Flag
2:22 AM | Author: Jeff
Henry Sutherland’s funeral was a small affair, there was no one in attendance Jay knew except himself. ‘seemed that Pop’s had out lived them all’ he thought, but what a horrible price he had paid, Jays mind flashed with visions of his grandfather lying in his bed, lips lined with a mixture of blood and vomit, his eyes wide with pain.
The ceremony had been curt, the priest talking about what a great war hero Pops had been, listing out the various medals he had earned for his flag, how he had been a devoted father and husband. Besides the casket, stood an easel with pops picture on it, he was so young and powerful; the picture had been taken in Vietnam. A young Henry Sutherland stood, shirtless, smiling at the camera, his chest smeared with dirt, a shovel in his hand, Jay stared at the face in the photo, suddenly realizing the eyes that stared back at him were his own, he and Pops had the same eyes, a shiver ran down Jay’s spine, forcing him to look away. He turned his attention back to the coffin, shrouded by the stars and stripes, it seemed far too small to contain the body of Henry Sutherland. Panic struck Jay, sweat began to bead on his forehead, ‘the coffins too small!’ he wanted to scream, but it wasn’t and deep down he knew it, the man in the photo and the one in the box were no longer the same, Jay had seen it with his own eyes. A few months ago, Jay, the star of twin Oakes high wrestling team, had not even come close to bringing down pops as they wrestled in the back yard, a week ago he had lifted his Grandfathers withered body from his bed and carried him to the bathtub with ease.
The nights had been long for Jay the past few weeks, his sleep so disturbed by dreams of Pops, calling for him, his skin sagging on his bones, eyes sunken and blackened. Jay had once relished sleep, now he feared it. He had so loved his grandfather, but now felt haunted by him, as hard as he tried he couldn’t see the giant man who had stood in the doorway to Hanks apartment all them years ago, he only saw the beaten yellow skeleton of a man, whose screams had kept Jay up at night and created such fear within him, that he hadn’t known since he was a young boy. He stared at the photo and the coffin, his mouth slightly agape, his mind in turmoil, ‘Sorry Pops’ he thought through his confusion.
Jay was brought out of his trance, momentarily when he realized a Marine was standing in front of him, holding a folded flag. The flag Pop's had earned, that had covered his coffin, now was being handed to Jay. The ceremony had all but finished while he had sat there lost in the past. Jay took the flag and straightened his back while the Marine snapped to attention, honoring Henry Sutherland’s memory with a sharp salute. He then returned to his men and slowly they marched away from the grave in half time.
As the Marines march away, a man in a expensive suit arrived, he knelt down besides the casket, placed on hand on top and removed his glasses, to wipe the tears from his eyes, Jay had never seen him before, he looked to be in his fifties, well groomed and extremely well dressed, he didn’t seem like the kind of man whom Pops would have known, the man placed a single coin atop of the casket, crossed himself and stood up, he looked right at Jay and smiled and then came and sat stood in front of Jay.
“He was a great man, and he loved you Jay, never forget that.” His eyes were bloodshot, he had been crying a lot.
“I’m sorry” muttered Jay slowly shaking his head from side, “but how did you know Henry Sutherland?” Jay asked, he was searching his memory for any trace of this man but there was nothing.
“I was your grandfathers’ lawyer, my name is Tom Baker” He held out his hand and Jay shook it.
“Are you sure this is the right funeral, Henry Sutherland wasn’t a rich man, and I never heard him mention a lawyer.”
“There is no mistake, there was a lot you don’t know about your grandfather, but you’re right he wasn’t a rich man, all the money he had was saved for you, but that is another topic and we’ll get to that later.” Tom gestured to the chair beside Jay, “Do you mind?” “No, please, sit” Jay was in a daze. Tom sat down next to Jay and Jay could feel Tom’s agony wash over him, the heavy mourning that cloaked Tom Baker was in no way an act, and that just confused Jay more. Tom reached into his top pocket and retrieved his pack of cigarettes, camel non filters, a mans smoke, he gave the packet a quick flick with his wrist and two cigarettes jumped half out, he offered Jay a cigarette.
“Thank you but I don’t smoke” Jay said, thinking of his mother in her dark smoky room.
“Smart man, these things are no good for you, I hope you don’t mind if I do?” Tom asked
“Go ahead” Jay said simply, truth was he hated the smell.
“Funny” Tom mumbled as he lit the camel, “ I spent years training my brain at one of the best law schools in the country, but I still am not smart enough to quit these” Tom drew deep on the camel and leaned back against the chair, looking up at the clear morning sky.
“I started smoking my first week over in Korea, like most of the boys there, we figured we would probably die there, so what did it matter.” Tom drew deeper on the camel, “My mother used to call it a filthy habit, ‘like biting your nails’ she’d say. She was a smart woman.” Tom Exhaled another lung full of smoke and looked over at Henry Sutherland’s casket as they prepared to lower it into the ground.
“War sure is a frightening thing, and we were only boys and had never really thought about dying.” He drew on the cigarette and turned and looked Jay in the eyes.
“Your grandfather saved my life over there, he was the kindest man I ever knew, and this world is a darker place without him.” Tom’s eyes welled with tears, his voice quivered slightly as he spoke.
“Why have I never met you or heard of you, Mr. Baker?” Jay asked, not wanting to be rude, but also not in any mood to wait patiently for the answers to be revealed to him.
“I Live in Japan, Jay. I was in your grandfather’s platoon in Korea, he was my sergeant.” Tom looked over at the grave, his eyes fixed on the casket. “I was 18 when I was sent to fight in Korea, I remember thinking that I was going to glory, to fight brave and win the war, stupidity of youth, but we all start there.”
“Pops used to say the same thing” Jay interjected.
“Yes, I suppose he would.” Tom smiled, “Korea was like no hell I had ever known, worst than any nightmares I had ever dreamed, and there was no glory, no proud march towards victory, just a bunch of scared boys led by some brave men. Our platoon was sent to a real hot spot, heavy fire, lots of enemy, and we got separated and pinned down. The man next to me, named Billy Tethers took a bullet through the chest and coughing blood and screaming next to me.” Tom drew again on the camel, his hand now shaking, the draw longer and deeper than before.
“I froze; I was terrified more than I had ever been. Right then a North Korean soldier found me, he raised his gun to shoot me, but then seeing the fear that had frozen me, he came at me with his bayonet instead. I couldn’t move, but I didn’t die.” His gaze returned to the casket “Your Grandfather jumped in front of me, and took down the Korean with his bare hands. He was a huge man your grandfather and he could really fight.” Tears had begun to cover his cheeks; his voice trembling more.
“I know.” Jay said thinking of the day Pops had beaten Hank with such ease. Tom extinguished the butt under his heel.
“From that day on, the fear I had was halved, so long as I could see your grandfather, my sergeant, near by. Did you know what we used to call him?” Tom asked his face brighten though still wet with tears.
“No, he never spoke of the wars” Jay said eager to hear more stories of Henry Sutherland’s glory, hoping it would block out the visions of death that tormented him.
“We called him Big Papa Bear. Because he was like a father to us, he took care of us, saved our necks countless times. He was the greatest man I ever knew, and it’s because of him that I could hug my daughter at night before she sleeps, watch her grow into the fine woman she is now, without Sergeant Sutherland, I would have died trembling in the mud before I turned 19.” Tom tilted his head back closed his eyes and drew a deep breath through his nose exhaling with an audible ‘ahh’ sound.
“Well I’m happy that you made it Tom. But you said you were Pops lawyer, what could he possible have needed a lawyer for?” Jay’s mind was running through every possible use for a lawyer and not hitting on any reason Pops would have needed one.
“He was a man of the old school, Jay, he wasn’t interested in worldly things, everything he had he saved for you. He asked me to be the executor of his will, and to take care of the necessary things for your future. There is a college fund and a savings account, also I have some letters and messages from guys who wanted to be here but for their reasons they couldn’t make the journey.”
“Like who?” Jay asked.
“Other members of our platoon and some from his time in Vietnam, I think you should read them, letters from the heart should be read by someone who will feel them.” Tom looked at Jay and smiled but it was only a half smile the other half lost deep within some memory.
“Why don’t you read them?” Jay asked a little too bluntly, regretting it instantly.
“I…” Tom stared straight at Jay, his face full of pain, suddenly seeing Sergeant Sutherland in the young man before him “They would bring back too many memories for me.”
Over at the grave site, two men in overalls started shoveling dirt into the hole in which Pops now lay, Jay felt a sudden urge to run over and stop them, but he fought it back. In truth he was terrified about being near the grave.
“How about we go for coffee?” Tom asked his gaze locked on the grave.
“Ok” Jay replied simply, sweat forming on his forehead, his eyes wide and fixed on the grave, beneath the surface Jay’s heart beat was going off the charts, Jay Sutherland was terrified and confused, he loved Pops, how could he feel afraid of him. Neither of Tom nor Jay wanted to be there now. Together they stood and left walking towards the cemetery gates their heads low, neither uttered a word.
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On March 25, 2008 at 6:59 AM , Vivian Jean said...

Thanks for your comments on my stories at I'm glad that you weren't offended by my unsolicited "editorialization" in my earlier message to you; you never can tell how another writer will take criticism! I'll be back to see how things turn out here, and thanks for the link. I've returned the favor on my end as well.
--Vivian Jean

On April 3, 2008 at 9:00 AM , Elise said...

This post is amazing! The emotion in it is raw and realistic. I love it xx

On May 8, 2008 at 1:03 PM , KAK said...

The awesomeness continues. I agree with Elise, that if your work ever publishes as a printed book, it would be a good read to curl up with.

I'm finally caught up and anxiously awaiting the next installment!

and on a side note, if you wouldn't mind, could you and maybe one or two of your readers stop by my blog once in a while? I've neglected it a bit, but am going to strive to continue the story again. Some decent critique would be nice now and then. Thanks.

On May 8, 2008 at 1:42 PM , KAK said...

Hey, it's funny, but I was doing my normal work stuff when it suddenly occurred to me that somewhere around Chapter 15 we lost Paul. Wouldn't he be at Pop's funeral too since Henry had become the main father figure in his life?


Reader Reviews!

"Wow. That's awesome. I like how you write, it's unique and descriptive and paints an image for you. when i was reading this first chapter, i could just picture this becoming a blockbuster movie or something." ...Toni Brolin

"I'm utterly and completely hooked! The characters are so defined and the relations between them are extremely deep. Keep writing. I can't wait to read more. x"...Elise

"What amazes me about your work is that you have an incredible capacity to get into the minds of your characters, regardless of age or gender. That is truly a great talent."...Kathleen

I'm supposed to be doing all sorts of things--writing cards, laundry, decorating and what happens? You put up another Chapter! So much for my schedule. Ooh, it's a good one, though that's for sure. What a cliffhanger. Can't wait to see what Sabian has to say. Really good tense stuff, but with just the right poignancy."...