January 25, 2020
As I began working on my first novel I noticed that my lack of formal education in the field left me with very few exercises in various components of the craft. I realized that dialogue is tough for me to integrate, so I created this short story in an attempt to warm up some new writing muscles that I did not know were there.
“6,000 for a cremation?! You’ve gotta be kidding me! What the hell you puttin’ him in, a golden urn?!”
“That’s what they told me over the phone. Just a regular box.”
“That’s wrong. They’ve gotta have it wrong. I’ve never ever heard of a cremation costing six thousand. Who’d you call? You gotta call Whelan down the road. They’ll give you a better price. It shouldn’t be more than two thousand, Carol.”
“Did you know that you can do your cremation online now? Can you believe that? What a world we are living in! ONLINE! Just ship your husband to his firey grave! Don’t get his box mixed up with your late night Amazon purchases on the stoop!”
“What I can’t understand is this whole “green” thing people are into these days. Just strip you down and throw your body in the ground! Let the bugs eat your eyes and all that jazz. Ugh how revolting. Not me. No way no how. Put me in an iron clad BOX! Line that thing with silk and do my hair and spray that makeup on me so I go into the ground lookin’ like a goddam movie star. I don’t want no dirt or bugs touchin’ me, not now not ever.”
“Jeez everything is all about this “green” bullshit now. What’s wrong with what we had goin’, ya know?”
Freshly dressed salads piled atop misty blue plates appear floating in the hands of one Mr. James Withoby and his only employee, Shannon.
“Good afternoon, ladies! I’m so glad to see you made it in for your weekly Tuesday luncheon! Carol, did you change your hair again? Shannon, doesn’t Carol’s hair look lovely?”
“O, James, you always notice the slightest little details about a woman’s appearance. I wish my husband would have ever said a single word to me about my hair, but I suppose that ship has sailed seeing as he and my savings account are being burned at the local crematorium right now. He was never a sensitive man, you know? Never. Kissed me on the altar just that one time 56 years ago and that was that. Never noticed when I would powder my nose or wear my best dress for him. But you? I come in here once a week and every time you notice something new about me. My clothes, my nails, my goddamn nose hair for Christ’s Sake! One might even call you a queer! But I would never!”
Anne chokes on a roasted almond and her laugh simultaneously.
Shannon’s mouth immediately drops open and she trips on her shoelace in a klutzy shuffle backward.
“What?! I’m just sayin! Besides Mr Withoby is a respectable man, I’m sure he has a nice wife waiting for him at home, don’t you James?”
Shannon lunges forward an interjects, “Ms Carol, have you heard the latest TED Talk by Brene Brown? You know what a TED Talk is, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t. Is it on that newfangled Youtube thingy? My granddaughter is constantly going on about whatever that is.”
“Um, no it’s not. It’s kind of like a lecture, you can watch it online…here let me show you…”
“Shannon I think that will do for now, thank you very much, let’s let Carol enjoy her lunch with her friends now, alright?”
James shuffles quickly away- pulling Shannon along with him- leaving blank stares on the three ladies at table 7 in their wake.
“What the devil was THAT all about, I wonder?” Squawked Carol.
Anne continued choking back laughter, regretting having ever started her lunch as she now could not breathe at all.
Anne, along with every other member of the Tuesday Lunch Club, knew the truth about Carol’s poor husband. Carol was the type of woman who thought all men lacked affection for their wives, so she never went looking for the signs. It was completely natural to her that her beloved husband was friends with all of her friends, in fact she never once saw him even attempt conversation with any of their husbands. He preferred to talk about the latest Mary Berry recipe they were working to perfect or which flowers they were preparing for the upcoming spring competition season. He lived for his garden, preferring the silence of poppies and roses and peonies over the chatter of small children, a subject matter he vehemently opposed when his wife brought it up in their first year of marriage. He collected handmade vases for his precious Dahlias (a name his wife would have loved, had she given birth to the little baby girl she had always dreamed of) and he adorned every outfit with a carnation on his lapel. He insisted Carol match her lipstick to her shoes and was never without his cherished Cartier watch. Carol used to joke that he took care of that thing better than he took care of her. (She always said it with a touch of sadness behind her voice.) But she stood by him, of course. She would try and appreciate the good things, for what she lacked in physical affection she gained in friendship. Her friends were jealous of her, for goodness sake! While they were begging their husbands all year to take them to The New York Botanical Garden for their anniversary or their birthday or any event for that matter, Carol could be found napping on a bench nearest the exit every Saturday at 5:55pm waiting for her partner to finish his 6 hour lap around.
Anne had been friends with them for 40 years, and she had known from the beginning. It was obvious, really. It had been Mr. James Withoby, the owner of this cafe, who brought the only blush Anne had ever seen on Carol’s poor dead husband’s face. That was how The Lunch Club started. From that Tuesday eight years ago to this one- Anne, Helen, June, Carol, and of course Carol’s beloved late husband gathered around table seven in this same cafe and ordered the same salad and aired the same grievances, trying to ignore the way Mr. Withoby would linger a little too long between Carol and her husband. Because he stood behind her, Carol never saw Mr Withoby’s smile as he brushed his hand along her husband’s chair.
“Oh that James, he really takes care of this place, don’t he? Always stoppin’ by to make sure everything is just so! Not a fork or a napkin out of place! Takes care of this place the way you take care of the garden, right dear?”
“Yes, Carol, he has the most exquisite touch.”
Blushes all around.
And that is why on this particular Tuesday, the club’s first Tuesday without their only male member, all eyes darted about the room when Mr. Withoby approached. His eyes were sunken and his smile hollow. He was overcompensating, clearly, with a mood as fake as June’s eyelashes.
There it was. The watch. The Cartier watch that had mysteriously gone missing the day of his death. The one he loved more than her.
“So there I am, signing a stack of papers higher than my hat, and all these young fellas keep telling me they’re sorry for my loss and what a great man he must have been and I keep asking where’s the watch and they keep insisting it wasn’t on his wrist when he arrived and I keep telling these kids that can’t be right- he always wore his watch. You’d have to pry it from his cold dead hands, which is exactly what I’m asking for for Christ’s sake!”
And with that, as if on cue, Mr. Withoby drops the check.
His wrist jingles as he pulls away.