Authors: J.B. Hartnett
THE MORBID AND SULTRY
TALES OF GENEVIEVE CLARE
Copyright © 2014 J.B. Hartnett
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This is a work of fictions. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
I listened to the pastor intone those familiar words I knew from TV and movies. Hearing them in person seemed almost comical. Though there was absolutely nothing to laugh about. The crowd was huge, and I was pretty sure the entire population of Greer’s Rest had shown up. I shouldn’t have expected anything different. My parents and my grandmother had been well-liked. Dad ran the real estate office in town, and mom volunteered for anything and everything. The three matching coffins all sat side-by-side. It was my decision to do it that way, mostly because I couldn’t bear to do this three times. Once was proving to be bad enough.
In the last five days, I had filled out form after form, trying not to break down. I just had to get through the funeral and the wake, then I could cry all I wanted, all I needed. I had more casseroles, flowers, and gift baskets than I knew what to do with. My best friend, Rocky, had been with me since the day of the accident. It was like she had me on suicide watch. If I spent too long in the bath, she’d knock on the door.
“Gen, I’m thinking pizza and hot fudge sundaes. Sound good?”
I was grateful for her vigilance because, quite honestly, I felt lost. My entire family had just been taken from me. There was no one else—no cousins, no distant relatives, no one but me. I tried to go to work on Tuesday. I thought it would be a good distraction, and, obviously, Dad wasn’t going to be in the office that day. Someone had to tell his customers, someone had to answer the phones. Rocky brought coffee and doughnuts, and the phone did ring. A lot. I tried to answer it, I really did, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to speak.
The morning of the funeral, a group of women from the church and the rotary club descended upon my house at Eden Hills. It took me a moment to realize it was mine now. They tried to be quiet, but when you’d spent your whole life in the same big house, you knew when someone flushed the toilet downstairs, or when they hit that third step that always creaked. The pipes made a gunk sound when someone used the laundry faucet. I knew they were busy, cleaning and preparing everything for the onslaught later that afternoon. My job, according to Rocky and her mom, Guava, was to take my time, holler if I needed anything, and get ready for the long day ahead.
Two days prior, I had nothing to wear. I couldn’t very well wear Chuck’s, jeans, and a navy blue pea-coat to a funeral. I had zero interest in shopping. That meant a trip into Santa Rosa to go to the mall. People constantly asked me if there was anything I needed, anything at all, because they would be happy to get it for me.
But all I wanted was my family back.
I remembered my dad telling me about the day of his father’s memorial service. Unlike Mom, Dad and Gran, my grandfather was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the river by our house. Dad had been only a kid at the time, but he remembered that, out of all the people there, he found himself looking at his mother thinking she was the classiest, most beautiful woman he’d ever seen…until he met mom. He told the story on holidays after a few glasses of Scotch. He’d turn to my Granny Clare and say, “I wish Dad was here.” Then he would tell me the story of that sad day, and Gran always had to add, “And don’t forget my hat and gloves. Jackie wore a hat and gloves, and she was a true lady.” She’d smile at me and explain, “A lady never goes out without her hat and gloves. Pity they went out of fashion, because, in my opinion, it’s always a hat day.”
Gran had only recently moved into The Elms Assisted Living. She and my parents had actually fought about it until Gran stopped talking. Granny Clare gave them the silent treatment for three days, and I was elected to go and “talk some sense into her.” She finally confided in me, “No one asks what I want, Genevieve.”
“What do you want, Gran?” I treaded carefully, not wanting to rock the boat of familial peace and harmony any more than it already had been.
“I don’t want my son and daughter-in-law to have to change my diapers when I can’t get out of bed anymore. I don’t want them to bathe me and dress me like a child. I’m still able-bodied, but for how long? I know they mean well. I know they want me to spend my final days in this house, surrounded by my family, but what if I live to be a hundred and five?”
I couldn’t stop the giggle that escaped me.
“Well, it could happen!” she declared firmly. “If I go now, I can make friends there. I can go on outings with the other old folks.”
Not long after, my parents reluctantly moved Gran to The Elms. She had her own little apartment. Three meals were served each day in a big room downstairs where she chatted with friends, some old and some new. Weekly activities that included day trips to wineries or down to San Francisco were a huge draw, and Gran never missed them.
Gran had only been at The Elms for a few months, so many of her personal belongings were still at our house. Two days before the funeral, I went into her bedroom and straight to the back of her closet. I checked to make sure all the items were still safely where I remembered, then took them downstairs to Rocky.
“I found something to wear. I’m sure it’ll fit, but it needs to be dry-cleaned. I just need shoes, size eight, to go with the whole…” I waved my hand down the garment bag, “ensemble. Can you take care of that for me?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” She hugged me tight while I kept a box balanced in one hand and the garment bag dangling off a finger in the other. I spent the next two days waiting.
Finally, Friday morning, it was time.
I sat on the edge of my bed and pulled on one back-seamed stocking, then the other, hooking them to the garter belt like I’d done it a million times. In reality, I’d only done it once before. I righted my black pencil skirt and fastened the three buttons of the matching tailored jacket. My shoulder length, auburn hair had been expertly curled by Guava. It was almost a shame to cover it up. But the little, black pillbox hat with a birdcage veil was the perfect accessory, and it had belonged to my Granny Clare. I wore my mother’s pearl choker and earrings, given to her by my dad on their tenth wedding anniversary. I hid my pale brown eyes that were bloodshot behind dark sunglasses. Finally, I pulled both gloves on and pushed the thin leather between my fingers.
The church service had gone quickly and back at the cemetery, I was seated alone. One chair had been placed beside me for Rocky, my “support person”. But I would have liked Guava on the other side, too. She and my mom had been close friends, but I had yet to see her let loose with the water-works. I knew she was staying strong for me; everyone was. I could have run up to the house for another chair, or asked someone else to, but I didn’t. I sat and watched as the three people I loved most in the world were lowered into the ground.
I didn’t speak at the church or the funeral. I was saving my words for my loved ones. I had every faith we’d see each other again one day. For now, I only had to walk the twenty feet from my front door to the cemetery to have a chat.
There was food and booze everywhere. I suppose with a last name like “Clare” people just assumed there would be a wake. I listened as the mourners gave their well-rehearsed condolences and comments, shaking their heads as they said, “That intersection is so dangerous.” The worst was when there were no words because, really, what in the hell were they supposed to say? So I returned their sympathy with a heartfelt thank you and told them I knew my family would have appreciated all their support.
But right now, I needed a break from everything and everyone.
I went upstairs to the first door on the right—the master bedroom—my parents’ bedroom. I sat on the floor, back against the wall with my legs outstretched until I heard a man’s voice say, “Hey.”
I’d known him since I was eight years old, when my dad had hired his dad to be the groundskeeper for Eden Hills. I’d also been desperately in love with him ever since. He was four-and-a-half years older than me. I hadn’t seen him in almost four years. I knew the night I’d tried to wow him with my retro get-up—the reason for owning a garter belt—that he would never see me as anything other than the little girl that lived next to the cemetery.
“How’re you holding up?” He slid down the wall next to me and handed me a beer.
“I’ve had better days.” I took a long, satisfying drink and stared at the wall in front of me.