You back out of the driveway, past the “For Sale” sign, into
the same roads you sped over in high school. Some blacktop. Some
gravel. All deserted. No one caught on and you never got caught.
You know you can drive fast until you get to town. Then slow to a
crawl. Wave at Mrs. Brown. Pull up to the undertaker’s where your
honor student persona worked ages ago as a receptionist. A job where
straight white teeth counted.
When you said good-bye, locked the door on that past life, you never intended to return. But now, alone, you’re back.
When the Titanic sank, it was accompanied by the strains of the orchestra playing Nearer My God to Thee. The music calmed survivors and doomed alike. Maybe the musicians thought there would be enough lifeboats to get away at the last minute. They clearly felt an obligation to provide art as a bromide for the fear of imminent catastrophe.
Once the damage was all sorted out, the musician’s families received bills from the ship’s booking agency for the tuxedos that went down with the ship. Come hell or high water, they would collect what was owed them. Business as usual.
Anastasia’s body joked in broad gestures while her face screamed wry. With a tilted head and a mincing clown step, she could amplify a joke into a stand-up routine. The final requirement to fulfill for matriculation was choosing a name.
When Anastasia asked her mother for suggestions, Clotilda was inscrutable. She frowned and shrugged. “Finding a name is a singular quest.”
Anastasia left the house in a huff. Children playing outside
imitated her strut, parading behind her. She walked backwards,
raising her arms like a majorette or a policeman directing traffic.
His accent moved around a lot, a swampy Southern drawl that sped up to nail a point. It was all factual– temperature, weather, numbers, deals notched up on a piece of wood like hunting prizes. If he had talked about bagging a couple of ducks, it wouldn’t have surprised me.
The way he talks makes me wonder if anyone is on the other end. Self talk, tons, clothed in cliched business garb.
Then, he’s staring straight through me, absorbed in his own thoughts. His gaze is steely, purposeful, crushing. Competition and victory are the only things that matter to him.
Soon as she heard Biddy’s crackly voice, Vivian felt trapped.
Biddy folded her hands on the walker, a shocked expression on her face. “Bessie’s nephew’s in the hospital. Top of his head come clean off. Her daughter called last night.” Biddy puckered up her lips like she was eating a lemon straight up, no sugar, no salt, just peeled off the tree. “Like he got scalped.”
Biddy wagged her head. “You going to supper?”
Thrown together for decades, a friendship of convenience, Vivian considered pleading illness. What a gossip. Vivian fervently wished her husband hadn’t gone first. “I guess so.”
Josephine pulled the seams on her polyester pants straight. She thought it wasn’t right to wear dark clothes that said mourning on a warm day that said Texas summer. Fanning her face and damp underarms, she glanced at her daughter while the undertaker spoke. What Josephine really wanted was to go home and shower.
Cirrhosis took Josephine’s husband to an early grave, but not soon enough, she thought. She loved her husband, “Great guy,” she always said. She meant it despite his gambling debts.
Her daughter’s face colored thirty seconds after Josephine asked, “How much does the funeral usually run?”