Episode 12 — The Merry Widow
Today I am watching CJ from my regular place, through the crack in the wall above the baseboard. She is working on getting Mr. Lambert ready for his viewing this evening. I nibble on a stale piece of cracker I found in the kitchen as I peer out.
CJ inspects the body on the table, toweling away any moisture on the backside. Mr. Lambert is literally stiff, like a surfboard. She reaches under his arm to pull him onto his side, and like a rod, his entire body turns as she pulls him towards her. I giggle to myself and think, that’s something only the dead can do.
Embalming fluids injected arterially flow through all the tissues, just as blood did when the person was living. The tissues become fixed, or set, firming the entire body as a result. It is amazing to watch as the process clears the ashy color and lividity away, during the injection. The body has a distinct pinkness or healthy sort of glow when it is over. Mr. Lambert’s appearance is such that you cannot even tell he had been ill with congestive heart failure. He looks as good as new now.
CJ begins to place clothing on his body, carefully and methodically straightening and adjusting trousers, shirt, and coat. She is getting ready to put on the man’s necktie when the door swings open, and Mr. B enters the room. “I’ll get this, CJ,” he says as he takes the tie from her hands. “Thanks, Mr. B.” She then works at the task of putting on the socks and tie-up shoes. They finish dressing the body and then leave briefly to fetch the casket for him. In a few moments, they return, rolling a very pricey heavy-gauge copper model into the room. My, my, I thought to myself. This guy must be very special because we don’t sell one of these babies every day! It had a shine of richness, with an interior to match. A thick, luxurious velvety velour material covered the oversized pillow and linings, which would be folded over the top and sides during the viewing. I envied the man, wishing I would get to lie upon such a comfortable pillow. I yawn, feeling drowsy; it is about that time now, my naptime.
After CJ applies light liquid tint over the face and hands, she brushes a light “natural” lip color over the lips. “Ready?” Mr. B asks. “Yes sir,” she replies. They roll the dressing table to the side of the opened casket and effortlessly lift the man from the table, stepping together with Mr. B at the head and CJ supporting the butt and legs. Gently they place the man upon the mattress within the casket. As Mr. B adjusts the level and angle of the body position, with the special cranking key inside the bottom of the bed, he tells CJ to take the next couple of hours off as he will need her to return to work the viewing this evening. “Okay, sir.” They set the lids down carefully and then roll the casketed man from the room to the lift, to take him up to the chapel.
I settle into my nest for a nice nap, with visions of soft velour in my head as I drift off to sleep.
Later, I awake to hear CJ’s steps, returning from her afternoon hiatus. I scramble out of my nest, and squeeze through the baseboard on the stair side and run up to the chapel. I hide in my place under the pedals of the organ, at the front. I am curious to see the people who will come to view Mr. Lambert. I imagine that they must be well off, considering the expense of such a fine casket.
A few minutes later, the big chapel entrance door opens, admitting a fragile-looking elderly lady with a walker, and a gentleman, maybe a son, beside her. CJ greets them and the gentleman steps back, saying he will wait in the foyer for Mrs. Lambert. Slowly, CJ walks Mrs. Lambert up the aisle until they reach the casket waiting there. The walker is left behind, and CJ supports the tiny woman’s arm as they step up to the bier. Mrs. Lambert looks like she might snap, like a twig, she is so frail looking. She dabs at her moistened cheeks with a tissue, wiping a reddened nose as she does. And ‘snap’ she did, sort of…
What happened next came quite unexpectedly. The widow pocketed her wadded tissue and began to speak as she peered into the box at her husband of fifty years.
“Thank God! Thank you Almighty God, this day has finally come!” she exclaimed jubilantly. I looked up at CJ’s startled expression; she was obviously feeling quite awkward as she stood numbly looking on.
The lady continued: “Rot, rot you bastard! For fifty long years, I waited for this day! Go to hell in style!”
She then turned her gaze to CJ, sort of half speaking to her, and to him. CJ stood expressionless as the woman went on, “Fifty years, miserable years with him…I put up with his miserly, womanizing, boozed-up behavior. I cooked, kept the house, and raised our children while he was out on the town, coming home at all hours. He talked to me as if I was a worthless dog; he argued that I spent too much of HIS money. I barely managed the bills and the grocery shopping with the pittance he grudgingly handed me. He growled when he had to buy me a decent dress every ten years or so. He was a lousy husband and a disinterested father to his children. He took fifty years of living away from me. Ahh, but you know what?” CJ mumbled that she did not. “You know WHAT? Hahaha, you miserable tightwad! You cannot take your money with you now! For once, you look handsome all dressed up in your shiny, copper box. All dressed up instead of the slob, stinking of cheap perfume, cigarettes, and whisky! Rot! Now I can finally live however many years I may have, without you. I can be happy now. I can do what I please. I can love and be loved. I am free!” With that, she screwed up her mouth and spat at his face, before turning away.
CJ turned ashy white! Oh my, this is just so…scandalous, so obscene, and surreal! No, this was almost something out of a bad movie! A very shocked CJ took the woman’s delicate forearm, helping her back down the big step, as the lady called to her companion, telling him she was ready to go home now. The younger, fifty-ish aged man happily obliged, and I saw something in his kind gaze…a look about him that spoke of love when his eyes met hers, a ‘knowing glance’ that lovers know…good heavens! This man was her beau! An almost instant transformation took place. The little lady looked younger, no longer fragile, or frail. Well, I’ll be darned, I thought. Good for her!
Slowly, he walked her out, and they left, just like that. One other caller appeared for Mr. Lambert’s viewing. A son. He had two sons and a daughter, but only one accompanied by a wife and a couple of kids came to pay their respects. I finally understood what was meant in that old saying, ‘You reap what you sow.’
© 2013, Colleen Thompson.