Today's the day! The day we vote on the best story for my illustrious contest! Ready? Ready?
The day I entered the saffron and patchouli-scented
Bander Newnan, the proprietor of
“Thanks.” I said, “Allergies.”
He squeezed his eyebrows together, then cleared his throat. He leaned forward in his burgundy leather chair and placed his elbows on his nature calendar desk pad. “Mrs. Palmer, here at New Haven Funeral Home, we pride ourselves in providing families of the deceased with respect, privacy, and a flawless funeral experience.”
I held up my hand to stop the ten minute narrative he would most certainly deliver. Bore me to death, I am sure. Though I was in the right place, I kind-of wanted to wait a bit. At least until the next season of Grey’s Anatomy reached finale. “Mr. Newnan, I don’t care about your policies, procedures, or your pride. This is where mom wanted her funeral, so that’s why I am here. I know she took care of everything, so I am only here to sign the paperwork and verify the details.”
He pushed away from his desk and spun around to face a small filing cabinet. He removed a manila folder with my mother’s name inked across the tab in block letters. “Ah, yes,” he said as he flipped through the papers in the file. “She ordered the Deluxe A with options C and D.” He closed the file then picked up the phone. “Excuse me,” he said, looking over at me. “Margaret?” he said into the phone. “Can you bring me the box for client W4876B? Yes, of course. Thank you.” He rested the phone on the receiver then leaned forward. “Your mother had very specific instructions.”
I snickered. Of course she did. She never lived a day without specific instructions. Her life had been one big “To Do” list. The day of her death she had a checklist and number eight, directly under “fold towels”, was “Die”. All seven items had perfect checkmarks beside them. I couldn’t bring myself to checking eight.
“Sorry,” I said. “Mom and I didn’t have the best relationship.”
“Uh-huh. As I said, she left very specific instructions – some of them unorthodox – but we vowed to grant her wishes as we aim to please our patrons.”
I wanted to remind him that dead people don’t feel pleasure anymore and that my mom would never know if he followed through, but I think it might have shocked him.
“Ah yes, here she is,” he said.
I smelled Margaret before I saw her. A bubble of patchouli oil carried her to Mr. Newnan’s desk. She handed him a blue box with a large index card on the side that had my mother’s client number neatly penned across it. Margaret pivoted around, patted me on the shoulder, then swished out the door, leaving a cumulus cloud of scent.
Mr. Newnan opened the box and removed a small tissue-wrapped object and a folded piece of notebook paper. He handed both of them to me.
“What is this?” I asked.
“I am not sure. Something your mother obviously wanted you to have.” He stood up and grabbed a Coke can from his desk. “I am going to the kitchen for another soda. Can I get you anything?”
I shook my head no, unable to imagine consuming anything in a funeral home.
I unwrapped the object and gasped when I saw the small porcelain figurine. How in the hell did she find this?
When I was six years old, my brother, Todd, gave me a porcelain statue of two shaggy dogs, one basically standing on top of the other. He found it at a yard sale and couldn’t pass it up, hoping, I’m sure, to anger my parents with its obviously questionable pose. He called it, “Humping hounds.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I loved it anyway. The figurine sat next to my bed in between my Strawberry Shortcake lamp and Rainbow Brite clock. Todd was right. My parents hated it.
Two months later, Todd died in a car accident. Mom had sent him to the store for milk and he died. Things changed for my family after that. Dad became a drunk. An abusive drunk. Mom allowed it.
One day, he was in one of his stupors, and mom was arguing with him about changing the channel. He grabbed the remote and threw it across the room and it hit the mantel, crushing the picture of Todd and my dog figurine. Hundreds of pieces of memories littered the floor and mom swept them away like common garbage. I hated her for that.
I looked at the figurine in my hands. Intact. Mom wrote me a note—not in list form.
I searched everywhere and found this at the Salvation Army on
I opened the package of tissues and dabbed at the corners of my eyes.
“Allergies?” Mr. Newnan asked, entering the room with a fresh Coke and a package of Twinkies.
“No,” I said. “I lost my mom.”