Beatrice was dressed all in a black. Black shoes, straight, plain black dress, black hair pulled back in a tight black bun under a wide brimmed black hat.
These days she felt she spent her life dressed in black.
There was a knock at her bedroom door, and her sister, Maude, peaked in. "Are you ready, honey? We have to leave now if we're going to make the service."
Beatrice nodded. "How are you feeling Maude?"
Maude started to reply, but was interrupted by a hacking cough. Beatrice remained where she was and held her breath. Over the last few months they had learned that Maude's bouts could be aggravated by the slightest air movement. She nearly died when she suffered an attack in a room with an rotating electric fan.
When Maude finally recovered, Beatrice started breathing again, shallowly, to protect her sister, but not so shallowly that she hyperventilated and passed out, which happened the week prior and left her with a gash in her forehead that required twelve stitches to close.
"Did the doctor say anything new today?" Beatrice asked.
Maude shook her head, then swayed back and forth when the dizzy spell hit. Beatrice stopper herself from reaching out to steady her sister, as even the slightest pressure on Maude's skin triggered hallucinations that could last for hours.
The spell passed and Maude said, "Just the usual, you know, `I've never seen anything like this before,' and 'Every organ you have is on the verge of failing.' Oh, there is one piece of good news."
"They've decided to name it, Maudeitis."
"Oh." It occurred to Beatrice that after today's funeral she should have her dress promptly cleaned. Beatrice didn't know for certain, but she suspected that when a doctor named a disease after you, you weren't long for this world.
"Come on, Uncle Clyde's pulled the car around. It's a long ride to the O'leary's Parlor."
Clyde was fifty years old, but his hunched shoulders and leathery, wrinkled face made him look seventy. He wore a charcoal gray suit that had coat sleeves that were too short and pants that were too long. He opened the front door of his dented, rusted sedan and muttered something under his breath.
Beatrice looked at Maude for a translation. Uncle Clyde suffered from a rare tongue condition that caused his tongue to swell up like a hotdog left in the sun, and try as she could, Beatrice could never understand a word he said.
Maude said, "Clyde said he's sorry for your loss, he liked Buck and thought he would have made you a fine husband. He also said that the rear passenger doors are stuck shut and we're all going to have to ride in the front. Do you mind riding in the middle? I need to be able to look out the window so I don't get motion sickness."
Though she too got nauseous on long car rides, Beatrice acquiesced to her sister's request.
They traveled in silence, since they couldn't turn on the radio lest the music trigger one of Maude's seizures.
Beatrice's thoughts turned to Buck. How different life had been just five days ago. She had finally landed a waitress job that would cover the minimum monthly payments on her college loans. Buck's street artist career had gotten some traction when he secured the corner of 8th and Main as a regular performance space, provided he drove away the skater kids.
Why, Beatrice wondered, had he insisted on performing his Franken-squirrel piece in the middle of a thunderstorm? What could he have been thinking? Of course, she knew what his reply would have been. "You can't stop the art, baby."
Sadly, it turned out that a lightening bolt could stop the art. Bystanders thought the lightening was part of the act and gave Buck a standing ovation. Buck would have been pleased.
Beatrice felt fresh tears threatening. She looked out the window just as they passed the burnt out ruins of McPaddy's Funeral Home. It was where the service for her parents had been held last week.
Jack and Jenny Glum had died as they had lived, face down in a plate of barbecue ribs for two. Simultaneous heart attacks had been the doctor's finding. Maude had called it "Romantic."
The coffins had been oversized and expensive, but Jack had been very clear that he had wanted to be buried, not cremated.
"If there's burning in my future, I want to put it off as long as possible," he had always said. Which made the McPaddy's fire that much more tragic.
Eventually, Clyde pulled the car up in front of O'leary's Funeral Parlor. Beatrice let out a little gasp. The pastor and other guests milled around the front lawn and three police cars with flashing lights were parked in the driveway.
Maude and Beatrice got out of the car just as two two policeman emerged from the parlor and escorted a handcuffed Mr. O'leary to a police cruiser. Two more officers stretched yellow "Police Line, Do Not Cross" tape across the funeral home doors.
"What's gong on?" Beatrice asked the nearest police officer.
"Mr. O'leary has been arrested on suspicion of arson. He burned down McPaddy's last week."
"But, my fiancee is in there. We're supposed to be having his service now."
The policeman shrugged. "Sorry lady, everything in there is evidence until the D.A. says otherwise." With that, the police man went to help the other officers.
Beatrice's struggled to make sense of it all. The world grew dim, like a cloud covered the sun. The conversations of the people milling around her was as incomprehensible as the buzzing of mosquitoes.
And then, she saw a single flower with petals so white and beautiful, it was like looking at hope itself. It was strong and proud in a small garden set at the base of a Weeping Willow on the side of the funeral parlor. Beatrice didn't know what type of flower it was, lily, rose, orchid, she couldn't tell one from the other. She just knew she needed this one. That her life depended on it.
Beatrice waded into the garden. The scent of the flower wafted up to meet her, reminding her of the long walks she and Buck would take through the woods and meadows. She plucked the flower.
"What are you doing?" a chubby man in a gray and white striped suit yelled at her.
"I just wanted the flower," Beatrice replied.
"That's a rare Ichondus Bloomus Freshous! There are only four left in this state, well, three now that you've killed this one. They are so delicate, so difficult to grow. Whatever else he may have been, O'leary was an artist. You plant butcher!"
Beatrice's hands shook. Death had been all around her, but now she saw the truth, she was the bringer of death. She dropped the flower and swooned backward.
Had the man in the gray and white stripped suit been any sort of gentleman, he would have caught Beatrice. Unfortunately, he was not, and instead stepped back out of her way.
Beatrice smacked her head on a rock and drifted away into oblivion.
PS - Okay, I can't leave Beatrice like this. The following day, she wakes up in the hospital, where the devilishly handsome, yet sensitive, caring, all around nice guy (and bachelor) Dr. Alonzo Monroe falls deeply, passionately in love with our poor Beatrice. He settles her debts, cures Maude and Uncle Clyde, and they all live happily ever after.
REALLY THE END
So, there ya go, a three hanky tale. Could you feel the drama? The pathos? Did it speak to you? <sigh> Something tells me the wife is right again.
Copyright 2012 John Lance