A Wedding and the Funeral

by D.E. Fredd

The Psychological Novel course met from nine to eleven on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the fall semester. I thought it would go one of two ways--jammed to the rafters or a half a dozen lost souls sitting in a circle for two hours voicing specious insights about Kafka and his ilk. Betting on the former, I arrived thirty minutes early and staked out a seat in the second row close to the door. By five of nine the place was packed, thirty-five or so psychology majors and a scattering of literature students like me. Just as class was about to start the star forward of Drexel’s basketball team strolled in trailing his cheerleader posse which took up most of the front row, the better for us mere mortals to admire him. I was mulling over the idea of just how many of the novels this future NBA second round draft pick would ever read and which of the three lovelies by his side looked literate enough to write his papers for him when an, “Excuse me, is that seat taken?” interrupted my musing.

I took my book bag off the seat, mumbled a fake excuse that a girl had asked me to save it for her, but she’d been gone for over ten minutes so she was screwed. He thanked me, sat down and, after settling in, reached out and shook my hand, “Mark Hanley, I had a course with Moravec two years ago, Psychology and Art. He likes it when there’s lots of discussion.”

I introduced myself, telling Mark that this was the start of my senior year. I’d thought about psychology but was majoring in comparative literature. Then Dr. Moravec entered the room, all was silent and the course began in earnest.


It was a decent class. I wasn’t crazy spending a week on James’ The Turn of the Screw, but we moved on to Hardy and some of the whacko Russians quickly enough. The psychology majors dominated the class, tossing out complexes and syndromes as if there were no tomorrow. Mark was right up there with respect to the diagnosis game and case analysis. By the third week Moravec actively looked for him when the discussion flagged and was never disappointed by his comments. “That’s an interesting viewpoint, Mr. Hanley. Anyone else have any thoughts on the matter?”

During the ten minute breaks, Mark and I usually made small talk. I’m not the chatty type, but a few words about the Philadelphia weather or the morning traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway never hurt anyone. We did have a few things in common. He’d spent two years in the army and was now in the National Guard. I was going through school on an NROTC scholarship. He was applying to graduate school for psychology; I was sweating out my active duty placement.

On the down side, he had no interest in sports and, since I was on the baseball team, it would have been nice to parade my modest accomplishments (.280 batting average plus six outfield assists) before an appreciative audience. He didn’t care for literature either. He never had time for novels although he had started a Stephen King book on a plane trip a few years ago. He appreciated my opinions about the books on the syllabus, and a few times he regurgitated those same ideas to the class. “Interesting, very interesting” were the Moravec accolades he received for the contributions.

As the course wound down and perhaps as a favor for proofreading one of his papers (rife with comma splices and run on sentences), he invited me to lunch, his treat. We went to Bartolo’s in South Philadelphia and ordered cheese steaks fully loaded. I, having just turned twenty one, had a beer. Mark was a strict Baptist and didn’t drink although he cavalierly stated he didn’t care what others did. The conversation was strained. We speculated about the final exam. He delighted in the fact that he would be graduating in January and have an entire semester off until he began his Masters at Temple University next fall. We exposed a bit of our personal lives. He was twenty-four. His real father had been killed in the first Gulf War, and his mother had married again, this time to a complete asshole. He’d joined National Guard right out of high school just to get away from the situation and had been on his own ever since. His family’s dysfunctionality had taken its emotional toll. An army doctor recommended therapy, and he’d kept up the weekly sessions since leaving active duty. That’s what made him major in psychology and get into counseling. He could help with family issues or depression because he’d been there.

I also admitted that I wasn’t much of a family person. I was an only child, born to a couple late in life and lost them both during my high school years to different types of cancer. At college I always spent the holidays in my dorm or at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. I stayed in Philadelphia during the summer to earn a few bucks when I wasn’t off doing navy reserve stuff. He brought up the topic of religion, and I adroitly explained that I was to the far left of Voltaire’s Deism (my standard obtuse comment which no one ever understood, including me). He let the subject drop but not before saying his Baptist faith had gotten him through difficult times and was a continued source of strength. He knew in his heart it would be that way for others.

Our course ended in mid December. A few times before the final he called to ask some basic questions about the novels. I got the impression he wanted to talk. After the exam we met in the hall outside the room. He wanted to do something to celebrate. “Maybe we could go out for ice cream.” I begged off saying I had other tests to cram for. We shook hands and wished each other luck. He may have asked god to bless me as well.


I had a busy spring semester. I finished my classes and handed in a senior thesis in mid May (Puzzlement and Pandemonium in Melville’s Benito Cereno). Baseball was in full swing (pun intended), and we were in the running for a Division II playoff bid. I had picked up a girl friend which is to say that during March, April and May we kept each warm during the weekends. She was a sophomore at Villanova and in her glory planning a graduation party for me after Memorial Day. In fact, when the phone rang late Thursday night, I thought it was her and answered with a rather clever, scatological greeting which alluded to some intriguing intimacies that occurred the evening before.

It took me a few minutes to recognize Mark Hanley’s voice. It began innocuously enough. How was I doing? How was baseball? Did I know what the navy had in store for me when I got my commission? I gabbed away in a guarded fashion because I knew there was another shoe to drop. It finally did. Mark had met a wonderful girl some months ago. It was love at first sight. They were going to be married on June 11th, over two weeks away but he was in a bind. He needed four ushers and someone he’d been counting on had backed out at the last minute. I was his last hope. The wedding was on a Friday evening in Allentown, just a short hour up the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Philadelphia. I hemmed and hawed. I had a ball game on Saturday (actually it was practice). I was nearly broke (this was true). He countered my arguments. It was a Baptist wedding which was to say no booze so I’d be sober as a judge the next day. The whole event would be over by ten on Friday night so I didn’t have to stay over and nobody needed a tux, a dark suit would do.

He was wearing me down. It was easier to agree than to disappoint him. Then the idea dawned on me that this wedding would be a perfect opportunity to bring my new girl friend to a cheap motel and have riotous sex Friday afternoon, evening and Saturday morning and get back to the city for the early afternoon practice. I accepted.

I spent the next hour on the phone with Natalie. The sales job Mark used on me was not working on her. She had an uncle’s birthday bash to attend and a promise was a promise in her family. I wondered if it was really the prospect of sleeping with me for an extended period that was the real deterrent. We had engaged in the act before when a location (the library stacks or her dorm room with roommate seemingly asleep) became available, but the prospect of tawdry romance in a cheap motel in Allentown didn’t sway her in the least. I begged. I pleaded. I laid it all out there. I never would have accepted the wedding responsibility if I’d known she would not go. A Baptist wedding was close to a wake with respect to enjoying oneself. She was adamant. My tone became a bit sharp; hers got sharper. She leveled with me. Too much of our relationship was based on sex. Whenever we went out, everything seemed a precursor to the act. Why couldn’t we just be together and share experiences without ending up humping against a wall somewhere.

“Okay, the ‘against the wall’ thing only happened once, and I distinctly remember telling you that it was common practice in London’s Whitechapel district during the time of Dickens. It was more or less research to see if it could be done and we proved, to your intense satisfaction I might add, that it could.”

“But sex isn’t the only thing that’s bothering me. The navy’s sending you away to Wisconsin to study meteorology in a few weeks, and you haven’t mentioned what’s going to happen to our relationship when you’re out there and I’m still here. You make jokes when I bring the subject up.”

“What do you want to discuss?”

“I guess I need to know if we have a future together.”

“Are you talking about an engagement?”

There was silence on her end. So this was what it was boiling down to. If I wanted to enjoy myself at Mark Hanley’s wedding, I had to ask Natalie Fisher to marry me, a Claddagh ring at the very least. I’m sure I’d have a great time that weekend experiencing simultaneous orgasms by the carload, but then, on the drive back Saturday morning, the poultry would come home to roost or some such aphorism. It might be cheaper to hire an Allentown hooker for the night than to submit to blackmail like this.

“It’s getting late Nat; I’ll give you a call when I get back.”

“Don’t bother, asshole; I’m through wasting my time with you as long as I live.”


I went to the wedding. I rented a car, beat the Friday traffic out of Philadelphia by leaving at three. By five I was safely ensconced in a $49.95 a night motel room that probably changed cooperate owners every six months for tax purposes. I showered, spiders notwithstanding, and looked terrific in my navy uniform replete with a gold ensign bar. Since I brought no sex partner with me, not a big deal, I had seen plenty of movies where people in the wedding party always paired off. If there were four ushers there had to be four bridesmaids. After the wedding meal and all the diet cola anyone could drink, I’d simply select a partner for the evening, stop by the local package store and wile away the evening as salaciously as I could.

When I got to the church early that evening, I could see why Mark was desperate. His side of the church was virtually naked. At ten minutes to six only his mother represented the family honor. Feeling sorry for her, several members of Carrie’s family had moved over. Even worse, when I met the three other ushers and exchanged greetings, I discovered that none of us had more than a passing acquaintance with Mark. Indeed, I, having taken a course with him, was in the bosom buddy category compared to the rest, all of whom were grousing about being cajoled into this “cheesy” wedding.

Carrie, Mark’s bride, had the type of looks that grew on you. She was a tallish blonde, five ten or so, and on the thin side. Her nose might have been a bit too aquiline for her longish face, but she had a pleasant, sincere smile. When she took me aside and thanked me for coming, how much it meant to her to have me in the wedding party, I felt she meant it.

She was an operating room nurse, a few years older than Mark. They’d met at a church camp a year ago. She’d been the activities director. He did some pastoral counseling. Her family, judging from their dress and physical appearance and by the fact no dinner was being served (everyone down to the basement recreation hall for cake, ice cream and coffee), was dirt poor. By seven the service was over.

I was angry because there was no meal and, if I’d known that, I could have saved myself the price of a room by just hopping in the rental car and zipping back to Philadelphia by nine at the latest. To top it off, the bridesmaids were under twelve, Carrie’s two nieces and two of their middle school friends. I scanned the church for an evening companion, but it was like trying to find a TV show on a summer night filled with reruns. You flip through the guide once, strike out, toss the damn thing down and try to think of what else you could do. Nothing comes to mind so, in desperation, you start channel surfing and are reduced to watching an hour program on catching card counters in Las Vegas. Up and down the pews I went. When we stood for a hymn, I scanned again thinking that, since nothing attracted me facially, then perhaps a compelling figure would do in my time of dire sensual need. Nada. The closest option was a thirty-something woman with decent breasts. Her ample rear end was passable, but I suspected a closer, three-dimensional side view would be far too Rubenesque for my taste. She sang with her head uplifted and eyes closed clutching a bible passionately to her chest with both hands. I reasoned that my naval officer’s uniform might be enough of an enticement to get her into my room and down to her skivvies, but there wasn’t enough charisma in the whole world to wrest the good book from her grasp. The next most attractive women were Carrie and Mark’s mothers who wept through the entire service. Thank god hitting on either of them was still beneath me.


I survived the wedding night. I bought a pint of Southern Comfort and by nine I was reading Faulkner’s The Mansion, taking a swig from the bottle after every chapter. I drove back to Philadelphia the next morning hung over but had a great practice. We lost the opening round game on Monday to a mediocre Massachusetts team, which meant the season was over. The good news was that I had a week to myself before reporting to University of Wisconsin for a nine month crash course in meteorology. In the navy’s profound wisdom, I, with a degree in literature, was slated to become a weather man for the next four years. You just go with the governmental flow in these matters.


For the next ten years in a desultory fashion I read the college newsletter to keep up with my classmates, Mark included. He had gone on to get his doctorate at Temple, had settled in Central Florida setting up a substance abuse counseling center. With each issue there was another professional award or personal event in his life that made the class notes. Then, one year, out of the blue, I got a Christmas card in the form of a two page printout, the kind that details what the happy family has done in the past year. Photos proved that Mark’s hairline was receding at an alarming rate, and he had put on a few pounds (haven’t we all). Carrie looked remarkably unchanged except for having shortened and lightened her hair. There was a picture of them on a Costa Rican beach where they had a bought a condo to “get away from it all.” Why suffer the summer heat and humidity of Daytona Beach when you can escape to downtown Costa Rica just south of the equator I always say.

There was the usual trivial chit chat about what recipes they had discovered, trips they had taken, hobbies Carrie had taken up (quilting and hand thrown pottery) plus journal articles Mark had written. It was the life style that any married couple with two screeching kids, a seven year old Accord and a second mortgage or a bachelor like me with no life beyond Netflixs could easily envy. I never responded to the card and never received another. They drifted out of my thought process as easily as a yesterday’s headline.

It was a complete shock five years later when the phone rang around nine one evening just as I was contemplating whether I should go to bed or continue snoozing in my heated, vibro-massage Barco-lounger. It was Carrie Hanley. It took me a few minutes to catalogue the name and even longer to wonder why, since it was roughly fifteen years since the wedding wherein we had merely exchange small talk, she was calling me. The long and the short of it was that Mark was dead. She seemed in control but not by much. The manner of the death was vague.

“It was sudden. One moment he was here and the next he wasn’t.”

“I hope he didn’t suffer.”

“No, at least I don’t think he did.”

“Well, thanks for letting me know. If there’s anything I can do . . . .”

“The service is the day after tomorrow. Since you were his best friend, I thought you might like to be here to say a few words. I know how much the twice yearly trips up to Philadelphia to see you meant to him. He always came back refreshed and with such great stories.”

“Trips? Stories?”

“I know Mark didn’t drink, but I suspect that, when he was with you, he went out for beers and maybe some other wild times. I would never begrudge him even if it included one of those male bonding flings at a strip club. I think it was good for him to break away a couple of times each year. He always came back a happier person, at least for a while.”

There is a scene near the end of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness where the narrator, Marlow, out of respect, visits Kurtz’s intended to tell her of his demise. He explains that Kurtz’s last thoughts and words were about her rather than reveal the real import of his final words, “The horror, the horror.” I now knew how poor Marlow felt.

“He really liked sports and that’s what we did a lot of. Whatever was in season, that’s what we overdosed on. I had a few drinks, but there were no women, strippers or otherwise. I always envied the way he talked about how much he cared for you, and how happy he was that you were in his life.”

She was crying now. “Oh god, you don’t know how relieved I am to hear that. I don’t think I can talk any more. I’ll e-mail you the particulars and don’t bother about a hotel. We have plenty of room at the house. There I go using ‘we’ again.”

She never did say goodbye. There were some choking sobs and then the dam burst. I went back to my recliner and tried to sort things out. I was a part time adjunct professor at a local community college so taking a break in early October for a few days was no biggie. I’d have the department secretary post a sign on the door and send out a general e-mail. The walk up airfare was going to be an arm and a leg so, once again, Hanley was putting the screws to me just as he had done at the wedding. Then the big mystery set in. What the hell was going on? For how many years had he been coming up to Philadelphia to “visit” me? Okay, I dodged a bullet using the sports angle figuring that Carrie would buy that one, but I was walking into a mine field with a blindfold on and the odds that, within a few days, I’d be sporting artificial limbs were enormous.

I took a flight out of Philadelphia the next morning which, via Charlotte and a thirty seat puddle jumper, got me to Daytona airport around eight that night. Carrie sent an e-mail that she’d meet me. When I got down to baggage claim it took a while to pick her out. I was using the old Xmas photo as my reference, and it was off the mark. Her hair hung straight down, well past shoulder length and was dyed a midnight black which called undo attention to her ghostly complexion. Despite the October humidity and heat, she was swimming in an oversized turtleneck. She seemed taller and thinner, like a huge sunflower whose weight overwhelms the stalk and makes the head slump over at an awkward angle. Attempting to look more presentable, she had given her lips a quick swipe with garish red tint to it which further accentuated her lack of color.

She recognized me and she sprinted my way. I didn’t know whether I was being hugged or merely keeping her from falling down, like an inexperienced ice skater clinging to her partner. We made it out to the parking area with very few words. She asked me to drive, admitting that she was in no condition to. I got in and asked her for directions.

“Just go anywhere. I don’t think I can face going back there tonight.”

I had been up since before dawn, was exhausted from the flight and hadn’t eaten anything more substantial than over-salted airline party mix washed down with Diet Coke. All I wanted was a sandwich, a bed and for tomorrow to be over with. “Maybe if we just head towards your place that way, when I collapse, I’ll have someplace soft to crash.”

“God, I’m being so selfish. I keep forgetting that you’re as torn up inside as I am.”

She pointed me towards the highway and down the coast towards Port Orange where they lived. We entered one of those gated communities, and I slalomed my way through a rabbit warren of look-alike homes until she told me to pull into number 3547 Taurus Lane.

She gave me a quick tour of the house which was certainly a showpiece. A covered lanai with a large indoor swimming pool, professionally landscaped and maintained grounds, a huge kitchen and an entertainment room any male would kill for were the big features. The house was air-conditioned, but I was sweltering by northern standards so she turned the thermostat down to 65, and I began to revive. The guest room had a decidedly feminine touch to it, floral patterns galore and an extensive rag doll collection that spread over the chest of drawers and spilled onto the floor.

I unpacked my things such as they were, used the bathroom and, when I came out, she had tea brewing and a selection of bagels on the counter.

“The neighbors have been so nice. I received two, huge bagel baskets. I don’t really like them so if you could dispose of a few dozen it would be a great help.”

I ate. The headache that had been throbbing started to dissipate. She went over tomorrow’s schedule. Mark had been cremated. We would be going to the chapel where their minister would say a few words and then colleagues and I would “remember” him. After that she would be given the urn to take with her. He wanted his remains spread off New Smyrna Beach in Florida, in the waters around Costa Rica and the remainder dispersed back in Norristown, Pennsylvania where he was raised.

I polished off another salted bagel thinking it was a poor imitation of the pretzels at Reading Market when she guided me out of the kitchen into the living area.

“I need to talk tonight. I know you’re probably exhausted and, if you fall asleep on me, it won’t matter much; I’ll just pretend you’re awake. I want to do something I’ve never done in my life before.” She got up and went to the dining room hutch, reached down into the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of vodka. “My faith forbids drinking, and I’ve never touched a drop in my life. I don’t even know how to make a drink or what I should do with it. I just asked the man in the store what most people bought.”

She held up a quart of Belvedere. The counterman must have spotted a rookie a mile away.

“Do you have any tonic water, bitter lemon, that sort of thing?”

“I don’t drink soda but Mark was addicted to Dr. Pepper although lately he was buying the diet version.”

“That will do, I suppose.” I went out to the kitchen and mixed her a drink using a half a shot to eight ounces of Diet Dr. Pepper while generously doubling the ratio for myself. When I came back, she was scrunched up in the corner of the large, overstuffed couch looking like a frightened animal. She took a sip of the mixture, made a wry face and choked. Whether it was the vodka, her dislike of soda or the sin of it all in the eyes of good Southern Baptists was beyond the pale.

“Mark battled depression for many years. I noticed it in the first year of our marriage. He’d shut himself up in a room and just sit in front of the TV or sleep for hours on end. I finally got the nerve to ask his mother, and she said that it had never happened growing up. So, all these years I felt it was me that triggered it. I had a very moral upbringing. Mark and I never did it until after we were man and wife. He never said anything, but I’m sure I was a disappointment in the bedroom. I imagine you and he sowed plenty of wild oats back in the day.”

“Mark and I were pretty strait-laced in college. To my knowledge there were no steady girlfriends or insignificant others as far as he was concerned. When you came into the picture, you were what he talked about most. He said he’d finally found his soul mate.” I was pure Marlow here. My task, as I saw it at that moment, was to comfort the grieving widow.

She shifted her position on the couch, tucking her knees underneath and facing me at an angle. In doing so she momentarily revealed a very shapely upper thigh. “Do you know if he was depressed back in school?”

“I don’t want to contradict his mother, but he was, how can I put it, withdrawn at times.”

“That’s the way I found him. If we were out someplace he could be distant. In the last few years it was even tougher to reach him. I often asked him what was wrong, was there anything the matter and he said no. That was so hard for me. He’d say it sarcastically, ‘There is nothing wrong; everything is wonderful.’”

She held out her empty glass. “Make me another. I want to get drunk, but so far I don’t feel a thing. I think I have such a high metabolism that it will take most of the bottle unless the liquor store man cheated me. It was fifty dollars a bottle so it better have more kick than tap water.”

I went out to the kitchen and mixed her a drink. She followed me leaning against the archway so I gave her glass a double shot of Belvedere, threw in a few inches of Dr. Pepper and handed it two her.

“Mark killed himself.” She took two long pulls, drained her drink and handed me the empty glass. “Hit me or is that a poker term?”

I took it from her, topped the ice off with soda, another generous shot of vodka and handed it back. “It is a card game, blackjack to be specific.”

“I don’t suppose you have a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“I just want to sin as much as I can tonight, touch bottom and tomorrow go back to being the starchy old fuddy duddy I really am.”

“I’d offer to get you a pack but my sinus cavities would block up, and I’d be unfit for anyone but geese to be around.”

She took a big gulp of her drink and came towards me, putting her fingers on my face as if she were blind and wanted to “see” what I looked like.

“Do you think sex was important to Mark?”

“We really never talked of it. Relationship discussions might be more a female thing. Now, if you want opinions on the Phillies’ outfield last year . . . ?”

She turned, grabbed me by the hand and led me back to the couch where we sat down side by side. “I’m making you uncomfortable, aren’t I?”

“It’s just that Mark and I weren’t so close where he would reveal his innermost thoughts.”

“I volunteer at the local hospital. I run training sessions. I left around nine in the morning. Mark was in one of his moods. He was in the TV room in his underwear watching a Home Shopping channel about coins. I kissed him goodbye, but he was just a lump. I told him to think about going to ‘The Getaway’ which is what we called the condo in Costa Rica. The one thing that pulled him out of the doldrums was to move about. Usually the day before we left and a few days after we got there, he’d be great. Then the fog would settle around him again. I once wondered about an RV; would that do the trick?”

“Are you financially secure for the near future?”

She waved off my question as if she were chasing an annoying insect. “I called at one, but there was no answer. This was not unusual because when the blackness was upon him he’d never talk to anybody. When I got home at five he was still in the same chair as when I left except he had taken almost every pill in the house, puked, choked on it and peed himself. That’s the last memory I have of him, the smell of his vomit and urine.”

She was beginning to slur her words and her eyes were heavy. I took her glass, went out to the kitchen and made her a double, confident that, within the hour, my ordeal would be over. When I came back to the living area, she was walking heel to toe, arms outstretched then touching her forefinger to her nose. “I don’t think I’m drunk yet.”

She stumbled trying to avoid the coffee table and then lurched into my arms. I walked her back to the couch.

“How many women have you been to bed with?”

“I really don’t know.”

“When men say they don’t know, it either means a lot and they are animals, or so few that their manhood is threatened and they don’t want to tell.”

“In my case it means that I never developed a spreadsheet to keep track, but I suppose I might have just made it to double figures.”

“I wanted Mark to rent porn videos so I could see what a man wanted, but he wouldn’t. I know I wasn’t pleasing him. I think he loved me but wasn’t attracted to me sexually. That’s why I wouldn’t have blamed him if, on his visits to see you, he had gone to the local cat house or whatever they call it and shot his wad as the gutter saying goes.”

“When we saw each other it was mainly to catch up on old times, go to sporting events and shoot the breeze.”

“I once thought about hiring a man or getting picked up in a bar and have the guy teach me what it was men liked. But then I read a book that said that all men are different. What works for one might be a turnoff for another.”

“It sounds as if you’re blaming yourself too much. Considering Mark’s profession, he didn’t practice what he might have been preaching to his patients--good communication.”

“You know, I don’t really blame myself that much.” Her words were thick now, and she had begun to drool ever so slightly as well as sway slightly even though she was sitting. “He was sick and he didn’t want to get better. I tried everything to make him care but nothing worked. I think I could have learned every sexual trick in the book, and it wouldn’t have helped. It might have made him happy for an hour, just like an aspirin helps a headache for a while, but then I’d have to try and live with myself. I might have learned how to do oral sex, but that would have gone against my beliefs about what the Lord Jesus intended a normal relationship between a man and wife to be.”

“So it sounds like you’re on the road to recovery.” I was trying to end the monologue but nothing I said was registering.

“I don’t think I like sex. I tried, but I’m just one of those non-sexual people, I guess. I took an opera appreciation course once. Some women I knew talked me into it. I learned all about the stories and the great singers. Then we went all the way to Tampa to see one. It was three of the most boring hours. I don’t even know the name of the thing, but there was only one nice aria which was just that, nice. For me sex is like opera. Do I want to sit for three hours butt naked, pretending to be aroused by wandering hands and probing fingers, all for a few pleasurable spasms that are merely ‘nice’”?

She pronounced the last word “nischee” just before the nearly empty glass slipped from her hand and ice spilled onto the oriental carpet. “Shit,” she mumbled, slumped back into the couch and closed her eyes. I bent down and scooped up the few cubes and spread the watery stain over a wider area with my hand.

“The room is spinning,” she said matter of factly, “and did you notice I just swore.”

“I hadn’t noticed and, if the room is spinning, it might be best to open your eyes and try sitting up at bit.”

She made a valiant attempt to lean forward but failed. Her eyes were open but just barely. “I’m proud of myself. I said ‘shit,’ and it was something that just came out naturally. You know Mark and I always used the words ‘penis,’ ‘vagina,’ and intercourse. I could never bring myself to use the bad swears.”

“It was the way you were raised.”

“I want you to do something for me.”

“No more drinks, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

No, I’m drunk. Although it seems that if I know I’m drunk then I must not be because I still have cognition. Anyway, I want to play a game, a word game. I want you to say the socially acceptable word to see if I can use the curse word, understand? For instance, if I said ‘breast,’ what would you say?”


“God no, boobs isn’t vulgar enough. Hell, even I’ve used the word ‘boobs’ as in boob job. Tits--now that would be a better answer. Okay, you say the acceptable word.”


“Good one—cock.”


“Cunt or pussy, either one works”


She started to speak but began gagging instead. Then her eyes grew big and she turned green. I reached out to the coffee table and grabbed a large crystal bowl and got it to her mouth just in time to catch the first wave of Dr. Pepper colored vodka. She slipped off the couch and onto the floor on all fours with the bowl in front of her as if she were a large dog drinking from its dish. I pulled her hair back out of harms way and used my handkerchief to mop up between episodes. Ten minutes later she was in the dry heave phase so I had time to run to the bathroom, grab a wet towel and perform a more thorough cleaning of her face and spruce up other areas of collateral damage. Fifteen minutes later she was sitting up and had enough energy to moan. I propped her body up with throw pillows and covered her with a blanket. I found a plastic bucket in the kitchen and put it in her lap. I took some pillows and a blanket from the guestroom and spread them on the floor next to the couch. Sounding as if she was under water she asked, “You still here?”

“I’ll be sleeping on the floor. If you need anything just slur and I’ll be at your beck and call.”

She smiled. “You know how I said I didn’t care about sex?’

“A whole lot of effort and trouble for something that was barely nice?”

“I’d take sex any day over drinking. I never once puked after doing it with Mark.”

“Let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow is a big day and, if you think you feel bad now . . . .”

“I never did say it, did I? I could do all the other words, but I just couldn’t say the ‘F’ word.”

“You’re not in shape yet. A few more nights like tonight and hangovers like what you’re going to experience, and you’ll be “F-ing” with the best of the homeboys down in the ‘hood.” I looked over for her response, but she was fast asleep, snoring like a sailor home on a weekend pass.


Mark’s service was for eleven. At eight I made the first attempt at rousing the grieving widow. By nine all socially acceptable methods had failed so I dragged her fully clothed into the palatial shower, leaned her against the hand-decorated tile and let the nozzles do the rest. Ten minutes later she stumbled out into the kitchen wearing an oversized terrycloth robe begging for coffee. I never drink the stuff so I’m at a loss at to how to work the vast array of electronic gadgets required to produce the concoction. She attempted to do for herself but gave up due to a splitting headache. The carrot at the end of the stick I offered was that, if she dressed quickly, we’d ask the limo driver to stop somewhere. There was a brief debate concerning how inappropriate that might be before necessity won out over respect for the dearly departed.

By ten forty we were at the Port Orange Baptist Church, a non-descript building that may at one time have been a restaurant (my guess was Chinese) before its conversion to a house for the faithful. Carrie, even with dark glasses, two large cups of black coffee and plenty of bottled water, looked like death warmed over. Her skin had a transparency to it, like the patina of waxed fruit which gave her the look of a cheap doll. I don’t know if she had washed her hair, but, if she had, she never bothered to style it other than to pull it back as severely as her headache would permit. She wore a black silk blouse and a matching skirt that fell just below the knee but kept riding up due to severe static cling.

By 10:50 we and the minister, Reverend Coulter, were still the only people in the chapel. Mark’s ashes were in a bronze urn center stage. At eleven, six women, probably members of the church whose retirement permitted them to attend such events, filed by Carrie and offered up their sincerest condolences. The good Reverend began on time, uttering some general opinions about death and where Mark was now residing, in theory a far better location than this troubled world. There were a few biblical verses intended to place a “healing balm on the churning waters of despair” for those who would miss Mark. Carrie had begun crying when the service started, and it increased in intensity as the eulogy continued. My fear was that she would lose control and throw herself upon the urn not unlike some Hindu wives.

Reverend Coulter finished his remarks and, looking in my direction, asked if I wanted to contribute to Mark’s memory. I got up and stood behind the lectern. The church was empty save for the six professional mourners, the limo driver, the Reverend, Carrie and myself. I spoke about first meeting Mark in class, having dinner with him and attending his wedding. I said I was jealous when he found the right woman and embarked upon a successful career. On the plane I’d prepared some lines about how I hoped, when I went to my great reward, there was an equal outpouring of friends and family to see me off. I did a fast edit, cut to the chase and mumbled the idea that maybe, if Mark could see how much pain and suffering he was causing Carrie, he would not have done this to her. It was probably a bit of a faux pas to allude to suicide, but it was all I could think of in the Florida heat and humidity.

Reverend Coulter saved my ass with a firm handshake and then in a solemn gesture retrieved the urn and held it out to Carrie. It is possible a dead snake would have been better received. I reached over and took the burden as Carrie was now about to go over the falls without a barrel emotionally. The Reverend’s elderly handmaidens came over to lend support, but Carrie had shriveled into a mass of black cloth that clung to my right shoulder avoiding everyone’s prying eyes. My watch read 11:30 AM and for the next half hour that’s the way we sat, her sobs struggling against her need to breathe every so often while I sat there with Mark’s urn in my lap, unable to do much as I feared breaking some shibboleth if I dared put him on the floor.

Around noon she ran out of gas. At first I thought the silence was because she had fallen asleep, like a baby crying for attention in its crib finally giving up the cause. Then, in a weak voice, she asked me if everyone was gone.

“There’s just you and me. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if the Reverend popped out of some crevice to bid us one last goodbye.”

“Do you think the limo driver is still there?”

“I can check.”

She didn’t answer me so I put Mark on the pew and got up. Her face and hair were a mess. Her makeup had dissolved and smudged itself all over her face. “I need to use the ladies’ room before we go home. The good news is that my headache is gone; the bad is that I drank so much coffee and water that I peed myself at some point during the service, and I don’t know if it’s going to show.”

I gave her the once over and saw that most of her skirt was soaked, but I tried to be charitable. “I don’t think anyone’s going to care.”

I escorted her to the bathroom. Mark and I stood guard for what seemed like an eternity. When she came out her face had been freshly scrubbed and she wasn’t wearing any panty hose. The limo driver, the smell of several cigarettes still upon him, opened the door for us and we slid in. The plan of attack had been for me to go back to the house with her and then take a cab to Daytona Beach Airport, but we were running late for my 2:30 PM flight. I thought of taking a later plane but decided that my babysitting patience was running low, and I was a bit fearful of what the relationship between the vulnerable Carrie and me might turn into given her fragile state.

“I think I’m going to ask the limo guy to drop me off at the airport, if that’s okay?”

She didn’t answer so I rapped on the window and, with the mildest of dirty looks and a, “Why didn’t you tell me five minutes ago, buddy,” he pulled into a convenience store parking lot and reversed direction. We were on our new course for a few minutes before she spoke.

“Could you take the ashes with you?”

I was stunned, first by the practical issue of getting a bronze urn through security and second by the foisting of the responsibility. “What about spreading the ashes in the Atlantic, Costa Rica and wherever?”

“You could dump it all in Pennsylvania; that’s part of what he wanted.”

“But what about the other two thirds? Maybe you could hire someone to do that part and then Fed Ex me what‘s left?”

She was silent, and I thought she was about to sulk or begin to cry again, but then she brighten up a little. “You’re right; this is my job. I’ll see it gets done.”

I breathed a selfish sigh of relief and checked my watch to see if I’d have to rush. She reached over and kissed my cheek.

“I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have made it without you.”

“I think you would have, and you probably wouldn’t have been hung over this morning.”

“I’m terrible at this sin stuff. I will never drink again as long as I live. I will crusade to get others to give it up. And I might take a crack at converting you to accept Jesus if you hang around long enough. Then again, I’m either frigid or too scared of sex to be of much interest to you or any man.”

“I’m guessing you’re not wearing any underwear right now.”

For the first time since we’d met she laughed. “Oh god, I took them off in the bathroom and flushed the panties and stockings. When I came out to meet you I felt really dangerous as if the whole world knew I was naked underneath. Now I just feel uncomfortable. You can’t see anything, can you?”

“No, your secret is safe with me. When I get back home tonight, if it’s not too late, I’ll give you a ring just to see how things are.”

“Call no matter what. I doubt I’ll get much sleep. I have sleeping pills but I’d rather just ride the emotions out.”

We came up to the airport exit and the driver asked me what terminal. I told him, and he quickly changed lanes to a chorus of honks and middle fingers.

“Some time soon I’d like to come up to Philadelphia and visit you the way Mark did. Maybe you could pretend I’m him, and we’d visit the same haunts and do the things you and he used to do.”

“Okay, but the fair warning is that I don’t have a guest room; it’s a studio apartment of sorts and, secondly, we mainly went to baseball and basketball games.”

She looked out the window so I really couldn’t see her face. Her voice was distant and had an edge to it. “I slept on a sofa last night, and I think I know more about baseball than I do sex. I’ll try not to be a burden.”

The car stopped at my terminal. Limo Larry popped the trunk and was retrieving my carry on and book bag. There was an awkward silence for us in the rear seat. Each of us knew that we needed to say something but feared that, when we did, it would probably be far below or way above what the situation called for. I took her left hand and pulled her close to me in a clumsy hug. She began crying again. Terrific, her wound was just starting to heal, and I had inadvertently pulled the scab off with the Band-Aid. I got out on the driver’s side picking up Mark’s urn as I did. When the driver handed me my book bag, I unzipped it, fit Mark in as best I could and then hefted him over my shoulder. I went behind the back of the car to the passenger’s side. She was sitting on the seat’s edge with her feet on the sidewalk. When she saw me she sprang up, locking her arms around me in a death grip of incessant “thank you’s”. We stayed that way for a few minutes until Larry Limo ahemed that we were in a tow zone, and he was being given the evil eye by a state trooper. She broke her hold on me, and I held her out at arms length. She was still crying but, rainbow-like, there was the suggestion of a smile.

“You know the old saying about how the longest journey begins with the smallest step or some such nonsense.”

I nodded a quixotic agreement. She stepped back, executed a very revealing, flamenco-style pirouette and then, with a devil may care attitude, flounced herself very unlady like back into the limo. Larry gunned the engine and pulled away.

Her moment was not lost on me. I made my way into the airport. I stopped by the gift shop and bought the cheapest suitcase I could find, put the urn in it and checked Mark through to Philadelphia. At least for the long trip home he’d be out of sight and mind until I could figure what to do with the three of us, four if you include any Messiah.

A Wedding and the Funeral
© 2006 by D.E. Fredd


About the Author

D. E. Fredd lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had fiction and poetry appear in several literary journals and reviews. He teaches Writing and Literature at New Hampshire Community Technical College.


All content copyright © 2006-12 by ShatterColors, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material, in whole or in part, from any ShatterColors Literary Review
pages without written permission of the copyright owners is strictly prohibited.
Site designed and built by Robert Scott Leyse, with input and logo by Granville Papillon,
and wallpaper by Edward Haven from two of his paintings.