Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 10

The Funeral

     The Unitarian Church had been founded by a New England rebel, Theodore Parker. However, he was an anti-slavery rebel in the years before the Civil War, and had thus occupied the moral high ground. Some hundred and fifty years later, the church was respectable, a New England institution, but also a bit dodgy in the minds of the most conservative people. After all, some ministers were close to being atheists.

     The present church, handsomely white-framed with some modern additions, stood in a little patch of open ground with bare trees on a cold gray day. It was already pretty well packed when they arrived, but, as planned, they went to the side door so that they wouldn’t have to march down the main aisle. Even so, there was a small mob of reporters and photographers who were being kept away from the door by some unseen force.

     At a closer view, the force turned out to consist of Hortense and a number of her assistants. On seeing the obituary in the paper and realizing what would happen, she had called Sharon to offer assistance. When Sharon indicated that they might, indeed, have some problems with the media people, Hortense  had replied,  “I’ve done gangster funerals, and I have special assistants to deal with the media.”

The ‘special assistants’ turned out to be a group of very dangerous looking men in black suits. They were spaced strategically in a line, more or less daring anyone to walk between them. No one dared. Sharon and her friends had only to walk behind the line, Sharon calling to thank Hortense as they passed.

     The group made an obvious impression as they came in. All in black dresses, none designed for funerals, there were, beside herself, Meredith, Audrey, Mitsuko, and Doris. Audrey, on this occasion, did look like a movie star. But the others looked quite fetching in their own right, and there was a noticeable pause in the muted conversation when they entered.

     Included in the party of ladies was a man, Mr. Harold Orrington. He had been Mrs. Susan Hastings’ lover, and was taking her death very hard. Doris had introduced him briefly to Sharon, but then, when they were alone, Doris said quietly to her, “You know, we all miss Susan, and, when asked, we say that we feel a great sadness over her death. A revealing phrase for what it doesn’t say. But of all of us, best friend, son, daughter, and lover, it’s only Harold who fell on the floor and cried his eyes out.”

While he was obviously still a broken man, they had prevailed on him to carry all their coats into the church. It looked as if he might collapse under the burden, but he made it, sticking as closely as possible to Doris. Sharon was intensely interested in finding out what sort of man he was, and how he had related to her mother, but that would obviously have to wait.

     Just as they were sitting down in the front pew, a woman came up apologizing profusely. She turned out to be Uncle Bob’s wife, and she assured them that she would keep him from interfering in the proceedings in any way. Doris responded graciously, and the woman added, “The men in this family can be terribly overbearing.”

Sharon had to laugh, and responded, “It’s okay. We’re raising my big brother to be different.”

As the woman left, Doris remarked to Sharon, “Another nice woman married to an awful man!”

“From whatever he might have told her, she must have figured out what he’d been doing.”

“Women in that situation need only the barest hint.”

     Sharon hardly recognized Mr. Byers from the relaxed offhand man she had met with Hortense. He looked even bigger and more impressive. He also seemed to project authority, if not from God, from something or someone somewhere.

     Mr. Byers gave the outlines of the lives of the two principals, but nothing very personal. He alluded to the “tragic automobile accident” without saying that Sharon’s father had caused it, and he mentioned the “grieving daughter and son” without naming them or looking in Sharon’s direction when he spoke. He then read poetry with a good deal of feeling. There were selections from Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Yeats. Anyone coming in from the outside would have guessed that Sharon’s parents had been robust nature lovers, rather like the minister himself, and that they had lived fulfilling lives. Glancing over at Harold, she could see that he needed something more intense and personal. But, then, he might have wept embarrassingly. Anyhow, before there were any displays, it was over.

     As they were milling around, Mitsuko said quietly to Sharon,  “This is adulthood. Becoming eighteen is nothing, nor driving a car, nor graduating from anything. It’s the death of one’s parents.”

“But lots of people are sixty or so before their parents die.”

“Quite so. Some people are even out-lived by their parents.”

Sharon wondered at the implication that she was more adult than a fifty year old woman who still had to deal with a mother. But, before she could reply, Mitsuko said, “If you get a chance, come over to the shop at closing time some evening.”

 Just then, they emerged from the church. The American versions of the paparazzi, ready to capitalize on Tim’s sudden fame, were still being held at a distance. One called out, apparently to Doris, and asked if Tim Hastings was present. She responded pleasantly,

“He’s already left, out through the back.”

That produced consternation. Apparently it wasn’t fair to do such things. Anyhow, the reporter recovered, and asked for his sister. Doris half-turned to her right and stretched out her arm toward Audrey, who stepped forward to a position between two guardians. Momentarily stunned by her appearance, the reporter babbled briefly as she said,

“I do hope that you have something to say about the needless tragedies that occur so often on the roads.”

While Audrey was carrying on in that fashion, Sharon slipped off to the side and made for her car. She was already leaving the parking lot as the others, followed by journalists, walked to Doris’ car.

     First on the list was a cell-to-cell call to Tim.

“Hi, Timmy, it’s all over and done. No incidents.”

“Good. Any reporters?”

“A bunch. Neatly evaded, as per Doris’ plan. They may catch you eventually.”

“I think my moment of fame has passed. I’ll be back in my own room in a couple of days.”

“I’m going back to school, but I don’t want to go back to the big empty old house. I’ll be staying with Doris for a bit.”

“Since she’s your guardian, you may as well let her guard you.”       

“There’s another reason. She’s keeping in touch with Mother’s lover, and I’ll get a chance to talk with him. He was at the funeral.”

“What’s he like?”

“Decidedly not glamorous. But I hardly spoke with him. I’ll report when I know more.”

     Later in the day, Sharon stopped by Meredith’s to pick up her things. After thanking her for her hospitality, she asked,

“What happened after I left?”

“It was really funny. Audrey kept them going for some time, completely captivated. Then, when it became clear that she wasn’t you, they got quite angry. One man told me that he had a job to do, and didn’t have time to play games. When I asked him if he didn’t think that a girl who’d just lost both parents deserved a little peace and quiet, he just muttered. Then, it turned out that he was a sportswriter who really wanted Tim. He was still muttering when we left. Incidentally, who was that exquisite Japanese lady you brought?”

“She keeps a resale shop where I’ve got things. It’s quite an unusual sort of shop, not like the places Audrey goes.”

“So I gathered. She invited me to visit, which I will. But I did wonder. A girl in your position, even before the accident, might have been looking around for motherly types. I don’t think Mitsuko is likely to be anyone’s mother.”

“No. But, now, I have Doris for that. She’s very supportive without being the least preachy and bossy.”

“I realize that. It’s a good thing she’s popped up just now.”

“Well, it’ll be fun staying with her. It’s also been fun staying with you and the others. I just don’t seem to be doing much mourning.”

“No need to work on that. Whatever has to come will come.”

      Arriving at Doris’ house in time for a pasta dinner, Sharon found Harold there. He had perked up a little, and looked younger and more upright than he had at the funeral. He also seemed to have a good appetite. Sharon gathered that Doris was tempting him with all his favorite foods, and it seemed to be working. He was also invited to spend the night in one of the two guest rooms. When he departed to get his things, Sharon remarked on his improved spirits. Doris replied, “He has crying jags, and I comfort. It seems the only practical thing I can do in memory of Susan.”

“He must have been totally in love with her.”

“Yeah. She was my good friend, and I thought a lot of her, but she wasn’t really an extraordinary woman. Any more than I am. Harold seems to think she was Mother Teresa.”

“Is that what people in love do?”

“I guess so. I’ve never been carried away to that extent. For that matter, you don’t look as if you’ve been afflicted with the teen-aged version.”

“No. I’ve known girls to get drippy, but it was hard to take them seriously.”

“Anyhow, Harold has asked me to tell you some things. He can’t do it himself without falling apart. So here goes.”


“Susan was planning to leave your father and move in with him.”


“But she was waiting for you to turn eighteen because she didn’t want a custody battle that she might not win.”

“She wouldn’t have. Father might not have wanted me, but he would’ve moved mountains to keep her from getting me.”

“So Susan thought. Then, when she was free, she hoped that you and Tim would come to her and Harold on your vacations.”

“I suppose we would have. Harold is obviously nice, and no one thought Father was nice.”

“So Harold’s dream was, not only having Susan, but having a kind of family as well. Real cozy with everyone gathered around the fireplace.”

“Does he have a fireplace?”

“Yes. Despite just being the proprietor of a used bookstore, he has quite a lot of family money. Susan wasn’t going to have to try to dig money out of your father. So it was a fairy tale that had the ‘they lived happily ever after’ ending.”

“I guess you’d have to marry him to bring that off.”

“I like him and feel sorry for him, but he just doesn’t turn me on. He might also be pretty clingy.”

“Sure looks like it. But, anyhow, I’ll help you get him through the next bit.”

“A few days should do it. I’m pretty sure he isn’t the suicidal type.”

“I never thought of that.”

     When Harold returned and Doris told him what she had told Sharon, he seemed relieved, and explained to her, “I cared more for your mother than for anyone else I’ve ever known. I also have almost uncontrollable feelings of anger for your father.”

“You aren’t the only one! He was worst with Tim, but even I couldn’t seem to work up any real affection for him. Seventy per cent of what Father had to say was unpleasantness aimed at someone. The other thirty per cent was neutral, perhaps weather predictions. He always predicted rain. I guess, if he expected sunshine, he kept it to himself.”

“Because of what he did, I think I’d try to kill him if he’d survived.”

“One of Tim’s friends suggested flushing his ashes down the toilet. We could gather around the one in our big bathroom and dump them in. Then, we’d all leave, except for Tim, who’d take a shit before flushing.”

Harold looked happy at the idea, but Doris said, “A good idea in its way, but I get the image of a huge fist coming out of the sky and smiting us.”

“Well, yeah, it is a little scary. But we’ll see. What kind of bookstore do you have, Harold?”

”It’s a second-hand store specializing in history and related subjects. You’d expect it to be near Harvard, but it’s in the North End of Boston, not far from the Union Oyster House.”

Doris added, “Lots of interesting people hang out there, particularly at lunch time. Harold provides free coffee and snacks, and hardly cares whether anyone buys anything.”

Harold took mild exception to that, but Sharon remarked, “So it’s a kind of club.”

“In a way. I live in back, and I’ve known the neighbors for years.”

“Is that where Mother went in the afternoons?”

“Yes. Everyone knew her and probably guessed what was going on. I have an assistant, so we’d go back at slack times. She made tea and things. Sometimes we invited people back, as if we were a married couple.”

“She probably was more married to you than to Father. But I’d get home on the school bus about six, and she was always there.”

Doris added, “Harold had this sort of life before his eight years with Susan, so he’ll eventually find his way back to it.”

“Yes. I managed perfectly well when I was single. Once I get over the shock, it’ll just occur to me that I was lucky to have had Susan as long as I did.”

Sharon replied, “My friend Mitsuko runs a second-hand dress store that’s a sort of a counterpart to your operation. It’s also a club, one where ladies come and try on clothes. They probably gossip more than your people do.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”

“Anyway, it’s a change for me. Instead of whacking people with field hockey or lacrosse sticks, I enter an area of refined Japanese sensibility. The crook of a little finger carries all sorts of implications.”

Doris remarked, “Then you can go back and forth between Harold’s place and Mitsuko’s soaking up different atmospheres.”

“I’ll do it!”

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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