**THIS IS THE NOVEL THAT RIKKI LYNN SNYDER IS CURRENTLY READING FOR ME. ACCORDING TO HER…IT’S EXCELLENT AND SCARY!!!
Friday, October 11th – 9:15 a.m. – Kendall Funeral Home
Patrice Cavanaugh pulled her dark blue four-door sedan into the parking lot of Kendall Funeral Home and selected an empty slot with “VISITORS” painted in black block letters on the curbstone, parallel to the front entrance. She was tired and weary, perhaps even a little sad, but not grievous. Her eyes ached from lack of sleep, a luxury she’d been denied since leaving the hospital earlier that morning. With the car still idling, she adjusted the air conditioner vent so that the cold air blew directly in her face, attempting to fight off the nausea that had suddenly swept over her, lying as heavy as a boulder inside her chest. Just when she was certain that she would pass out, the sick feeling began to subside, leaving her feeling weak and sweaty. Leaning back against the headrest, she exhaled a puff of breath as she stared at the front door of the building, dreading what lay ahead of her. “God, I hate funeral homes,” she said.
Gabby, her older sister, sat beside her in the front passenger seat, staring blankly through the windshield. “I know,” she said softly. “So do I, and we both have a good reason for that.”
Patrice glanced over at Gabby. “Thank you for coming with me,” she said. “I know you didn’t want to, and you really didn’t have to, but I sure do appreciate you being here. It means a lot to me, especially considering your feelings towards Brad.” Patrice knew how much Gabby disliked him. Hated him was probably a better way of putting it. And she wasn’t alone in those feelings. Everyone who knew Bradley Cavanaugh hated him, including herself.
“You’re welcome,” Gabby responded, squeezing her sister’s hand. “Come on, let’s go inside and get this over with,” she said, opening her door and getting out.
They walked the short distance on the sidewalk, pausing momentarily beneath a green and white striped awning that overhung the front entrance, its scalloped edges flapping softly in the light fall breeze. “You okay?” Gabby asked.
Patrice nodded. “Yes,” she answered, pulling open the front door, bells chiming above them as they stepped into the lobby.
The waiting area of the funeral home looked like a pine tree had suffered a horrible upset stomach and vomited, leaving in its wake a blanket of multi-colored greens. Forest green carpet, matching lime green sofa and chairs with tiny pink rose accents, grass green throw pillows with yellow fringe – everything around her was green! Patrice supposed the colors were meant to be cheerful for this otherwise sad environment, something to help the grieving cope with their losses and soften the hard blow of dealing with the reality of death. But she found the variety of colors more than overwhelming, and frankly, quite sickening. Almost as putrid as the smell of gardenia scented room-spray that permeated the entire lobby. Paintings of serene settings decorated the two lobby walls. In one, a lakefront with calm, still waters and a fisherman casting his rod from a canoe; a country cabin with a dirt path and quaint white cottage in the other. Both were autographed by artists she had never heard of. In the corner next to the front entrance stood an upright metal bookrack filled with flyers and pamphlets offering self-help advice on how to deal with grief. Various magazines and newspapers were scattered across the glass-top coffee table that was placed in front of the sofa. Organ music played softly from overhead speakers, reminding her of old Miss Petty, the church organist from her childhood, whose long pencil-like fingers plucked away at the keys while she rocked back and forth to the sounds coming out of the pipe organs. “For crying out loud, turn off that funereal dirge and put on some good old rock and roll!” Patrice thought, feeling a bit guilty for having such thoughts while standing in her current environment. Even so, she had to stifle a giggle at the thought of hard rock blasting from the sound system inside of a funeral home.
“May I help you?” asked the elderly lady at the reception desk, whose short hair was a light shade of purple that could only be obtained from using too much color rinse. Her cat-eye glasses were perched on the end of her beaked nose and she looked over them when she spoke.
“Yes, I have an appointment with Mr. Kendall.”
“Your name, please?”
The receptionist, (whose name she later learned was Gladys), picked up the phone and punched in an extension number. “Patrice Cavanaugh is here for her appointment.” She paused, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone. “Yes, sir,” she said, hanging up the phone. To Patrice, she said, “I’ll show you back.”
Patrice and Gabby were led down a short hallway that contained three doors, two on the right and one on the left, which had a restroom sign over the top of the door. A faint odor of formaldehyde filled the hallway, causing Patrice to shudder. For a moment, she wished she were back in the lobby smelling gardenias. She was more than familiar with the process of embalming and what it entailed. Not that she had ever performed or witnessed one personally, because she knew she could never do that, but because it had been explained to her and Gabby, at their request, by the funeral director who had handled the arrangements for their parents. There really was no need for the procedure to be described to them, other than the fact that they wanted to know exactly what their mom and dad would be subjected to. It was a decision they had both come to regret, because once it is described in detail, it created mental images that would forever haunt them both.
At the end of the hall were double wooden doors with silver thresholds on the bottom and matching silver push bars with an “Authorized Personnel Only” sign posted on the left doorway. “I can only imagine what’s beyond there,” Patrice thought. “Is that where Brad is?” she wondered. “Lying on a cold morgue table waiting to be dressed and put into his coffin? Good! I hope you freeze your ass off in there!”
Gladys led them to the last door on the right, stopping just outside the office. “Here we are,” she said, smiling and motioning Patrice and Gabby into the office. Patrice thanked her and stepped through the door, where she was immediately greeted by a munchkin of a man who was as big around as he was tall. She half expected him to start dancing and break into a chorus of the lollipop guild, but instead, he extended his pudgy hand with its sausage looking fingers and introduced himself. “Mrs. Cavanaugh, I’m Miles Kendall,” he said smiling, revealing tiny, doll-sized teeth. “Please allow me to extend my deepest condolences for your loss.”
“Thank you,” she answered softly. “Mr. Kendall, this is my sister, Gabby. She’s assisting me in making Brad’s arrangements. I hope it’s okay that she came with me.”
“Of course, of course,” he beamed. “It’s always nice to have someone to lean on, especially at a time such as this.”
He shook Gabby’s hand as well, and then motioned for them to sit in the two brown leather chairs across from his desk. Gabby grimaced at his sweaty touch, wiping her hand on her jeans before sitting down, wondering if he had noticed her reaction. If so, he showed no indications of it. Instead, he began his spiel with Patrice about finalizing funeral arrangements.
“Mrs. Cavanaugh…” Miles started.
“Please call me Patrice,” she insisted. She felt no need to tell him the reason why. Frankly, it was none of his business.
“Very well. Patrice it is then,” he said, shuffling through some papers on his desktop. “Have you given any thought as to what type of service you’d like for your husband? I have several plans that I can go over with you,” he said, opening a black notebook, its pages separated by colored tabs. “Is there to be a memorial service or a funeral only?”
“Neither,” Patrice quickly responded, causing Miles to raise an inquisitive eyebrow. “Something simple and inexpensive will do fine.”
Miles remained silent, glancing back and forth between the two women, completely perplexed by her statement.
“What my sister means to say, Mr. Kendall,” Gabby offered, as though reading his thoughts, “is that she and Brad discussed this type of situation in the past, as I’m sure most married couples do, and both decided on what each would want in the event of the other’s death. Brad made it perfectly clear to Patrice that he did not want a funeral.” You can put him in a cardboard box and toss him in the ocean as shark bait for all I care! she thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say! “He didn’t want anything fancy, expensive or extravagant. He told Patrice that he didn’t want all that attention lavished upon him or people coming to gawk at him while he lay in his casket. He was extremely adamant about it. So,” she said, turning to Patrice. “My sister doesn’t need to go into debt to pay for something that Brad didn’t want anyway. I’m sure you can understand that.”
Miles appeared to be disappointed by her remarks. She wasn’t sure if it was because of all the money he wouldn’t be making, or because Patrice’s request was such a strange one to him. Whatever the reason, his displeasure was evident by the scowl that had replaced his smile.
Patrice reached into her purse, took out an envelope and handed it to Miles. “His life insurance policy,” she told him. “The face value is ten thousand dollars. That should be enough to take care of everything. He already has a pre-paid tomb at Greenview Cemetery, so there shouldn’t be a cost for burial. If there’s any money left over after expenses, you can send me a check.”
Miles stared at her momentarily, said nothing, and then opened the envelope and removed the policy. Quickly scanning over it, he said, “Yes, I’m sure this will be enough. But shouldn’t we at least discuss the type of coffin you’d like for your husband? I can take you to the showroom and show you…”
“No, no,” Patrice said hastily. “I’ll trust you to make that decision, based on everything Gabby has told you. Again, nothing overly expensive.”
Miles wasn’t sure how to respond to this request. Most people he dealt with wanted the best for their loved one’s final farewell, but hers was quite strange, and more than a little unnerving. He had been in the mortuary business for more than twenty years and had never been asked to do such a thing. Family members generally took pride in choosing the right casket for their dearly departed – the right service, the proper music, everything. Obviously, Patrice Cavanaugh wasn’t like most people. She seemed to be a mousy, timid woman, and fragile, as though she might shatter into a million tiny pieces at the slightest of touches. “Yes, I suppose I can take care of that as well,” was all he could think to say.
“And Mr. Kendall,” Patrice continued. “I’m not sure whether the hospital staff told you when they released Brad to you, but I want to make it perfectly clear that he is not to be embalmed.”
“But, Mrs. Cavanaugh,” he protested. “That’s simply not…”
Patrice held up a hand, cutting him off. “I know it’s probably unorthodox compared to your previous clients, but it’s his request, Mr. Kendall, not mine. All I’m doing is honoring his final wishes, which is exactly what I would’ve wanted him to do if the tables were turned.” She supposed she could have lied and made the request sound more viable by telling him that it was for religious purposes, but she feared that God himself would strike her down with a powerful bolt of lightning for telling such an extravagant falsehood because Brad had never stepped foot inside of a church in his entire life. She knew as she spoke the words to Mr. Kendall how strange they sounded, but Brad had made her promise on more than one occasion that she would not allow him to be embalmed upon his death because he was terrified at the thought of having sharp probes punching holes in his body to drain him of his blood, although she had assured him that he wouldn’t feel a thing. Yet he was adamant about it and she had kept her word like any good wife would.
“I see,” he said, nodding. But he really didn’t. This lady is nuttier than a fruitcake! What kind of a person doesn’t want their loved ones to be embalmed?
“Is there a problem, Mr. Kendall?” Patrice asked. “You seem somewhat unsure of my request.”
Miles stared fixedly at her, his mouth agape. “It’s just…” he began, but Patrice cut him off before he could go any further.
“I can take my business elsewhere if there is.”
“No, Mrs. Cavanaugh. That won’t be necessary. I’ll honor your husband’s wishes.”
“Good,” Patrice stated. “Then that’s settled.”
“Yes,” Miles stammered. “I suppose it is.”
“I brought clothes for him,” she said, placing a brown paper bag on top of his desk. “I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate being buried in bloody clothes.”
Miles stared thoughtfully at the bag. Did this woman care so little about her husband that she couldn’t even take the time to put his burial clothes on a hanger? A bag was all he was worth to her? He didn’t want to think about it anymore. All he wanted was to finish his business with this cold-hearted woman and get her out of his establishment.
“Mrs. Cavanaugh,” he began, refusing to call her by her first name any longer. “I’m sure you understand that if there is to be no embalming, Mr. Cavanaugh will need to be laid to rest right away, for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to explain.”
“I understand,” she replied.
Miles rose from his seat and picked up the bag with Brad’s clothes in it. “Would you like to see him so that you can say your last goodbye?”
“No!” she snapped, realizing that she had probably stunned him with her sudden and abrupt answer. “What I mean is, I saw him this morning at the hospital, and that vision was enough to last me a lifetime. I said goodbye to him then.”
“Very well,” he huffed. “I assure you that I will handle everything accordingly and in agreement with your wishes, and with Mr. Cavanaugh’s wishes as well.”
“I appreciate that,” Patrice said.
“Thank you,” Gabby added.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Patrice said, reaching into the left front pocket of her black Capri pants. “Can you please put this in his hand and bury it with him?” she asked, placing a bronze coin into his palm. “It’s a token of good will to guide him on his journey into the afterlife,” she explained. Or Hell, which I guarantee you is where he’s going!
Miles took the coin and cupped it in his hand. “Yes, of course, Mrs. Cavanaugh. I’ll see that it’s entombed with him.”
At the doorway of his office, Gabby turned to Miles and said, “Mr. Kendall, I’m sure Patrice’s requests and behavior might seem somewhat strange to you, but they’re really not. Everything she has requested is exactly what Brad wanted. Nothing more, nothing less.” Pausing for a moment, she then continued. “My sister is having a really hard time right now trying to deal with his sudden death, then having to make all these spur-of-the-moment decisions. She’s extremely stressed, so please forgive her for any improprieties.” If you only knew about all the bruises he gave her, every bone he’s broken, every bloody nose – then you’d understand. Because if you did know all these things, you’d probably want to dump him in the ocean yourself!
“I understand, Gabby,” he said as he ushered her away from the door and into the hallway, where Patrice stood patiently waiting for her.
But that was a lie, because he really didn’t understand any of it at all.