Prompt: Our old gang were back in town together, but it was at the cost of a family funeral.
Bob cleaned his shoes whilst waiting for Jenna to get ready. Easy for him, she’d said that morning. Just wear a suit, a plain tie and clean shoes. Lucky she’d said it, so he’d remembered to clean his shoes. Old man Burton had been a stickler for that kinda thing and his funeral was no time to be letting standards slip.
He and Jenna had been the only ones of the old gang who’d stayed in town. The rest of them had all flown away, but they were all back for the funeral, including old man Burton’s daughter Brenda, together with that guy she’d run away with. Bob wondered whether Jenna ever heard from her. She always said “no” when asked, but he had the faintest of suspicion that she was keeping something close to her heart. They’d been close Jenna and Brenda, real close. Just then she came in, “Honey, can you do up my zip? After you’ve done with your shoes and washed your hands will do fine.” She busied right back out of the room and Bob smiled. He put on his shoes before washing his hands. Then went into the bedroom, put on a clean shirt, his dark tie and jacket. Finding Jenna in the kitchen, he held out his hands towards her. She backed up to him, so he could do up her zip, before planting a kiss in the nape of her neck.
“Time to go” he announced before heading out to the car. They were collecting Teddy and Susan from the station before heading over to the funeral parlour. The four of ’em met up every couple of months. What with Teddy’s folks being older than most, they’d not moved far away. There was a fair bit of work to be done on the old Manning home and Bob visited every week to make sure urgent stuff was kept on top of. He really liked the Mannings. They’d always made him welcome, even when Teddy was out, understanding that his home could be a zoo, what with so many younger kids. He used to stop there to do his homework – he’d never have made it to College without their kindness.
Buck and Johnny were arriving on the same train, except they were coming from a lot further afield. Both had booked in to the local B&B, not wanting to turn this into a family visit. Bob found that odd, but had never gotten to know their families growing up. The Gang had always met at his place, or Teddy’s, or Brenda’s. That’s how they’d all gotten to know old man Burton so well, even after he retired from teaching school. Johnny and Brenda had been an item then, and were all the way up until she’d skipped town. Johnny had always been regarded as the local heart throb, the bad boy, but he’d fallen for Brenda and been heart broken when she left. He spent a fair bit of time round with old man Burton after she left, until he finally got a job in the big smoke and left town himself. They got the odd phone call from him but nothing more.
Buck was married, to a girl he met up town. They had a new baby, so she was staying home. He promised to visit again, next time bringing them both. But a funeral was no place for a small baby and a shy young bride. Not for the first time of meeting The Gang. Bob assumed Brenda and her guy would be driving in, so he was real surprised to see her alighting from the train too. She was looking up at someone, he assumed her guy, only to be surprised to see her take a toddler into her arms. He looked back and was even more surprised to see that the person stepping down from the train was a young girl in a sorta nurse’s uniform. They both bustled around sorting out pushchairs and luggage, before Brenda waved and rushed to hug Jenna. Bob helped Teddy and Susan with their bags, before walking over to join Brenda. The ‘nurse’ introduced herself as the nanny and said “this is John” indicating a little boy with the bluest eyes Bob had ever seen, since … er … since he’d last seen Johnny. Puzzled, he looked at both Jenna and Brenda, but obeying the look in Jenna’s eyes, he kept his thoughts to himself.
Teddy and Susan joined them, and all was bustle and busyness. Bob looked round and caught sight of Johnny and Buck. They were over by the cab rank and waved “we’re going to check in the B&B first, see you there” called Buck. There was a cab waiting to take Brenda and her gang to the old house, so they parted after agreeing to meet up at the funeral parlour. Arriving early, Bob got talking to other locals who’d shown up for the service. Mr Burton had been a long-standing resident and loyal servant to the small town and its school. Despite being a stickler about the rules, he’d been much respected and much liked.
Brenda arrived at the parlour alone and sought out Jenna. Holding onto her arm, they walked up to the front pew together where they were joined almost immediately by Susan. Bob settled down in a pew with Teddy, where they were joined by Johnny and Buck. Buck simply raised his eyebrows at Bob behind Johnny’s back, but said nothing as Bob shrugged in response. The service was simple, if lengthy. Lots of people spoke of their memories. There was a lot of affection and respect in that room. Brenda didn’t speak. She simply put a flower on the casket, touched a kiss to her hand and then indicated that the casket could be withdrawn behind the curtains. The townsfolk filed out past her, most stopping to offer kind words for her loss, and to enquire about the house. She smiled at them all, said demurely that she’d made no decisions yet and moved on to the next person smoothly.
Heading back to the old house, Bob could see there were caterers there already. Brenda clearly had made all the arrangements remotely. The wake was a pretty subdued affair as people were mostly there “to show their respects”. They mostly just accepted a cup of tea and a cake before moving on. Finally, it was just “them” left. Well, them, the nanny and Brenda’s son, who was now being very vocal in asking for his mother’s attention. Brenda picked him up, called over her shoulder “y’all make yourselves at home, kick off your shoes, pour some drinks, no-one’s going home early tonight” and went upstairs. About an hour later, she returned and the nanny went back upstairs. Jenna had whispered to Bob to pour Brenda a glass of white wine and as he handed it to her, she looked around the room and said: “so, who’s going first?”
Johnny swore loudly and walked out. Bob followed to try and calm him down, finally persuading him sit out on the old stoop at back and get it off his chest. “She told me her old man had caught her having sex with that guy, you remember the one?” I nodded, we all remembered him. In a town like ours, a 6ft 6in white guy stands out a mile. He’d taken a room with them and was a newly qualified teacher starting at the school after summer. In fairness, we’d all liked him. He was smart, funny, athletic, a regular guy. “She told me that she’d seduced him, not the other way round, so she was having to leave town.” I nodded again, and said that I seemed to recall he’d left either at the same time, or straight after. “I thought they’d either gone together, or met up after. That’s what she let me assume. I mean, we’d done it, y’know, but we’d been careful, so I never thought … And then she turns up, after not one single word and … there he is and his name is John.” I couldn’t argue with him, she’d treated him badly. At the very least, she could’ve written to warn him. Or visited him at the B&B – there is only one in the town – or even asked to speak to him alone at the end of the wake. But to just say “so, who’s going first?” Really not classy, not classy at all.
Just then, Jenna and Brenda walked out. Brenda walked up to Johnny and held out her hand: “I’m here to apologise. Will you shake my hand?” Jenna quietly said: “you owe Johnny a lot more than that Brenda, you know you do. Sit down and tell him what happened from the start. Bob?” She held out her hand to me and we walked away, but stayed sat on the stoop nearby, so she could make sure Brenda did what she’d promised. My Jenna was like that – honest and fair. I was one lucky guy.
© 2017 Debra Carey