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“All right,” Otis Wilde Mather says. “Then I will pay for his funeral, and his headstone, since no one else will-“
“Gentlemen and Ladies,” said the lawyer, Miles C. Hoffman, and the young one, Annabelle Henry the first one standing up and sternly saying and near tears, “Can’t you all see, Mr. Shannon O’Day was a part of our lives, we all need to make him a big gravestone, not just leaving it up to Otis, because Otis is rich and handsome and kind, and was a close friend to Shannon.
“I’ve already thought of that too,” said Poggi Ingway, a dear friend who had worked at a foundry with him, and even Maribel Adams, who had married Shannon for a season, and lost him to Annabelle, and now was married to Earnest French, making her new name Maribel French, who had traveled all the way from San Francisco to Minnesota to attend Shannon’s funeral, “I feel,” she said, “he belongs to all of us, let’s build a mausoleum, and make it look like a cornfield, because he liked to drink in those damn fields all the time.” (And she chuckled.)
“He’s a war veteran,” says judge Finley, now in his eighties “no need for this meeting to see who’s going to bury the drunk, let’s just have a funeral and a wake and say our goodbyes, the Army provides a wooden coffin, and a hundred dollars I hear.”
Said the Lawyer, “He fought with the French, not the US Military, we’d have to contact them, see what their rules are concerning this matter of payment.”
“Hum…mmm” said the judge.
“Wait, wait,” said Gus’ wife Mabel, “Youall came to my husband’s funeral and there was no fuss about folks putting in fer his headstone so we should jest take up a collection now fer Shannon see what we all can get.”
Old Josh, Zam-Zam and Jake from ‘Dickey’s Diner,’ were also on hand, along with J.R. Ritt from the bank, the owner, he knew Gus better than Shannon, and had a eye for Mabel, always had an eye for Mabel, went to High School with her, fancied her then, and now. I suppose, and I’m sure she supposed, it was a chance for both to meet again; they were standing by one another.
“But there isn’t’ any crime if Otis wants to put the bulk of the proceeds in since he’s a rich-(and he was going to say nigger, but the Lawyer, held his tongue and said) black gentleman.”
As everyone looked at everyone else, like big bass fish, with bulging eyes, nobody paid any attention to no-how to anybody, until Annabelle said, “Well, damn it, will someone speak up!”
“Then what the hell do you want from each one of us, someone take charge here-please!” said Judge Finley.
The Lawyer Miles sitting there calm and quiet, with his face paper white and stiff; and it had seemed to Annabelle, he hadn’t learned much how to speak up and fight, timid as a hermit mouse.
“I was more Gus’ friend than Shannon’s,” said the judge, in a whisper, waiting for someone to make a rule on the amount of money needed, but it was obvious, nobody knew what they needed and wanted, and Shannon’s body needed to be buried, and that was what they came there for, to settle just that, by a passel of amateurs who knew not how to go about having a board meeting, or confronting issues, in a professional way, aimed at trying to simply bury someone, somehow, more now than then.
Poggi was somewhere in the group, and stood up and looked out at the others, “Gertrude, is Gertrude here?” (one of his five wives), and she was there standing in the archway of the door that lead into the kitchen from a hallway, with her daughter, Cantina.
“Yes, Poggi, I’m here, why?” she asked.
“I suppose we’ll have to have your daughter’s signature on everything, she’s the closest thing Shannon had to anyone being legal over him. And I guess you’ve heard as much as we have here, as any one on recommendations, so perhaps you can give a few?”
“Yes: all right, suppose everyone come back out here to Gus’ farm tomorrow and bring what money they can, and my daughter and I will see how much it cost to make him into ashes, and buy him inside a urn and if you all want him to have cornfields, I’ll have the urn designer, that is, do a quick paint job on it.”
Said Judge Finley, “We’ll hold the meeting out here at Mabel’s farm tomorrow then, Gus would like that, and I hear Sally-Ann and Margaret-Rose will be in town tomorrow, Shannon’s other wives, so perhaps the piggy-bank will have more money in it for his funeral. Or his wake or those cornfields Gertrude was talking about.”
Then they all got up to leave, some laughing and talking and joking, back and forth, Annabelle enjoying Otis’ company; Judge Finley looking at Otis, as if he was the Chief Head Master of the Minnesota KKK: old judge Finley had always treated Otis as if he was a foreigner, not even paying no attention to the others, standing by him, just staring at Annabelle and Otis, who became a millionaire in the meat market business, between Minnesota and Alabama, in the past twenty-years or so with the $500-dollars Shannon had won off a racehorse, in the 1940s. And J.R. Ritt, looking at Mabel as if he wanted to restart those old flames from his high school days.
“Now are you satisfied?” said Gertrude, to Poggi. As if to say, now you can leave me alone. She had stood in the archway of the door not wanting to be recognize, who she was-she did not come burrowing through and up to the meeting, relishing the fact she had to take on the coordinating of her ex-husband’s funeral, she had been in Chicago, all this time, just doing normal business until someone said Shannon’s lights went out, she was setting alone in a small apartment, how does a woman say it, inviting her soul to keep her company. It was really simple a time for her to see her daughter, and since it was a grieving time for her, she wanted to be by her. She, herself, had already done all the grieving she was going to do over that man.
To be frank, and down right honest, Gertrude, wanted to go back to Chicago that very night, she did not want to attend the meeting tomorrow, and she told Cantina that, in so many words, and it didn’t seem Cantina needed her anyhow.
She was capable, but that wasn’t it, she was frail, as if her bones and flesh became fragile and her eyes seemed sleepless, and her mind seemed as if she could not dream anymore, she told her daughter, and that she was relearning these things since she left her father (and her ex-husband),
“Your father meant well, he always was a laugh, and we drank ourselves sick and silly, and I drank with him knowing I would never be enough woman for him, but he was enough man or drunk to do me harm and damage me more mental than physical, he never laid a hand on me, just enough man to do it mentally though, and, I might add, or maybe I didn’t know him, thank god I got away from him. Ay, thank god for that, I found peace in Chicago, perhaps it’s too late, I still have some ensnared anguish, and I thought I could be brave for you.”
“There, there, mother, it’s all right, I know you were brave then and you are brave now,” said Cantina.
“The morning I left your father, when I got home, the first thing I did was to turn on the lights, and the heater, the big space heater in the living room, it was cold. I propped the door to stand open, and I grabbed the bank book. The second thing I did, was to get the money out of our account, then out of town before your father called the police on me, looking for me, I was merely running and wanted him to leave me alone, I was dying of drinking, and he would never understand that.
“I ran up the stairs got my cloths, and I turned off the space heater before I left, and I suppose maybe your father thought there might have been an intruder, but I tried to be tidy about leaving. So I leaped here and there to turn this and that off, I moved, turned away from my home and husband, I had learned the hard way, he had the right to be where he was, and to change things I had to change me and my environment, had I stayed we would have fought over this and that, to flee to run, succeeded. With your father I would have had to be some lesser and baser other, to be vulnerable to him, to have to be silent to his drinking, and to be his drinking partner.
“To gain what? For what? What did I desire, what was I hoping for-it was all scary at first, but what I really wanted was simple, my own identity. I found privacy to sleep, and read, and not be in a state of despair.”
“I understand mother,” said Cantina, “You left because you were unhappy, simple as that, and its okay.”
“Shannon wouldn’t really mind, because I can’t hurt him now,” said Gertrude, “I can’t harm him, not just me, no matter what anyone did, they couldn’t harm him. That he would really just as soon drink and sleep and die in those cornfields as he did and for what godly reason I don’t know, perhaps just to show he cant be hurt. All right, you don’t’ have to agree, what do you want me to do here now?”
“I would like you to stay with me until he is buried,” said Cantina.
“If you were not drinking with your father, after a while he became a nuisance, all drunks are a nuisance when you are sober and they are drunk. I will not miss him, least his drinking, perhaps some of the laugher in the cornfields, since we both agreed in the beginning, cuckolding each other.”
“Lock the door mother,” she said. “We’ve already had a long day, its getting late, let’s go to bed.”
“I hope Cantina; you didn’t mind what I said about your father?” expressed Gertrude.
“Oh no mother of course not, but I do value him as highly as I value you and your coming here proves you value me. Good night!”
Gertrude told her daughter Cantina, in a smooth yet sour way, the following morning as they readied for the second meeting, “You are much like your father you know, a dreamer and a poet-usually women are only swayed by poets long, a short while perhaps, they prefer reality, facts, and truth, well, they can make it fit in-between as long as they can iron out the other two, but you, you see your father as a hero, the facts are that which existed some forty-years ago, there is no more reality to that, it is all squeezed out like a wet rag, but you won’t even believe me, he was a drunk, no more, then than now, or just before he passed on-I mean.”
“Don’t say anymore maw, I’ll just end up hating you both, you most of all because you started it.” Then Cantina hesitated, trying to get her composure back, “I don’t believe you,” she said, cried and thought.
“So,” said Gertrude, “there is nothing I can say.”
Gertrude held her cigarette in her hand, motionless, as it burned down towards her fingers, “Bury him and be done with it.”
“Don’t you see mother that is what I’m after?”
“Our marriage my dear was a fact, the rest of it was that poetic romance I was fool enough to be fooled into, that only a fool follows a fool, but at the bitter end, the fool, one fool woke up.”
“Good-bye!” she said harshly, adding, “you’ll have to bury him alone, or not with me anyhow!”
“All right,” Cantina told her mother, “thank you for coming anyway.”
Cantina didn’t care, know anything about womanhood for the most part, the parts anyhow, Gertrude was talking about, the things like romantic love, she only knew parental love, or mortality (death), she was too young to think of such things, to place them on a table and call them facts of life, she didn’t care about her mother’s reality, let alone the truth or no truth of what was the real truth that went on between them two, it was their lives, not in particularly her’s-perhaps she wouldn’t have put it quite that way-but she knew little about such things, yet she knew she had time to learn them, in time, she only knew what she knew, and felt, that she loved the man that died, her father, and it was unconditional love, it was free for him to take, and her to give, and she gave and he took, and he gave and she took, and it was not necessarily always receiving. If it was, then it was a trade, not unconditional. And that is what she knew, and felt, that was her reality.
And she knew this second meeting, meant just that. And she knew by the time everyone was done talking at the meeting, all the ex wives, and the banker, Ritt, and Poggi, and even Otis, her father’s body, oh yes, the dead can look ugly, and smell bad, no semblance of who they really were. This, the second meeting was the devil’s ambush, to take from her what her mother couldn’t, but tried, that last reflex of devotion and make it like sour milk
“All right,” she said, “just tell me paw how do you want to be buried?” and she fell to her knees, put her hands over her eyes, then when she opened them, in his shoe, she found an envelope, she opened it, and in the envelope was a letter, his will, how he wanted to be buried.
Then that afternoon she set out to follow the instructions. It all was too simple, but simplicity was greeted as a gift, a pusher, a stressor taken off her.
That evening, while everyone waited in the yard, at Gus’ farm, Cantina, showed up, all knowing she had the instructions from Shannon himself now, written out in plain English for her daughter to follow, all watching what she was going to do, she said “Okay paw it’s your idea to go home, it is you who insist on it being this way…” she held in her arms a two gallon antique, moonshine jug, one that Shannon used for drinking moonshine, and wine and his corn whisky in and from, those they had around the 1880s through about 1910, or so.
Next she started walking down the rows those tall cornstalks rows one after the other, one by one, slowly and contently, inside that jug was his ashes, and she started emptying them out, pouring them out as if she was fertilizing the ground with them, per his instructions, and she whispered along the way: “I hope your pleased paw…I hope your pleased, I really do, I really do, I really, really do.”
No: 412; Written 6-10 & 11, 2009
write by jones