Friday, 4 March 2016

Funeral Food - Part 1 - an amusing short story by Allan Hudson


I love short stories. Hope you do too.
 
 
 
Sometimes people go hungry. There could be many reasons. This old gal just can't make ends meet.
 
Funeral Food 

Annabelle Ross is as thin as a liar’s promise. She was 73 yesterday. No one made her a cake. No one called her. The only child of an only child, no children, a widow for eight years, she is the last one left. She hasn’t eaten since Thursday, two days ago. Her old age security check only comes on Monday and there is nothing in her cupboards. She once went to a food bank, and once was enough.  There have been no funerals to attend. At least until today.

Her stomach rumbles when she imagines the platters of triangular sandwiches, wedges of enchantment. The bread is soft and fresh, the fillings moist and delicious, sometimes lobster salad if the deceased was affluent. Enormous trays of sweets will be evenly spaced about the tables.  Mouthwatering chocolate and certainly the brown squares with the miniature marshmallows.  The visions cause dizziness and she grasps the table edge while her stomach grumbles. For a moment she rests her tiny head on the creased newspaper spread out on the table. It’s open to the obituaries, yesterday’s edition.

Strands of hair fall from behind her ears where the thin white tresses are normally tucked. The ends that fall to her neck retain a touch of their girlish curl. Time and need have not dulled her eyes the way they have paled her delicate skin. Age spots appear along her brow. Her narrow face however is blessed with kind features. There is no despair in her temperament. Annabelle is not a quitter. Sitting up she looks around her box-like bachelorette, wondering what she might wear. First she has to decide which of the three funerals she will attend. If she’s lucky, she might make it a double header. 

Of the eleven death notices, there are only three possibilities. The photos of the departed slated for burial today are circled in dark pencil. Two men and a woman. The lady is quite plump. Teeth and gums are spread in a grin that depicts pain. There is a rude moustache penciled onto her upper lip. Annabelle had a run-in with the woman six years ago when the lady, Mildred Malarenko, was manager at the Ripkoph Senior's Complex. Annabelle's ceiling leaked every time it rained and she’d complained for over two months. She finally told Mildred that she would not pay her rent until the leak was fixed.   She was given an eviction notice and two weeks to move. Annabelle reminded Mildred of the marijuana fumes that came from her closed office doors some evenings. The notice was changed to two months and a van provided for the move.

The red numerals of the digital clock on the cupboard of the kitchenette show 06:44. Rays of an early sun yellow the top pane of her small window. She is happy there is no rain. Glancing back at the obits she deems this one a B+ on her listing system. It’s scheduled for 10 a.m. and she has lots of time, The Sisters Funeral Parlour is only three quarters of a mile, the newer staff are not familiar with her yet and best of all, the Ukrainians love to overfeed everybody. The negatives? Annabelle’s deep dislike for the dead woman, and one of the sisters might be working. Laurie-Ann, the oldest, gave her a hard time two months ago and asked her to leave. She thinks Suzie, the light-haired one, knows but doesn’t say anything. Cynthia, the one that smiles a lot, packed her a baggie once and gave it to her when she escorted her out. The sisters rarely work weekends, so it should be safe.

The man at the bottom of the second column has a heavily penciled circle looped around his heavily metaled face. He has one name, Booger. There are enough piercings on nose, ears, eyebrows, lips and she’s guessing nipples, crotch and navel that The River Styx Point of Departure & Crematorium probably used a magnet to lift him into his casket. She hated going there. There is always loud music. Their billboards are all over the city suggesting your final moments “should not be somber but a celebration”.  At present they are offering a free barbeque with each cremation. The upside is that most of the patrons pay her little attention. The staff are usually high or too busy to bother with an old lady. The food though. Oh the food.  The RSPD&C cater to crowds that usually have the munchies. Lots of chocolate, never any veggies, humongous bowls of potato chips, small lakes of salsa and tangy dips, stacks of Ritz crackers, Mr. Freezees, cakes, cookies… She’d go today mainly for her dessert. It’s at eleven and not too far from Sisters. Another B+.

Third column, second from the top, has only one circle softly framing the tender face of Aldous Von Gluck, also 73, four daughters, seven great-granddaughters and one great-great-grandson, Aldous Von Gluck-Galloway. The elderly German has a high forehead and wide face. A toothy smile hides the eyes. The face is contorted in happiness as he looks up at the photographer. In his arms is an infant no more than a week or two old. One can only assume it is his namesake. Annabel wishes she had known him.  She can see how much he loves the child and she wonders what that must be like. Brushing a loose strand from her cheek, she tucks it behind her ear while she checks the details.

Young’s Funeral Parlor is older than she is and in much better condition. It’s located downtown behind the post office. Annabelle lives in the east end, three point four miles away, she’d have to take a bus. Pushing herself away from the table, she rises gingerly, wrinkling her nose. The wet garbage is starting to ripen, the fish she had on Thursday, her last meal.  She hates to take it out, the small green bag is only half full.   It smells even worse as she approaches the kitchenette. The odor comes from under the sink. Yuck!

While she removes the bag from the white plastic basket -- a yard sale treasure plastered with NHL stickers -- she notices the tomato sauce stain on the hem of her black wool skirt. She can’t do a wash until her check comes. She’ll have to wear the gray dress, even though it’s too tight at the waist. Setting the green bag, half full of tea bags, by the door, she wraps her housecoat tighter, arms cradled across her chest.  She glances at the clock again. 07: 22.
Time for a tea. She’ll get ready after. She needs to time her arrival to the beginning of the service, when it is the fullest and she goes unnoticed. She rises and lifts the beleaguered kettle to fill its whistle with tap water. While doing so she wonders which scarf might be appropriate today.

 

*

Annabelle is too early. Thirty feet from the sidewalk there are two men off to the side of the entrance smoking, a last-minute fix. “Damn,” she mutters while ducking behind a glistening SUV in the funeral parlor’s parking lot. The back windows are tinted and hide her completely. Catching her image in the mirrored surface, she sees her hat's askew. A burgundy pill box, something a Kennedy might wear. Tipped forward too much; she made her bun in the back a bit high. She deems it “rakish” if low on her forehead, not suitable for an elderly lady, my goodness.  Intending to re-pin it, she is distracted by the two men moving to the main door. She rushes forward as well. The door is large, made of aged oak and thick beveled glass, too heavy for her but it closes slowly and she slips inside.

She catches up to the larger man. He’s slower than his mate by 25 or 30 kilos. She closes in behind him, squinting her nose at the smell of cigarette. She keeps to his right, hopes no one will see her, the offices are on the opposite side.  They’re in the main lobby.  Wide doors face them left and right. The first man opens one, enters. A faint aroma of petals stirs when Annabelle and the rotund man follow close behind.  She remains in big man’s shadow to the end of the last pew where she spies an empty spot.  Glancing discreetly towards the back, she doesn’t recognize the part-time staff. She shuffles into the padded seat. A young boy steps closer to a microphone near the piano.

The opening chords of “Ave Maria” waft from the front right corner. The notes are as polished as the gleaming sides of the Yamaha upright.  Beulah Bogdonovitch, the weekend pianist, is far better than that cranky old Mr. Dodge, thinks Annabelle. His version of Elton John’s Candle in the Wind is very good though. Behind the pulpit on the left, the pastor’s glossy pate and bright blue sports coat catch her eye, she deems him the worst dresser of the lot. He'll have half the congregation in tears five minutes into his benediction. She doesn’t recognize anyone else.

Annabelle forgets her hunger as the lad up front silences everyone with his rendition of Gounod’s “Hail Mary.” Anabelle closes her eyes; it's her favorite funeral song. The melody lingers long after the boy stops singing. The murmur of approval morphs into the hushed voice of Pastor Delahunt, a voice which rises when he points out the virtues of the deceased while gesturing open palmed towards the urn shaped like a poodle.

He hesitates. Withdrawing the white square from his breast pocket, he clamps it to his mouth. He twists away from the row “reserved for family” and bends from his waist as if to cough. The crowd sits straighter.  Not many seconds of silence pass before the hushed shuffle begins.  To Annabelle it looks like the man is trying not to laugh. What she or the crowd can’t see is that he really wants to cry. The attorney for the estate of Ms. Malarenko settled financial matters yesterday. Frou-Frou inherits everything, the house and cottage as well. The family is next in line.  Even the pastor is in on a wager of how long the dog will live.

Biting his lower lip, he regains his poise. He apologizes for his “hay fever” and continues:
“…the perils of spring. And like Mildred, whose life was only beginning to bloom…”


To be continued.............


Drop by Tuesday, March 8th, (which is Women's Day) for the rest of the story..........






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3 comments:

Hall Linda said...

I can hardly wait for March 8, for the rest of this interesting life, of this lady.

Linda Hall

allan hudson said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

Mary Hachey said...

Great premise for a story. I like her already.