A family crisis brings out the best and
the worst in every member of the family.
Hailey closed her eyes and drew a deep breath before entering the parlour of the funeral home.
Aunt Alicia and Aunt Lil were whispering and conspiring together.
Alicia was the first to spot Hailey and her face registered a look of shocked surprise. She stopped in mid-sentence, causing Lil to follow her gaze and turn to see Hailey.
Her expression mirrored her sister’s and both women froze as Hailey approached.
Hailey had intended to greet them, but her mouth went dry and no words would come out.
Alicia’s huge protruding eyes seemed to bug out even more and Lil grabbed her sister’s arm as if she were about to faint.
In the awkward silence, Alicia was the first to recover her senses.
“Why, Hailey! —Bless my soul. I’m so surprised to see you. I was just telling Lil here that this must have been such a shock for you. We honestly didn’t think you’d attend.”
The remark only served to light a fire in Hailey. “Of course, I’d come. Did you think I’d miss my mother’s funeral?”
“It’s not that, Dear, it’s just that you’ve always been fragile and we’d totally understand if you weren’t up to dealing with the stress.”
Lil was still clinging to Alicia’s arm and gazing at Hailey as witnessing an apparition.
“I’m fine Aunt Alicia. How are you coping?”
“It was quite a shock, but we’re all managing. Beatrice was the head of the family, and now that she’s gone that role will fall to me, I suppose.”
Lil, who appeared to be on the verge of expiring, suddenly came alive. “The McAdams will survive this crisis—just as we have weathered others in the past.”
The sudden declaration seemed to summon some hidden reserves in both women.
“There’s been a long tradition of strong women in the McAdam line,” Alicia declared, looking to Lil for support.
“Yes, there has,” Lil echoed, breaking free of Alicia and straightening up to her full height. “We may be diminutive in stature, but we are great souls.”
Nan, who had been at Hailey’s side, felt they were towering over the two sisters, who in comparison, resembled evil, wizened dwarfs.
Hailey sensed the same disproportion and shot her an amused grin, but just as quickly reverted back to a more submissive demeanour.
“I’m sorry, aunties, I forgot to introduce my friend and colleague, Nanette Franklin. Nan, this is my Aunt Alicia and Aunt Lillian.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Nan smiled broadly.
The gnomes nodded in acknowledgement, identical sour expressions pasted on their faces.
Hailey glanced around the room. “Is Aunt Ev here?”
Alicia pursed her lips. “Evaline was tied up with a family situation—she sent her apologies and said she’d be here tonight.”
“I understand,” Hailey sympathized as she spotted some of the faculty from her work entering the room. “You’ll have to excuse us aunties—we have to greet some of our co-workers.”
She pointed to the doorway where a man and two women were signing the register.
The aunts nodded in unison, looking like grotesque bobble heads.
Hailey stifled another smile and used the opportunity to make a quick exit, tugging on Nan’s sleeve to hurry her along.
Once she was free of the women and conversing with her colleagues, she slowly began to relax and feel more at ease.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Art Kendall was saying.
He was the Department Chairperson and had adopted his officious pose, pursing his lips like a fish—a huge, bloated goldfish.
For all she cared, he might as well be blowing bubbles too.
She instantly felt guilty for being so judgmental and as reparation, forced herself to focus on him, trying hard to appear interested.
It wasn’t so much a case of her not liking Art, as it was more a matter of discouraging him from liking her.
Thankfully, Mariska rescued her by lapsing into some shoptalk about department budgetary initiatives.
Johanna, flirty and thoroughly committed to the ditzy blonde role, began chatting up one of the young male funeral home attendants.
Mariska was just starting to get wound up and had selected Art as her scapegoat.
“You’d think that Vi Reardon would be more proactive in dealing with these issues at the committee stage, instead of waiting for the news to filter down to the faculty level before getting involved.”
She looked around for support, but found none and decided to go it alone and plow on with her rant.
“What do you think, Art? Am I right, or am I right?”
Art literally stepped back with his pudgy hands in the air, “Hold on now, Mariska, I’m just a small fish in a big pond. Why don’t you ask Hailey? —She’s our faculty rep.”
Any guilt Hailey had been feeling towards this blowfish went right out the window, but before she could respond, Nan intervened.
“Hey, what’s the matter with you people? Hailey just lost her mom. Save this for when she gets back to work.”
Art’s fish eyes blinked behind his over-sized glasses and Mariska’s mouth hung open.
“Of course, of course,” she sputtered. “I’m so sorry Hailey—it’s an occupational hazard to talk about the job 24/7.”
“That’s okay,” Hailey demurred.
Mariska eyed her thoughtfully and then blurted out, “I know what I meant to tell you—it was the strangest thing—a student of yours was trying to reach you on Friday. It was past five—office hours were long over and he was quite upset that you weren’t available to see him.”
“That’s weird,” Nan said. “Who was it—did you recognize him?”
“Can’t say I did. He was fairly non-descript—a bit disheveled— bad skin—all broken out around the mouth.”
Nan’s eyes lit up. “I’ve seen that student before. As a matter of fact, come to think of it, I saw him on my way out of Sweetwater’s the other night—a nerdy, creepy looking guy with beady eyes.”
Hailey was puzzled. “I can’t recall seeing anyone in class matching that description, but it is a large lecture.”
Suddenly, a chill went up her spine and her skin began to crawl. She felt as if someone had walked across her grave.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.