No, not the poet. My character. I was sitting here wondering what I’d do with T when I remembered a very short opening to a book idea I had and the main character’s name was Tennyson. So, I thought I’d just post that little opening.
Funerals are seldom jolly affairs. Movies like to depict them with an overcast sky or a steadily drizzle of rain, but I’ve been to hundreds of funerals in my life and almost all of them were on sunny days. I guess movies just think they have to remind us that it’s a sad occasion and assume we aren’t intelligent enough to figure it out without appropriate mood music and weather. I shouldn’t be surprised; Hollywood has made an art of telling us what it thinks we should know.
I’m a people watcher. I particularly enjoy studying people in dramatic situations. A funeral is usually an optimal one. People put up odd walls around them in some ways, but in others, they let people see into parts of their personas that they usually guard. I learned this when I was about four at my first funeral, but that’s really not relevant to this story. Suffice it to say, I watch everyone around me with great care.
As a funeral director, I get to do this much more impersonally than I did as a child, and I’ve learned a lot about people in the process. Take today for instance. The woman in the center of the group standing around the coffin here at the grave site—she’s the widow of course. I helped her pick out the coffin, the order of service, and hired the pastor of a local church to perform the ceremony. We have a staff reverend, but he’s on vacation so Pastor Bob over at the Presbyterian church fills in for us on occasion.
We like to give him the business because he’s underpaid; he rarely turns us down. It also helps that he’s from a liturgical church. This makes the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, and even ex-Catholics comfortable. However, the Baptists, Congregationalists, Nazarenes, and independents all feel better knowing that he’s officially a protestant. We aim to please.
The widow, Jessica Terrell, insisted on that black suit. I thought it was a bit much myself, but it’s not exactly good manners to tell a grieving widow she can’t wear black to her husband’s funeral. I did convince her to soften it with the ivory blouse. The dozens of scarlet roses in her arms were also not my idea. I suggested a single rose to lay on the coffin but Jessica insisted on five dozen scarlet roses. “That’s what he sent me the day he met me.” How do you argue with that?
The man next to her is the deceased’s brother. Elliot Terrell is a local businessman. Highly respected. I personally hadn’t met him before this account, but I found him charming. We’re meeting for coffee next week, and I’ve already bought a new sweater for the occasion. If a man like that wants to ask a woman like me to coffee, I’m giving myself any advantage to have a repeat offer.
Oh no. Here come the officers. Frank Terrell was an ex-Marine and not, apparently, without connections. Jessica had made a few calls from my office, and the next thing I knew, a twenty-one gun salute was ordered and now it was time.
I suggest you put in your earplugs. I know I am.
The minister finished his homily about the brevity of life and the certainty of a blissful hereafter for those “belonging to the Lord.” At his signal, a group of Marines congregated at the foot of the casket in formation. They readied their guns. They aimed. They fired.
Elliot Terrell crumpled. Jessica, not noticing the man at her side was now a heap on the grass, stepped forward and laid the massive bunch of roses on the coffin. She buried her head in her hands as she stepped back and tripped over the body of her brother-in-law. She took one look at the blood spilling over his stomach and screamed.
Tennyson Hughes stepped toward the scene to help when she saw the blood and gave out her own yelp of shock and panic. Moments before she fainted, Tennyson thought to herself, Do I have to give a family discount for something like this?