This is the second chapter of a work in progress. The first chapter is In The Dead of Night.
Like many of my stories, it’s a little dark.
It seemed like the whole town showed up at the funeral home for Jerry. He’d always been popular. In high school he’d been an athlete and even after he graduated, people still remembered that he’d gotten a football scholarship.
When he’d come home after college he’d been lost. Football was his life, but after college…it just wasn’t anymore. He’d gotten a job as a teller at the credit union with hopes of making it a solid career, but his boss hadn’t liked him. Then he’d sold cars for a while. When the bottom fell out of the economy, he lost that job too. Last job he had was the one at the Home Depot where he had worked when he was in high school. He’d just been made assistant manager and the night he’d died, he’d wanted to take Lori out to celebrate.
Everybody liked Jerry. He had a heart of gold and he’d give anyone the shirt off his back–all his friends said so.
Lori knew people wondered why he stayed with her. With the weight she’d gained in the six years since high school, she no longer looked like someone the star player should be married to. She’d never really been in Jerry’s league at all.
Everyone was being very kind–the details of the shooting were being kept quiet. If people knew, they weren’t talking about it in front of Lori. Kristen advised Lori to stay off of Facebook, because people posted awful stuff after a death.
Most of the people who spoke with Lori were under the impression that it was purely accidental. Probably because Jerry’s parents told everyone that Lori hadn’t known the safety was off and it was a damned shame she hadn’t taken the firearms lessons that Jerry had given her more seriously.
It was no surprise to Lori that most people thought she was rock stupid. In this case it was an advantage. It meant that she could let her in-laws make the decisions about the minutia (another five dollar word that Jerry would have been snide about) of the viewing and funeral.
For two days, she sat in the black dress that Kristen had bought for her, wearing her mother’s pearls, trying to figure out why she couldn’t feel anything. People came and went, giving her hugs or wanting to tell her their memories of Jerry. They would go look at Jerry in the casket and stand respectfully, or else cry and talk about what a good guy he was.
It seemed like so much theater. These were people who never gave her the time of day, most of the time.
Jerry’s parents and her own parents hovered around her. Lori wished they’d go away. The second day of the viewing, her dad offered to come stay with her, “So she’d feel safer.”
Like a phantom limb, Lori felt the weight of the gun in her hand. Imagined her father lying on the floor, a black stain spreading around his head.
That would make her feel safer.
“No thanks, Dad.” She said softly, “I need to be alone right now.”
The funeral home had two viewing rooms and Lori realized that the other one was in use. Many exotic looking strangers wandering about in the lobby. As the day went on, more came in, seeming to crowd out Jerry’s mundane friends and family.
She was in the ladies room when Corvidea’s daughter, the woman in the grey suit she’d met at the nursing home, came in.
Today her suit was more charcoal than grey, but it was probably from the same designer. She balanced, stork like, on impossibly high heels. She wore the same heavy gold necklace, but her earrings were only tiny diamond studs. Her makeup could have been professionally done and her hair was swept into an intricate updo.
“I’m terribly sorry for your loss.” Her voice was rougher than Lori remembered it. She sounded like she’d been crying, but no tears were on her cheek and her perfect eyeliner hadn’t run. “I was so sad for you when I heard that it was your husband here.”
Lori felt like an unkempt frump next to this picture of elegance, but something in the woman’s manner made her dare a little truth. “I’ll miss your mother more than I’ll miss Jerry, I think.” Then she started to cry. Not for Jerry, but for Corvidea.
“Oh, my dear.” The woman didn’t hesitate but drew Lori close, the way Lori had been wishing her own mother would. “My mother loved you. She told us all the time what good care you took of her.”
Lori backed away, “Why didn’t you ever visit?” She never understood, but in the two years of Corvidea’s residence in the nursing home, she never had a single visitor.
The woman shook her head, “That’s…just not how my family does things.” She spread her hands apart in a what-are-you-going-to-do sort of gesture. “My mother was very particular…and a bit eccentric. She always insisted she didn’t want anyone in the family to see her death. When she told me about you, I was so pleased she had someone who took such good care of her.”
It was well within the bounds of what Lori knew about Corvidea. She nodded, then said, “She left me two feathers.”
The woman’s eyebrows went up, “Two feathers?” She asked, “A black and a white?”
Lori nodded, “Does it mean something?”
The woman nodded gravely, “May I speak to you about it later? This doesn’t seem to be either the time or place.”
“Sure.” Lori said, intrigued, “Do you want my number?”
The woman pulled her cell phone out of her purse, “Please.” She typed the number Lori gave her directly into her phone. “I must get back.” She inclined her head and left. Lori realized that she must have come in just to talk to her.
Lori returned to the room Jerry was laid out in. It was almost three o’clock and there were only two people standing at the casket. Lori’s parents and in-laws seemed to have gone somewhere. Maybe to get an overdue lunch.
Most of the people who came to pay their respects to Jerry were people Lori recognized, but not these two. The woman was dark haired, with one long braid down her back, wearing a vaguely military-looking navy jacket. It had a double line of gold buttons and three gold stripes on the cuffs. Her skirt hit just below the knee and she wore low heeled black pumps. On the jacket was a patch that said “Paramedic”.
The man with her was dressed in a normal black suit. He stood a little back from the woman with his hands in his pockets beneath his jacket. His posture was tense and uncomfortable, but that had been the rule for pretty much most people who had come.
The woman was standing, staring at the casket, touching Jerry’s hand. While Lori watched, she bent down and whispered into Jerry’s ear.
Neither the man or the woman seemed to realize that Lori was in the room.
After a moment, she straightened up.
“You ready?” The man asked.
“Yeah.” She sounded…satisfied? “Let’s get out of here before someone comes back.” She turned on her heel and nearly ran into Lori in her haste to leave.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” The woman turned bright red, “Lori! I’m so sorry…” She took a step back, clasped the man’s hand and looked both guilty and embarrassed. She cleared her throat, “I-I’m so sorry for your loss.” She finished weakly.
The woman had wanted to come in here and see Jerry, but didn’t want to talk to any of Jerry’s family? Distantly, Lori wondered if she should be offended. “Are you a friend of Jerry’s from work?” She asked, politely. She assumed this woman wasn’t one of Jerry’s…indiscretions. It wasn’t likely that someone would take their current boyfriend to their married boyfriend’s funeral, was it?
The woman looked at her blankly for a minute, “Lori, don’t you recognize me? Catherine Hart.”
The woman came into focus. Lori blurted, “Katie?” The last time Lori had seen Crazy Katie was in their junior year. She’d been heavier then, with a slouchy defeated posture and unkempt hair. She always had weird books and weird clothes. Very different from this pulled together woman with her almost military bearing.
“I go by Catherine.” She drew herself up, raising her chin, daring Lori to contradict her.
The edges of Lori’s vision darkened. She felt like she was seeing Catherine through a long tunnel. “Oh.” She said weakly, swaying on her feet. This day was too much. The room felt too hot and she just wanted to go home and sleep, not make small talk with all these people.
Catherine’s expression changed. “You need to sit down. You don’t look so well.” She made a gesture to the man, and he hurried away. Catherine took Lori’s arm, “When did you last have something to eat?”
The man came back with a chair. One of the more comfortable easy chairs that littered the lobby, rather than one of the folding chairs Lori had been sitting in. Catherine gently pushed Lori down onto it, then she got down on one knee. Lori wondered how she could do that so easily in that skirt.
“Have you had anything at all today?” Catherine asked, worriedly.
“I had some coffee this morning.” Lori said, wondering why it was important.
“Jeff, I know I saw some snacks on the way in here. Would you go see if they have any soda?” She turned back to Lori, “What do you like?”
“Uhh..a Coke?.” She shook her head, realizing what Catherine was talking about. “Those aren’t ours.”
Catherine turned back to Jeff, “Would you get her a Coke and some crackers and cheese or something? And a bottle of water. I’m sure they won’t mind.”
“Got it.” Jeff gave Catherine’s shoulder a squeeze which she returned by touching his hand on her shoulder.
“Thanks, sweetheart.” Catherine said absently as she turned back to Lori. She sighed, “Hasn’t anyone here been looking after you?”
Lori blinked. She’d spent the afternoon making sure her mother had coffee and that she ate something. She had to make sure that her father-in-law remembered to take his pills. That Jerry’s friends had what they needed. There was no one else to do it.
Jeff got back with the pop and a plate of food. Lori took a long drink of the soda. After a moment, the darkness receded from the edges of her vision. She nibbled on a few of the crackers.
“Here.” Jeff brought over a couple of the folding chairs. He sat in one and Catherine took the other.
“Better?” Catherine asked, solicitously. “You need to make sure you eat.”
She nodded, feeling stupid. After a moment she asked, “Why did you come?” There was some pretty dark rumors surrounding Jerry and Crazy Katie. She and her family had moved out of town in a hurry. A lot of people said that they moved so suddenly because of Jerry.
Catherine grimaced and sniffed, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you. I just…” She looked down at her hands and shrugged.
Jeff’s face contorted. He crossed his arms over his chest, he looked away quickly, not meeting Lori’s eyes. Fidgeting, he uncrossed his arms, lifted his hand and rubbed Catherine’s back, as if she were the one in mourning.
Catherine took a deep breath, steadying herself. “Are you okay now?” She glanced around, as if looking for someone. No one was there. “Will you be okay on your own?”
Again, Lori just nodded.
“Well, we better…better go.” Catherine started to stand.
“Wait.” Lori said quickly.
Catherine glanced at Jeff, then sat back down. Lori checked to make sure no one stood near and asked, in a low voice, “Someone told me you accused Jerry of rape. Is that true?”
Catherine’s sudden pallor and the way she looked away was answer enough. She swallowed and clenched her fists on her thighs. Slowly she relaxed her hands and returned her gaze to Lori’s. “Yes. I made a report to the police.” Her face and voice had taken on an impassive quality.
“Did he?” Lori asked.
Still in that impassive voice Catherine said, “Lori, I didn’t come to upset you. I don’t think this is the time or place.”
“They didn’t want to prosecute him, did they?” Lori spoke quickly, conspiratorially. “His dad got him out of it. He told me about the charges.”
“I don’t think this is a good time for this.” Jeff said, echoing Catherine.
“No.” Lori clutched at Catherine’s cold hands. “I need to know.”
Catherine shook her head, looking trapped, and said in a low voice, “Yes.” She swallowed. “But, you remember how it was. The police chief was friends with Jerry’s dad. The cops…they said it couldn’t have been rape because…because why would Jerry want to have sex with Crazy Katie? They didn’t say that, but that’s what they meant. Jerry told everyone that it was a pity fuck and I was just mad it didn’t go anywhere.” She shrugged, wiped her hands on her skirt. “My mom believed me though. So, we moved the hell out of town.”
Jeff shifted uncomfortably and said, “Come on, Catherine. I think we’ve had enough.”
Lori put her hand on Catherine’s. Leaning close she whispered, “The thing is, I’m glad I shot him.”
“That was weirder than it needed to be.” Jeff said as they walked through the crowded lobby of the funeral home.
Catherine nodded soberly. “Sorry.” She steadfastly refused to acknowledge the weight of Lori’s admission. She needed some time to process this. One more bit of weirdness in her weird life.
The people in the lobby all seemed to be from the other service and they were having a full blown wake. There was food and drink tables set up and music was coming from the viewing room. They were laughing and crying together.
Jeff put his arm over Catherine’s shoulders as they walked out. “Don’t worry about it.”
She hadn’t told Jeff about the weird shit yet. How she’d earned the nickname “Crazy Katie”. He thought it was just the typical smart goth girl in a small town stuff.
He had been very understanding about her desire to come to Jerry’s viewing when she saw the obit in the paper. He hadn’t batted an eye when she told him the whole awful story. When she was done, he gave her a hug and then offered to come with her. Perhaps Jeff would be able to deal with all the weird shit.
She ignored the ghosts that gathered on the periphery of her vision. She always saw them at these big family events. The ancestor spirits joining the living. They were never frightening or threatening. Not like other times she saw spirits..
Jerry’s shade had been there, near his body, hovering like the recently dead often did. Confused and alone–he’d died so quickly, he hadn’t realized what had happened yet. Hopefully the funeral would be enough to help Jerry figure it out.
Catherine knew for sure he’d seen her, and heard what she said. The revenant’s face had twisted in impotent fury but was unable to touch or effect her.
“So….uh…what was it you said to…uhh…” Jeff groped for a way to phrase it. “Jerry?”
Catherine stopped walking, looked up at Jeff with a fierce smile. “I win.”