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“Laban's Funeral” by Chris Bissett

Updated: 5 days ago

It was closed casket (because of the head) but of course a lot of people turned out. The dignitaries had their customary place at the front, and one of the elders of the Jews spoke too long. The flowers were lovely. A childhood friend turned up before the meeting had started and exclaimed with an embarrassingly loud sob (they found out later he was intoxicated), “So long, Laban! I love you so much!” Someone had to help him find his seat, but it was handled tactfully by one of the funeral staff.

No one could say Laban wasn’t successful. They chatted about how much he donated to charity. He was a man utterly devoted to his church and community, they said. Even though he didn't have the established family connections (he was always a little insecure about this; he tried to compensate) he rose to prominence in Jerusalem’s social scene and died a captain of fifty. Most recently, his assets included a large amount of property from a business deal with a local merchant who, according to the documents, had to close shop and leave town, for personal reasons. Laban’s lawyer said that this recent transaction was truly providential, as Laban had accumulated some debts, but with this property his wife and family would be well looked after for many years.

In private, people admitted that there was a harshness to Laban, but it was generally overlooked because everyone knew that underneath it all, he had a good heart. His demeanor was the kind that comes from being too insecure, from trying to prove himself at too young an age. When he was eleven, he got a whipping from his father that left several welts on his back. It was over something that wasn't even his fault, but it hardened him early and taught him that he had to look after himself. He was still alive, in fact, his father—deaf and a little demented. He sat at the back. The eulogies didn’t mention any of this, his temper or the cutthroat way in which he did business. They didn’t mention it because, obviously, a funeral is a time to focus on other things. Neither did they mention how much he drank.

But other than that, everyone thought that Laban was a good man, a pillar in the community. At least, everyone could agree that he didn't deserve for his head to be cut off like that by those young ruffians who fled the city. They even stole his clothes. The people whispered aghast to each other about that in particular. The inhumanity of killing a man for his clothes. The gang just left his body there in the street, completely desecrated. A lady screamed to find him there on her way to the market in the early morning light, nearly naked with his head rolled quite a few feet, truly a gruesome sight. People lamented how the city wasn't safe anymore, and how crime had gotten so bad. They found out later that the delinquents even had the audacity to break into his treasury to steal his scriptures, of all things. Everyone shook their heads at this detail. They made terse little jokes about it, that the degenerates would hopefully read the ten commandments and reform. (They think his servant Zoram was in on it. At least, he hadn’t been sighted since the incident.)

His sons certainly knew all about their father’s faults. They knew to avoid him after payday (because of the drink) and that he could be a bit bullheaded, but still they loved him. One of his sons cried openly. They didn't think at all, it didn't even cross their minds, how Laban’s worth would be measured in the grand scheme of things. They didn’t wonder if his life was worth a nation dwindling in unbelief, or whether there was an angelic justification to be decapitated there in the street. He was just their dad, after all, someone who deserved life. And how is the worth of a soul measured, anyway? To them he was just a man who, yes, had a temper, but he still carried sweets in his pocket for their kids, and he always turned up at special events.

There was a little luncheon after the funeral, and his wife sat for quite a long time at the table after the people left, staring into nothing. At that moment it was as if, to her, Jerusalem were already destroyed. As if she were carried away captive into Babylon already.

This piece was published in 2024 as part of the 13th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz by the Mormon Lit Lab. Sign up for our newsletter for future updates.

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