EPISODE 25 — THE CARDINAL SIN
It was a day that appeared to start like most others, with the usual flurry of getting ready for a funeral service. I awoke from my nest, inside the wall of the prep-room, to the clatter of metal instruments on the tray nearby. C J was in her smart black suit and pumps, hurrying about the room, clicking across the tile floor. I peered out and noticed her applying adhesive to Mr. Livingston’s inner lips, as he lay in his baby blue metal casket.
“Damn!” she exclaimed loudly. C J rushed to sink and tried in vain to rinse her hands. I popped out of my hole, scurrying up the cabinet to greet her at the sink. Once again, it appeared she had glued herself in the process of securing the dead man’s mouth closed! She looked at me with a no-nonsense glare. For a second, I was frightened. Mr. Becker would be down any minute…
…meanwhile, she desperately applied the various topicals and solvents she could find to try to undo the glued fingers on not one, but BOTH hands. I began to snicker, which raised her ire again, “Shut up, rodent!” Just then, the door swung open and in walked Mr. B.
“Who are you talking to, CJ?”
“Uh, no one, sir.” she stammered. He looked at her with an odd expression. “Well, let’s get Mr. Livingston loaded up and get over to St. Bart’s then,” he said.
They got the casket loaded somehow, considering C J was still hopelessly glued up. Then they carried the flowers to the flower car and once everything was loaded, Mr. B left to go back upstairs to put his coat on. As the door closed behind him, C J decided she would have to take desperate measures to free up her fingers from the super adhesive’s bond: the scalpel! In one quick sweep, each hand was liberated, but blood now began to ooze where the cleaved fingers had been joined. She quickly grabbed a handful of band-aids from the first-aid kit, and we were out the door.
We got into the funeral coach with Mr. Becker and he looked down to see the assorted bloody paper towels and band-aid wrappers on C J’s lap. “What happened?”
“Nothing, really. I’m good, honest. A little problem with that darned glue, but it’s fine. Looks worse than it is, I promise,” she said in a rush.
We got to the church and pulled in front of the entrance. The pallbearers and the family were beginning to show up and soon it was time to take the casket into the church, to the vestibule. This is where the monsignor would bless the body and the pall would be placed over the casket before proceeding into the main church. This is the part that always made C J nervous: getting the casket down the aisle, rolling it perfectly straight, as Mr. Becker walked backwards (facing her, as she pushed the head end).
The morning had already gotten off to a rocky start with the glue incident, she prayed under her breath that she would keep that casket straight and above all: guide Mr. B down the aisle without bumping him into the crucifer! Rumor around the mortuary was that everyone who ever worked with Mr. B at the Catholic Church had made this awful, grievous gaff.
As sure as the sun will shine, it was a prophecy fulfilled.
Not quite a third of the distance down the aisle (see anatomy of church as in the clip above), as she intently stared through the tiny ‘window’ of space ahead through the crook of his bent arm, C J somehow lost track of the candle-bearer’s step. In an instant, she knew she was doomed, as she felt Mr. B’s body run into slight resistance, if just for an instant only. CJ was gripped by panic! Judging from the deepening color moving over Mr. B’s face, I doubt she had any idea the trouble she was in! I crouched low in her pocket, the day was about to worsen.
It was an eternity when we finally made it to the front of the church. CJ and Mr. Becker turned and genuflected before walking back together to the vestibule. As they got to the double doors, Mr. B began to close one side, and C J started to close the other side…but the doors were still open when he launched into a very audible whisper-yell which echoed into the main church.
“GODDAMN YOU!! You just committed a CARDINAL SIN!” he blustered. Several of the mourners actually turned around in the pews to look back. It was a most awkward moment, more so than the casket incident a few minutes earlier had been. The doors crashed closed with a mighty slam.
C J shrank, red-faced, shaking, and tears began to roll down her hot face. She looked like a shamed child. She fought to stifle a sob as he stared her down with a glare that could cut. She knew she had done the unforgiveable, appeared unprofessional. He worked hard at presenting flawless funerals. She would now be banished from working the Catholic services after today.
“Go on back to the mortuary! Send Bill back here, tell him to dress first. He will finish this and do the graveside with me. YOU will come back here for the flowers in 30 minutes and then set them up at the cemetery. After that, go back to the mortuary and wait for me!”
C J nodded, trying to apologize as she choked back the sobs that were stuck in her throat. He looked as if he truly hated her at that moment. We did as he said. After finishing at the cemetery, we came back to her little office to wait.
I felt sorry for her as she cried. She felt just awful. CJ just stayed at her desk in her darkened office for the rest of the day. I never saw her so upset. She cried and cried. The worst part of it all: Mr. Becker never did come down to talk to her, either.
©2013, C.S. Thompson.
*The next time Mr. B and CJ did happen to be in St. Bart’s again for a service was sadly, not to work a funeral…it was for CJ to attend Mr. B’s farewell, several years later, officiated by none other than the fine Monsignor himself.
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