"Do ron day ron day ron day boppa
Do ron day ron day ron day boppa
Do ron day ron day ron day boppa
I Met Him On a Sunday - The Shirelles (Owens-Coley-Lee-Harris)
He was feeling more out of place than usual. The sides of his mouth were about to spasm as he tried to maintain the David Fisher patented Mona Lisa smile of sincere yet detached sorrow. A slight rumble in the pit of his stomach threatened to push its way up his esophagus and present itself as a hysterical guffaw if he didn't get out of the chapel immediately. He glanced about the packed room for his father, who shouldn't be too hard to find. Besides David's, his would be the only other white face in the room. Not finding him anywhere, David took a deep, slow breath and concentrated on the Reverend McBeatty at the front of the chapel, now a good thirty minutes into what was one of the most long-winded services David could remember in his 11 years assisting his father in the funeral business.
A momentary stab of deja vu smacked into his consciousness like a hit-and-run migraine as he realized he'd had the very same thought at the Clarkson funeral last Wednesday.
His feet hurt. He hated himself for allowing such a trivial concern to push its way into his head. He hated himself for having any thoughts other than complete and total sympathy for the grieving family and friends of the late Mrs. Edna Beilly Devane, gathered here in the greater Los Angeles African Methodist Episcopal church for one last, stately goodbye.
He shifted from foot to foot, teetered forward on the balls of his feet, then gently rocked back onto his heels. He tried once again to concentrate on the Reverend's sermon. After a few moments he became profoundly aware of the fact that he was nodding his head rhythmically to the Reverend's cadenced, dramatic delivery. He jerked his head upright with such force that he was sure the congregation could hear his jawbone crack, and must by now have noticed this unstable white guy sweating profusely in the close, baked air of the chapel.
CUT IT OUT, a voice screamed in his head. He prayed to God he was the only one in the room who heard it.
Once again his eyes swept across the sea of mourners in search of his father's face, or at least the back of his head. Where the fuck was he, anyway? But David knew perfectly well that he had snuck back to the hearse parked next to the church's loading dock for a smoke.
In all of her 95 or so years, Mrs. Edna Beilly Devane must have made quite an impression on her community. The sizeable chapel was packed wall to wall with grieving friends and family. Many of the mourners wore colorful African prints with matching headcoverings. Lots of people. Lots and lots of people. David felt happy for her. Even over the Reverend's stentorian sing-song, David could hear the shush-shush of air from the women in the back row who were fanning themselves with the tastefully printed memorial programs provided by Fisher and Son's.
Shush-shush. Shush-shush. Shush-shush.
The air itself was sweltering and devoid of oxygen , heavily perfumed with a mixture of funeral bouquets, expensive cologne, and embalming fluid. From the front of the chapel, where Mrs. Devane rested handsomely in her solid mahogony coffin, David was sure he could see jelly-like waves of odor drifting lazily up into the church's high, raftered ceiling.
There it was again. Starting as a tiny hiccup deep in his gut, then emerging from his throat as something nauseating, overwhelming, solid. Last Wednesday at the Clarkson funeral it had been a giggle. This was more like a bitter-tasting sob.
As if to purge himself of this sudden, overwhelming sadness, he burped out loud. A little girl in an aisle seat seemed to be the only one in the room to notice. She turned around and gave him a look that was so expressionless David felt his heart shift in his chest.
He turned around and forced himself to walk calmly out of the chapel, through the church's candle-lit vestibule, and finally into the bright sunlight of a hot, Sunday afternoon in LA. He felt haunted and devastated and lost.
He had been feeling this way for days, weeks, possibly years, or maybe it was just at every one of the last half-dozen or so funerals he had assisted his father in preparing. He couldn't keep track anymore. He could barely breathe.
He wandered to the back of the church where the hearse was parked. A hand clutching a lit cigarette hung outside the open window on the driver's side. David could see that his father had taken off his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeve. He wished he could do the same. He started to loosen his tie, but changed his mind, convincing himself that to do so would be disrespectful to Mrs. Devane and her grieving loved ones. The thought made him feel slightly superior compared to his father's casual attitude.
David pressed himself into an ivy covered recess off to the side of the loading dock, out of his father's sight line. He could see the left rear fin of the hearse, could see the cigarette smoke curling up and disappearing into the atmosphere. After a while he heard the scrape of the car door open, and then his father's footsteps kicking up the gravel. He pressed himself deeper against the wall, oblivious to the dusty vines of ivy laced with ancient cobwebs.
What would his father think if he found him here, hiding? Spying on him. Crying.
The crunch of footsteps went in the other direction, towards the loading dock.
David slipped out of the recess just in time to see his father entering the rear of the church. He went to the hearse. Mr. Fisher of Fisher and Sons had left the driver's side door open, the keys dangling from the ignition. David considered the ramifications of getting in, taking off, heading north, or south, or east, or even west into the ocean,and never coming back again. Instead, he pulled out the keys and carefully shut the door, remembering his father's frequent admonition to treat the Old Girl with tender loving care, as she was on her last legs and they really couldn't afford to replace her.
Something at his feet caught his attention - the butt of his father's cigarette, still smoldering. David picked it up by the soggy filter, looked around the parking lot for an appropriate recepticle. Finding none, he started towards the front of the church, feeling slightly ridiculous and yet noble with purpose. Someone was coming around the corner towards the parking lot, and David immediately turned on his heels in a panic. He squeezed the cigarette butt in the palm of his hand, barely noticing the burning sensation as the last ember was extinguished against his skin. He dropped the cigarette in his suit pocket and turned around nervously, willing the Mona Lisa smile onto his face.
He was surprised to see a solitary man approaching him, rather than the crowd of exiting mourners he had expected to confront. Was it possible that the Reverend was still delivering the eulogy? Mrs. Edna Beilly Devane must have been one hell of a congregation member!
Despite being completely bald, the man approaching him had the solid good looks that David found all too common in Los Angeles, a chiseled handsomeness that never failed to make him feel unattractive and self-conscious. Much to his chagrin, the man slowed down as he approached David, then actually stopped in front of him and oh God no, David prayed. No, please no
The man offered his hand.
"Wonderful service," he said.
David stared at the outstreched hand, realizing that a mere few minutes ago he could have been well on his way to driving his father's hearse into the Pacific ocean, free at last.
He took his hand out of his jacket pocket, and wiped it brusquely against his pant leg, the friction pulling at the blister on his palm caused by the cigarette's last dying ember.
For a split second David considered explaining to the handsome black man that his entire pathetic life had been leading up to this moment of abject humiliation and offense, that God was cruel and surely hated his guts of that the evidence was irrefutable, and that all things being equal David would be more than happy if the earth opened up this very minute and sucked him into the depths of hell.
Instead, he muttered something that sounded very much like "thank you sorry for your loss God loves His children my isn't it hot today" as the man took David's hand into his and shook it. And held it. And didn't let go until David pulled it away with a grimace. (He was finally beginning to feel that goddam burn.)
David realized with shock and relief that the man had taken no offense to his weird behavior.
"Were you related to Mrs. Devane?" David asked, feeling somewhat normal for the first time in hours (day, weeks, years ).
"I think she was the aunt of my mother's cousin's Godmother. Or maybe she was my aunt twice removed from my father's brother's wife's uncle." The man laughed. "I know she fit in the family tree somewhere,I'm just not sure where. We're a pretty big family. We all justcalled her Nana Eddie, so that's who she was."
David was looking at him as if everything he'd said was in dolphin.
"Nana Eddie," he repeated.
"Yes," David said. "I'm so sorry for your loss. God loves his children. My, isn't it hot today?"
David looked up into the sky, turning away from the man, who took the opportunity to brush his hand up and down David's back. It was a comforting, surprisingly sensual sensation. David turned around to face him.
"You've got spiderwebs all over the back of your suit," the man said. He brought his hand up to David's cheek, touching it gently. Smile, David thought. Smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile.
The man wiped whatever it was he'd found on David's face onto the lapel of his jacket.
"Something on your face. Tears, I think. Do you always cry at your services?"
"I'm not crying. Sometimes the perfume. I get an allergic reaction. That's why I left the chapel. I don't normally leave the chapel. Normally I stay for the entire service, because I enjoy the service. I especially enjoyed this service. I found it to be very comforting and uplifting. And spiritual. And and "
"Personally I thought Reverend McBeatty went a little overboard," the man said, "but it's very nice of you to take a personal interest in Nana Eddie's service. I've been to a few funerals and you don't usually see the undertaker get so uhm emotionally involved."
"Funeral director," David corrected him. "Assistant funeral director. I'm the son. Fisher and son."
The man offered his hand again, and this time David took it without the weird ceremony.
"Keith Charles," the man said.
"Nice to meet you. Do you have a card, David Fisher of Fisher and Son? I'd like to recommend your services to some of my friends."
Somewhere, somehow, David managed to find a business card on his person and hand it to the handsome black man who for some inexplicable reason was going to promote the Fisher family funeral business.
Someone tapped David on the shoulder from behind. He turned around and faced his father.
"Let's get the car ready," he said. David nodded, noticing for the first time that the parking lot had filled with mourners. He turned back to say goodbye to Keith Charles, but he'd already joined a group of mourners as they walked towards their cars.
"Let's go, David," his father said.
He followed his father to the back of the hearse where they waited by the open trunk to receive Mrs. Edna Beilly Devane in her splendid mahogony coffin. Nana Eddie.
Keith Charles, David repeated to himself again and again. Not a common name. Surely a name one would find in one of the dozens of Los Angeles area phone books.
Except for the raw and irritated blister on the palm of his hand, David Fisher was beginning to feel a lot better.
Much later that evening, Keith Charles took a serious inventory of the various toiletries neatly arranged on his bathroom vanity. Dozens of herb and floral scented soaps and lotions and shampoos (he preferred shampoo to shaving cream for achieving a shaved dome that was smooth as a baby's butt). Not one single bar of unscented soap.
That wouldn't do if he planned on getting close to David Fisher of Fisher and Sons. The last thing he wanted from Mr. Fisher was an allergic reaction.
He'd get some Ivory soap on the way home from work tomorrow. Then he'd give Mr. Fisher a call.
He didn't know why it was such a turn-on.
Maybe I'm a pervert, Keith thought.
He couldn't wait to find out.
continue to part 2