Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 6


     Sharon had no desire to stay in the big empty house. Meredith had a roommate, Anna, who seemed welcoming, but who could hardly have been thrilled with the addition of a third party. Sharon consequently tried to be as accommodating as possible. In their suite, there were two little bedrooms and the living room with a couch. That was no problem, but, on the first morning, Sharon took the very minimum of time in the bathroom, waiting to finish up until Anna had gone and Meredith had returned to the living room.

     Sharon first called the headmistress of the school, who had already heard the news. Miss Hennings was a nice youngish lady, part of the new administration, and she was full of consolation. Sharon explained, “Because of Tim, there are all kinds of reporters trying to track us down, and I’m staying with a girl friend here at Harvard for the time being.”

“That’s fine. Since you’re such a good student, I’m not worried about your work.”

“As it turns out, I can go to Harvard classes with my brother and friends, so the time won’t be wasted.”

That met an enthusiastic response, and Sharon hung up feeling free in at least one area. Her agreement with Tim was that she would see to the funeral arrangements while he dealt with the police and the legalities. When she told Meredith, the other replied, “You and Tim seem to be managing quite well in the middle of this.”

“Does it seem as if we’re just as happy to have our parents dead?”

“Not necessarily. A lot of people get through the immediate aftermath, and solve the problems, but then feel it later on.”

“I think I just didn’t love my father, but he was mostly nice to me, and, without meaning to be, he was amusing at times.”

“But, as it turned out, not amusing at all.”

“No. I do sometimes feel like crying over my mother, particularly the injustice of it, but what good would that do?”

“Were you close?”

“Not exactly. She’d often seem abstracted, just sitting in a chair. I could come into a room without her noticing. Then, if I said something, she’d perk up immediately and try to be cheery.”

“My mother has various plans for my brothers and sisters and myself, but they aren’t terribly individualized. If the one who was supposed to be a doctor becomes a lawyer, or vice versa, it’s okay. The girls are less important, and are only supposed to marry men of a certain class.”

“Is she all right with Jimmy?”

“Jimmy puzzles the hell out of her. She hasn’t a clue about him. And, of course, she’d prefer an Anglo. But she’s not really racist. She was once heard to remark that he’s brilliant and bound to be successful.”

“I’m not sure what my mother would have said in such a case. And your father?”

“Mostly absent, but civil when present. Even though I’m not close to my parents, I’d just be sleepwalking drunkenly around if they were killed.”

“But your sibs would help. I have to take care of at least half of things. Tim’s not very business-like.”

“No. I think he’d rise to the occasion in a crisis, but I can’t see him consulting undertakers.”

“Which I’m about to do. I’ll be back in good time for the foundations of math class.”

“Jimmy tells me that you’ve been studying it. A lucky chance.”

     Sharon liked what was left of the lower middle class neighborhoods of Watertown, and had found an undertaker there in the phone book. Surprised to see that it was the Bagdassarian Funeral Parlor, having the same name as the restaurant they had gone to, she supposed that it was operated by a family member. That was certainly a good sign, and she set out for it.

     It turned out to be a big old wooden house which probably pre-dated the Armenian community. The bell was answered by a large muscular older woman with a mass of improbable red-orange hair and a wide smile with a tooth missing. She ushered Sharon in, saying, “I’m Hortense, the widow. I’ve been running the place since Alfie died ten years ago.”

Sharon explained that they had enjoyed the restaurant, and Hortense replied, “That’s run by Alfie’s little sister, Estelle. I’m Greek myself, and I don’t go there too much.”

When Sharon identified herself, Hortense threw up her hands and said, “I read about the accident in the paper, terrible, terrible!”

There was something about Hortense that invited confidence, and Sharon half blurted out,  “It was more like a murder-suicide. My father passed on a blind curve going eighty and ran smack into a beer truck. Fortunately, the truck driver wasn’t badly injured.”

Sharon, suddenly dizzy, found herself being supported by Hortense and taken to a couch. There, with a big arm around her, she found herself being addressed in a strange language, possibly Greek. Coming to, and feeling foolish, she nevertheless started talking.

     Tea soon appeared, apparently brought by an assistant, and Hortense said, “This is too much to bear for such a young girl. Are there other relatives?”

“Besides my brother, only some people I hardly know.”

“That’s okay. I’ll take care of everything. Cremation’s the easiest.”

“My brother and I already decided on that.”

“Good. Generally speaking, somebody has to identify the bodies. Has anyone called you about that?”

“I’ve been staying with a friend, and they wouldn’t be able to reach me.”

Hortense went into her office to make a call, and came back saying, “They’re at the morgue, let’s go.”

“Do you usually take people there?”

“No, but I know the people and the procedures. We can have a little snack and coffee afterwards at a nearby place.”

Sharon wasn’t terribly surprised when Hortense’s car turned out to be a big old Cadillac. She settled back in comfort, and hardly noticed where they were going. It wasn’t far, and Hortense parked askew in front of an unremarkable-looking modern building. She took what looked like a doctor’s bag in with her, and sat Sharon down in the waiting room. “I’ll go back first and tidy up a bit.”

She obviously didn’t want Sharon to be suddenly confronted with facial disfigurement, which could all too easily have occurred in a head-on wreck. Sharon was part-way through a National Geographic article when Hortense came back. “It’s okay. You just have to take a look.”

It wasn’t bad, not nearly as bad as Sharon had expected. Her father looked angry. Appropriate enough in its way. Her mother, strangely enough, looked at peace. Was that something Hortense had accomplished with her black doctor’s bag? Better not to ask. Sharon turned to the official who led her back to the office to sign the papers.

     The little café seemed to be popular among the morgue and funeral people, and Hortense was known and greeted. After they were seated with coffee and pastry Sharon asked, “Will the crematorium send a truck for them?”

“I’ll send one of our hearses, but I think they’re both out on medical runs now.”

Sharon, surprised, asked, “Are they also ambulances?”

“No, but they can take people to the hospital who need to be flat on stretchers. Neighborhood funeral parlors like ours do it for free.”

“Wow! I bet some of those people never come home again.”

“Many don’t. They go to the hospital, and are then sent to the nursing home. That’s where they die. To some people, being taken away from home in a hearse is a little depressing, but they’re usually fairly poor people, and it saves a lot of money.”

“At least my folks ended quickly, not some slow depressing process.”

“You can say that, again, honey! Those processes can be more depressing than you’d believe.”

“I think I’m learning about life.”

“You said there weren’t any relatives that were close.”

“There’s Uncle Bob, but I don’t like him. However, Mother had a group of women friends who are nice. I’m sure they’ll be at the funeral.”

“Speaking of the funeral, what religion were your parents?”

“None, so far as I know.”

“I know a Unitarian minister who’ll bury anybody, no questions asked. Is that okay?”


“Will that be all right with your brother?”

“He won’t care. My father seemed to more or less hate Tim for reasons that were mysterious to me.”

“The more people try to explain things like that, the less sense it makes.”

“Yeah, I guess I won’t try.”

“Have you got plans where to go from here?”

“It’s already pretty well mapped out. I finish school this year, and then go to college. There seems to be enough money to pay for everything.”

“That’s good. There are young people who are left with nothing. Some collapse, and some fight and claw their way through life.”

“Despite that little bit when I first met you, I’m not going to collapse.”

“Of course not! And it sounds as if you won’t have to fight and claw.”

Sharon laughed, “Perhaps just a little bit, now and then.”

       When they arrived back at the funeral home, Sharon asked, “Could we have the funeral right here?”

“We could. I can run a rousing good funeral with lots of wailing, and some weird Armenian music. Maybe a fist-fight between relatives in the parking lot afterwards. However, kiddo, your mother’s friends must be upper middle class ladies from Belmont. They won’t feel comfortable in an ethnic funeral parlor in Watertown.”

“I guess not.”

“Okay. Next stop, Unitarian minister. We can then use his church.”

      After a quick pit stop, they got back into the Cadillac. Moving through the traffic of Watertown Square, they crossed the Charles River and passed one of the few remaining trolley barns in America. Hortense spoke ruminatively, “Funerals used to be quite a problem. The Eastern Orthodox priests were very choosy, and the Roman Catholic ones wouldn’t bury suicides. But they were better about gangsters and murderers. In their eulogies, the priests always said that the deceased gave to the poor, which was generally true. Most gangsters are superstitious, and think that it brings good luck. The priests also said that they preferred giving to receiving, which was also true, particularly in the matter of lead.”

“Hortense! They didn’t really say that, did they?”

“Well, there were lots of double meanings. Priests have to be businessmen, and they don’t unnecessarily offend the wealthy.”

“Is the minister we’re calling on going to say that my father’s bark was worse than his bite?”

“A good line. You could stand up and say that.”

By the time they arrived at their destination, they were both laughing out of control. Hortense did another guerilla park blocking a driveway, and they traipsed up the front walk. The door had been left open, and a small child on a tricycle stopped, pointed at Hortense, and called out that there was a lady with purple hair at the door.

     A moment later, a large outdoorsy-looking man appeared and said, “I knew it was you, Hortense. Jimmy operates on the level of metaphor. He knows you don’t have purple hair, but he thinks that you might have any day now.”

When Sharon was introduced to Mr. Byers, they sat down with ginger ale. Hortense explained the situation, adding that relations in the family hadn’t been very good. Mr. Byers shrugged and responded,

“Hitler’s mother’s doctor said that he had never seen anyone as destroyed as Hitler by his mother’s death. So you see, grief isn’t necessarily the best thing in the world.”

“My brother and I do have some grief about my mother. Not so much for my father. Particularly since he managed to kill her.”

“Do you think that was intentional?”

“No. He drove in such a way as to virtually kill himself, and he probably didn’t care whether he killed her or not.”

“Do you know why he came so close to suicide?”

“The last straw may have been that, last week, he was arrested for reckless driving in a school zone. If he’d lived, he would’ve had to appear in court. He probably wouldn’t have been sent to jail, but he would have been lectured to by the judge in a humiliating way.”

“If he had survived, would you have wanted him to go to jail?”

“Out of simple justice, yes. Of course, there would have been all sorts of practical problems for Tim and myself.”

“Which aren’t problems now.”

“No. I’m free, totally free.”

“Is that scary?”

“I wasn’t scared at the thought until just now. But I’ll manage.”

“I’m sure you will. What sort of funeral do you want?”

“Something simple and non-sectarian that will make my mother’s friends feel a little better.”

“I specialize in that. Except for the accident, your situation isn’t terribly unusual. I do readings from poetry, with a few words at the end. Let me know anything you’d like to have included.”

”Yes. She had some favorite poems, and I’ll give you xeroxes.”

“Then, all we need is to set a date.”

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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