The Archie household remained in turmoil ever since the Giffins dashed off on Thanksgiving Day. The only calming influence was Bennie who stayed at the farm rather than returning to New York as planned. With Eileen gone for an indefinite time, Bennie pitched in and helped Kelly with the housekeeping.
“Bennie, if this acting thing doesn’t work out you can always become a chef,” said Kelly, watching as Bennie browned chunks of beef for a stew he was making, for the family’s dinner.
“Well, I have Eitan Abrahams to thank for that. He taught me how to cook, so I could work to pay for my room. I still cook from time to time when I am there. It is fun when one of my fans comes in and tells me that I look just like an actor they saw in an Off-Broadway play,” said Bennie, smiling, thinking about how much fun he had living above the diner with Mr. Abrahams other artistic refugees. “Did you check on Genevieve before you came down? Does she need me?”
“Yes, but no, she doesn’t need you right now. She is painting black skies right now. You know how it is when something like this upsets her,” said Kelly, sadness creeping in at the edges of his voice.
“There are no people in the painting?” asked Bennie.
“It looks like this one is just going to be a landscape,” remarked Kelly. “An awful depressing looking landscape.”
“That is good, I can concentrate on my cooking. You know it always amazes me that those dark landscapes sell. I sure wouldn’t want one on my wall,” Bennie mused.
While the atmosphere of the house became darker with no news of Wendy or her baby, Alexis pretended to read her books, trying to listen to her parents talking in hushed voices. She ghosted around the farmyard and barn, listening to the hands talking, picking up on most of what her parents didn’t want a child as young as her to be hearing. When she thought she garnered enough information, she confronted her father.
“Daddy what is a coma? And why has Mrs. Jessie gone into it? Shouldn’t she be bringing the baby around to visit everyone like when Mrs. Bannister’s baby was born? Why is Eileen staying at home? Is it to take care of the baby? Mrs. Jessie is the baby’s mother. Shouldn’t she take care of her own baby? Is Mrs. Jessie different like Mommy? Is Mrs. Jessie painting now too?” asked Alexis in a rapid barrage, finishing with the idea that perhaps it was a normal thing for mothers to paint and let Eileen look after their children, since it seemed that was what her own mother did. While she was waiting for her father to regain his composure and figure out how much to tell her, she occupied her mind thinking about what sort of paintings Wendy would paint.
“Well, come and sit with me on the steps,” said Kelly and led Alexis over, holding her hand. As the two sat, side-by-side, watching the setting sun, Kelly drew a deep breath. Realizing that Alexis was picking up on what was happening around her more than he and Genevieve expected, he decided that he couldn’t protect her from the truth of the situation. “Alexis, when a woman gives birth it is very similar to when an animal gives birth. You remember how worried we all were about how many things that could go wrong when the mare gave birth to her twins?”
“Yes, Daddy, the vet was worried that there was too much blood,” said Alexis, surprising her father, who at the time didn’t realize that Alexis picked up on so much of what he and the vet talked about that morning.
“Well, there is always a lot of worry when a woman has a baby too. Most of the time, everything is just fine, but this time there was a problem. There was a bad problem when Wendy was giving birth to her baby. She lost a lot of blood, and stopped breathing for a very long time. Her brain got damaged. She is asleep, but because her brain is damaged, she will never wake up again,” said Kelly.
“But she won’t die will she?” asked Alexis, starting to sniffle. Alexis was a farm girl and knew death. There was no way for her father to soften it for her.
“Oh, baby, nobody wanted this to happen to Wendy we all loved her. She was a bright light to all of us, but living like this in a coma, which she will never wake up from … well … it isn’t really like being alive. Her family is praying that God will take her away soon, to end her suffering,” said Kelly, swallowing hard to keep from coming to tears himself. “They are just consoling themselves with the knowledge that she didn’t know that her baby didn’t make it either.”
“Kelly, I will sit with Alexis. You better go up and be with Genevieve, this news has really shaken her up. I am afraid it might put her in that dark place again,” said Bennie, feeling as if it were his own family that was going through this trial.
“Come on Alexis, you have to get dressed to go to the church,” said Genevieve, realizing once again, how often she counted on Eileen’s support when persuading her strong-headed daughter to do something she was set against.
“You said I would never have to wear that green dress again,” said Alexis, stubbornly.
“Oh, dear,” said Genevieve, aghast at the mental image of Alexis walking into Wendy’s funeral in the dress that she wore in celebration of Wendy’s marriage not so long before. “No, no, we will all be wearing black to say goodbye to Wendy. That is the tradition.”
“Wendy’s dead! How can we say goodbye to her?” asked Alexis, using her mother as a convenient target for her bad temper, which was born of confusion and fear.
“It is just a figure of speech, dear. We are going to show support to her widower and her parents. It is how we let them know that we are here for them in their time of need,” said Kelly, and watched as his wife led their daughter toward the stairs at the back of the dining room, thinking about the last time he saw Wendy, large with child and beaming, when she excused herself from the dining room to go to the bathroom.
Alexis dug in her heels and stopped her mother’s forward momentum halfway to the double doors leading into the other room, and asked, “Mommy what is a widower?”
“Oh, well, when a man’s wife dies, he is called a widower, and when a woman’s husband dies, she is called a widow,” said Genevieve, glad of the opportunity to instruct her daughter rather than focus on the death of the young woman.
“Kelly, Genevieve, I would be glad to stay here and look after Alexis, if you would rather not have to take her to the church,” said Bennie, halting for a moment Genevieve’s resumed progression.
“No, I think that Alexis should go and pay her respects to the family. You have to understand that in a town like this, there are just some things you must do,” said Kelly philosophically, as Alexis allowed herself to be led upstairs, with the understanding that it would be her beloved black dress she would wear that day.
“If you are sure; I will be here if you need me.” Bennie said.
“No, it’s okay, Bennie. Alexis has to learn about the more unpleasant things of life as well as the nice ones. You are not going to the services?” asked Kelly, after Alexis and her mother were far enough up the stairs not to hear.
“I am afraid; I have not been able to force myself to attend a funeral since my Bobeshi died. That funeral was not just horrible to attend, but signaled that the only person in the world who loved me was gone, and I was at the mercy of my father,” said Bennie, cringing at the memory of having to return home and face his father’s drunken tirade over Bennie wanting to become an actor, after the services at the cemetery.
“Dearly beloved, we are now going to conclude the viewing. The casket will be closed at this time, before we commence the service. Please take this time to avail yourself of the facilities or to go out in the yard for a smoke. Remember to place your butts in the provided containers. Please return to your seats in 15 minutes for the start of the memorial services,” said the Methodist minster, and took Jessie by the arm and led him outside for a cigarette, so the young man wouldn’t have memories of the casket being closed.
Alexis tugged on her father’s arm while he tried to lead her away, as she kept turning back looking at what was left of Wendy, trying to reconcile the still figure with the vibrant girl she had known since the day the bride-to-be had come to the farm to fit her in the hated green dress. Now looking at the still figure, Alexis wished she hadn’t been so reluctant to wear the dress. She thought that she would wear a million green dresses for the rest of her life if Wendy would hop up and laugh at her big joke. When her parents were consoling the young widower at the casket, Alexis studied the woman in the box, wondering why they put the baby in her arms. It looked to her as if Wendy was cuddling her baby, which didn’t seem right if she were dead. Alexis reached in and touched Wendy’s hand, recoiling at how cold she was. Having assured herself that Wendy was in fact dead, and not playing some elaborate game, she was perplexed at how a dead woman could hold her arms like that, around a dead baby.
There was a line at the ladies’ room, so when Alexis and her mother rejoined her father, the organ music for the service was just starting to play. “Do you think it would be okay if we went home now?” whispered Genevieve into her husband’s ear.
“No, we should stay for the service, and go to the cemetery for the interment. It is the least we can do for Eileen,” whispered Kelly in return, before dabbing his eyes with his handkerchief.
Alexis was overwhelmed by the grief, which surrounded her, though she wouldn’t understand the types and depths of grief until she was much older. She wasn’t paying much attention to the sermon, but was listening very carefully to the hushed conversations, which went on around her, though she only caught parts here and there.
“So sad … Nothing so sad since Misty Harper … Family curse that is what it is … poor baby …”
Wendy, in life and now death, was a member of the Eastern Star, and was honored by the laying of a blanket of white flowers on top of the black draped casket. When the minister finished reading the traditional Masonic funeral rights, being answered by the Mason’s who were seated in the pews closest to the altar, the Ladies of the Eastern Star took over the service.
“… And now the Women of the Eastern Star will honor and send off our sister Wendy and her innocent child to a better world,” the minister summed up and took a seat in his high back chair to the right of the altar.
A matronly woman, who Kelly whispered was Wendy’s aunt, stood up and stood at the head of Wendy’s casket, her hand resting lightly on the white flowers, as if to comfort the girl. Several other women, members of the Eastern Stars, arose from the front pew and stood in a line at the foot of the casket. Each woman held a single red rose. Alexis recognized them as the young women who stood up for Wendy at her wedding. Seeing the women were ready, Wendy’s aunt began to recite the Lord’s Prayer slowly, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
She paused as the women nearest to the casket walked up, and addressed the blanket of flowers in a low voice just discernible to Alexis, “Go with the lord, my sister,” she said, as she placed the red flower firmly among the white.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” followed by another farewell, and flower placed.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” One more of the young women filed past.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Followed by a young dark haired girl who mumbled her farewell through tears, making it indiscernible even to the people in the second pew.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Preceded the placement of the last flower.
As the ceremony progressed, Kelly and Genevieve were caught up on the raw emotion and beauty of the simple goodbye, not noticing that Alexis was cowering beside them. As each woman walked to the casket and stuck the flower stem into the blanket of flowers, there was a strange sound, which none of the adults seemed to notice. Unbeknownst to Alexis there was a slab of Styrofoam under the blanket of flowers. She could clearly hear in the hushed church the sound of the stem piercing the Styrofoam. In Alexis’ agitated mind the stem of the flower pierced through the casket and through Wendy’s still form. The images in her mind were made all the more vivid, from reading Toby’s horror comic books when she was visiting her uncle’s house.
Alexis clung tightly to her parents’ sides, as they filed out of the church with the other congregates. They made their way to the sedan, parked down the road a bit, and drove out to the old hillside cemetery. Wendy and her baby were to be laid to rest, not in the Harper plot, but in the Giffin plot to await her husband and the rest of his family.
Alexis hadn’t realized that they were going to be putting the box that held what was left of Wendy into a hole in the ground. Though she visited her grandfather in the cemetery before, but she never made the connection, before seeing the deep hole ready in the cemetery. Though Mr. Cooper draped the edges of the hole with some sort of green material, it still didn’t obscure the fact that it was a deep, dark, cold hole.
When the short graveside service was over, Alexis followed her parents as they tossed handfuls of dirt down onto the casket, which was lowered into the hole with the blanket of white flowers dotted with red ones, left in place. Alexis was close on her father’s heels as he started to make his way over to the Archie family plot to have a few word with his father. Genevieve saw that her daughter was following Kelly and reached out to stop her.
“Sweetie, come to the car with me to wait for your father,” said Genevieve, leading Alexis away. “He needs to have some private time with his Da.”
“My grandfather is dead. How can Daddy be having time with him?” demanded Alexis, luckily out of earshot of the other mourners.
“Oh, sweetheart! When you get older you will understand. But today, please just come with me and help me not be so sad while I wait for your daddy,” said Genevieve, opening the back door of the sedan got in the back with Alexis, and cuddled her up in her arms to comfort herself as much as the child.
After the services, Alexis sat quietly in the back seat, forgoing her usual activity in the moving vehicle. As Kelly drove, he pondered the wisdom of interring Wendy in her husband’s plot. What would happen if Jessie remarried, which as young as he was, was only to be expected? Would the wife of a lifetime have to share space with a wife of a few months?
“What is on your mind Kelly?” asked Genevieve, “You seem very quiet since we left the church.”
“Oh, nothing, it is just such a sad day,” said Kelly, deciding that for once he should keep his random thoughts to himself.
“Mommy, why did god take Mrs. Jessie and the baby leaving Mr. Jessie all alone?” asked Alexis. She cried all morning the day after the funeral, trying to reconcile herself with the fact that she would never see her friend again, and fixating on the waxy figure, which was in that box at the front of the church.
“Sweetheart, it is the way of life. We all have a time to be born and a time to die. Some people are allotted longer spans of life on this earth and others only a short time. That just is the way it is. We must all live our lives as if each day is our last,” said Genevieve. “Sweetie, God didn’t kill Wendy. Sometimes things go wrong when babies are born,” said Genevieve, hugging and rocking Alexis as she fought back the tears thinking of the young woman with her every expanding midsection hopping out of the bookmobile and calling out, “Alexis, Alexis, what are you going to read this week.” Genevieve relaxed knowing that it wasn’t her words, but her presence that was calming her daughter down.
Alexis realizing that her mother was as upset about losing Wendy as she was, stopped posing questions to her mother and went in search of Bennie, who was busy cooking the family’s lunch. When she found him sitting at the breakfast table peeling potatoes, she sat next to him silently for some moments before suddenly saying as if the conversation was in midstream. “She was so cold. I touched her. She was so cold. And they put her in the ground. It is so cold in the ground,” said Alexis.
“That is just the way some people do it, Alexis. Other people have the tradition of burning the body and scattering the ashes. Others burn the body and put the ashes in an ornate jar to keep in the house. I guess that is a lot warmer than being buried. I don’t think I would like to be burnt. Other people build little houses in the cemetery out of marble. The houses have compartments for the caskets, so the caskets are not buried in the ground. They are called mausoleums. Promise me that when I die that you won’t let them put me in the ground. I want to have a little room in a mausoleum,” said Bennie, thinking about the last resting place of Marilyn, not realizing the burden he was putting on the child.
“I promise Bennie, and if I die first, you promise me!” said Alexis, solemnly.
“I promise, sugar, but I will die first. It isn’t normal for a young person to die like Wendy. You are not going to die young. I know it,” said Bennie, to assure himself, but making his young friend feel better as well.
Late that night after her parents tucked her in and went off to bed, Alexis found herself thinking about the fun that everyone enjoyed on Thanksgiving Day, and about the horrible funeral. “That baby killed Wendy! Why did they put it in her arms! They should have thrown it away. I will never have a baby! Never!” sobbed Alexis, into her pillow, stifling the sounds so as not to wake her parents and Bennie.