When at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.
~ Sylvia Plath
An hour later back at the townhouse, she was restlessly pacing. Should I change into my black dress or go as I am?
She looked at her cream-colored sweater and skirt combination, which she could dress up by wearing the torturous matching heels.
Might take my mind off Aunt Alicia and her sisters.
She pictured her aunts in black mourning dress, hissing like a nest of vipers. The image made her shudder.
The phone rang and before picking up, she nervously checked the caller ID—it showed a 519 area code—a long distance call.
Not her stalker.
She relaxed and answered, and was rewarded by hearing Trish’s cheery voice on the other end of the line.
“Hi Hailey. Just checking in to see how you’re doing. Are you holding up all right?”
“Oh, hi Trish. Doing fine—just spinning my wheels deciding what to wear.”
“If that’s the least of your worries, you’ll be fine. Are you going alone?”
“No, Nan’s vowed to accompany me to the viewings and funeral.”
“Sounds like she’s got your back. Good. Anyway, you’ve got my out-of-town number and if you need me, just hit redial.”
“I will—and Trish—Thanks. I really appreciate the support.”
“Just remember, I’m not far away and I’ll be there on Monday for the funeral.”
She felt better after she hung up and decided to skip the black dress. –As for the cream pumps, she’d wear her more comfortable brown shoes with their lower heel.
No doubt her aunts would be tongue wagging, but they would be anyway, regardless of what she wore—besides, she no longer had to placate them to please Mother.
The thought caused her to fall into a tailspin, but she quickly recovered and firmed up her resolve.
Time to grow a backbone, she admonished herself, thinking how proud Nan would be.
“I’m proud of you,” Nan reassured her when she walked into the townhouse, but was clearly dismayed by the low-rise brown heels. “Next, you’ll be wearing your hair in a bun.”
“Who am I trying to impress?” she countered.
“A girl must always look her best, especially when young and single.”
“And determined to stay that way,” she laughed.
They drove to the Windermere Funeral Home in Nan’s bright yellow Mini Cooper convertible and parked beside Aunt Alicia’s huge black Cadillac.
The clan’s gathered and waiting, she mused.
She imagined her aunts arrayed in black bombazine whispering secrets in shadowy stillness.
Nan sensed her tension and reached across and squeezed her hand. “Just smile and be yourself—it’ll drive them crazy.”
Despite the butterflies in her stomach, she had to laugh. Be herself? The thought was preposterous.
As soon as they got in the door, a young blonde girl met them.
She was dressed in a tight gray skirt, with a contrasting white blouse and black jacket—obviously, a funeral home uniform, Hailey mused.
The girl directed them to the three large adjoining rooms at the rear of the building.
“This place is as gaudy as a New Orlean’s bordello,” Nan whispered, eyeing the crystal chandeliers and tiffany lamps.
“I’m so glad I didn’t wear those heels—I couldn’t imagine walking across this rug.” The deep pile rug was a scarlet color and seemed oddly inappropriate.
As they approached the rear of the building, they saw three identical sets of French doors, with inset panes of frosted glass.
Nan paused uncertain of which room to enter.
“This is like some surreal version of Let’s Make A Deal.”
The sober look on Hailey’s face said otherwise and made Nan immediately regret her flippancy.
“I’m sorry—that was gauche and rude of me. You’re obviously not amused.”
“No, it’s not that. I just hate being a specimen under the microscope. Maybe I should have worn black.”
“Hailey!” Thomas Gunn’s voice cut through her thoughts. “I hoped you’d come early.” His warm smile put her at ease.
“It’s nice to see a friendly face, Mr. Gunn. By the way, I’d like to introduce my friend and colleague, Nan Franklin.
“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Franklin. I’m glad you’re here to support Hailey.”
The remark made Hailey wince. “So, Mr. Gunn, seeing as you brought up the subject, what’s it like behind those doors?”
“Let’s say, a bit testy. Your aunts are obviously uncomfortable around me since I was your mother’s advisor. It seems they’ re particularly concerned about the reading of the will.”
“Why would they be upset about that?”
Thomas Gunn cleared his throat. “Wills have a way of being defining moments in a family’s history, Hailey—the situation usually brings out the best and worst of people.”
“So, are you anticipating any trouble, Mr. Gunn?”
“I hope not, but people being what they are, they never fail to amaze or disappoint me.”
“Not to worry. As your mother’s executor I’m thoroughly acquainted with her wishes and helped her draft the will. I can’t promise it’ll please everyone, but I can assure you, her instructions will be followed to the letter.”
Hailey nodded, feeling a knot of tension tightening in her gut. Nan saw her stiffen and shot her a sympathetic smile.
“Well, I must be on my way. I’ll see you again on Monday at the funeral, Hailey. By the way, it appears that Wednesday afternoon is the most convenient time for your aunts to attend the reading of the will—is that time good for you too?”
“It’ll be fine. I’ll see you at the funeral.”
She waited until the solicitor left and then turned toward Nan with a look of desperation. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Don’t be silly, of course you can. You’ve come a long way and you’re a strong woman. Remember what Trish said—she’s got your back and she’ll be here Monday. You can get through this.”
Hailey took a deep breath.
“Okay—but stay beside me.”
“We’ll be joined at the hip.” She pushed her toward the French doors. “Now take a deep breath and plunge in.”
Entering through the frosted glass doors reminded Hailey of the inscription over the gates of hell in Dante’s Inferno: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.