W.F. Lantry


Miranda took the call from bed. The deceased had lived a long and hap­py life, so there was­n’t the usu­al sad­ness. I heard her mak­ing arrange­ments from the next room.

Well, I could sing Requiem Æternam at the entry. And then, lat­er, the Celtic Alleluia. That’s always nice.” She sang sam­ples into the iPhone.

The deceased’s sis­ter was on the oth­er end. She accept­ed every sug­ges­tion. Just tick­ing the box­es. She had five more calls to make: funer­al home, ceme­tery. The wake would be the night before; they’d dri­ve to the ceme­tery after the service.

Miranda got off the phone. “Oh, good. Somebody died. Now we can eat next week.” It’s what she does: wed­dings and funer­als. She sings peo­ple togeth­er, then she sings them out of our world. I hear all the stories.

Like the cou­ple who’d just bought a new rug. They had a par­ty in their apart­ment to cel­e­brate. Their friends were stand­ing around, laugh­ing, and every­body drank too much. The hus­band espe­cial­ly. When he felt it all com­ing back up, he ran for the bal­cony, with his wife right behind him. Couldn’t bear to stain the new rug. He leaned over the rail, but leaned too far. His wife tried to catch him. Seriously, she had her hand on his col­lar. But he was a big guy, and she just did­n’t have the strength. It was a long way to the ter­race below.

Stories like that. Most days there’s a new one. This one seemed sim­ple, an old man, peace­ful­ly pass­ing. Not much fam­i­ly. The worst she’d have to wor­ry about was a ram­bling eulo­gy from one of the chil­dren. Then the priest would get impa­tient, and she’d have to sing the last songs too quick­ly. Or the organ­ist would demand extra bench fees. They’re all like that.

I’m always amazed how fast things go south. The deceased had told his sis­ter “any priest will do, except that damned Father Lyons.” “No prob­lem,” the funer­al home said. “We’ll get Father Molony.” So Molony accepts, but he’s a lit­tle dizzy, and for­gets he’s already com­mit­ted for Thursday. He remem­bers Wednesday morn­ing. By then, there’s only one guy avail­able: Lyons. There’s a flur­ry of phone calls. The sis­ter even calls Miranda. What can she do? Besides, the deceased will nev­er know.

That took care of the after­noon. The view­ing was at sev­en. The sis­ter was there, the chil­dren, all of them at mid­dle age by now. The girl­friend of the deceased. Why both­er get­ting mar­ried again, at eighty? They had wine and some of those lit­tle full­moon crack­ers in the next room. No-one was sad, they talked about busi­ness, the mar­riages of their chil­dren, the foot­ball sea­son. The deceased was a Ravens’ fan. Things were look­ing good for the season.

Until there was a com­mo­tion at the door. “You can’t keep me out! I’m his wife!” The sis­ter had­n’t men­tioned a wife. The chil­dren had­n’t said a word. The grand­chil­dren looked at each oth­er, wor­ried. The direc­tor tried to main­tain his dig­ni­ty. “Madam, there must be some mis­take. Please walk this way, and we can clear up any confusion.”

There’s no mis­take!” The wife was shout­ing now. She looked over his shoul­der, and saw the girl­friend. “There’s that whore who stole him from me!” The direc­tor, off bal­ance, went down as she pushed by. One of the sons could­n’t bring him­self to tack­le his own moth­er, so she actu­al­ly made it to the girl­friend. You would­n’t think an old lady could move so fast.

Down they went, both scream­ing. Miranda had to step back, out of the way. Lyons just stood there, shocked. One of the women lost her pearls, and they were rolling around on the rug like mar­bles. A cou­ple grand­chil­dren were try­ing to pull them apart. That’s when the insults started.

Miranda could­n’t bring her­self to repeat such things. They got them into sep­a­rate rooms. Things like that can’t be set­tled, but at least no-one was shout­ing any­more. After a while, every­one left. The deceased slept through the whole thing.

The next morn­ing, there were four police cars out­side the church when Miranda arrived. The judge had refused to issue a restrain­ing order, but he made the cops show up. Everything start­ed fine. Just like a wed­ding: girl­friends and fam­i­ly on one side, wife and her friends on the oth­er. Some of the grand­chil­dren scur­ried back and forth, and one of the daugh­ters switched sides before the invo­ca­tion. Then came the eulo­gies. Two of them: one by girl­friend, one by wife. Miranda start­ed to wor­ry about the bench fees.

It was like they were cel­e­brat­ing two dif­fer­ent lives. The wife went first. Everything was bread and wine and flow­ers, and then it was­n’t. The girl­friend’s was an exact mir­ror. Dark days, and then won­drous light. The chil­dren squirmed. The grand­chil­dren start­ed play­ing catch in the back pews. No-one told them to stop. As Miranda sang the clos­ing hymn, they were fling­ing paper air­planes made from church bulletins.

The cas­ket was loaded with­out inci­dent. Everyone, includ­ing the cops, drove to the ceme­tery. They stood around the open grave as he was low­ered in. Miranda sang a last song. Then it was time for the cer­e­mo­ni­al shov­el­fuls of earth. Picture the scene: two old women, both in pearls, each stand­ing by a mound of fresh red earth, hold­ing a sharp­ened shov­el. A police­man stand­ing next to each one. Nobody could hear what they whis­pered to each oth­er, but it seemed to be about who would fling the first dirt. The wife won.

And that was it. Everyone held a shov­el in turn, lift­ed up some dirt, flung it into the hole. Grandchildren com­pet­ed to cov­er up the box. People start­ed drift­ing away. Miranda qui­et­ly slipped behind some trees, and made it to her car. As she drove away, she noticed eight police offi­cers, stand­ing around the grave, talking.

She met me, lat­er, for cof­fee. She put her phone on the table top, took a sip, and told me the whole sto­ry. I asked her the deceased’s name. She couldn’t remember.

Her iPhone rang from the table.

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