Friday, June 02, 2006

Final Rites & Other Distractions

It was that very few were expected at Jenny Roger's funeral. So when the church was barged with people that sunny afternoon in November, the pastor did not know what had got into the locals.

She had been a mildly famous author, certainly well known in this quaint town not far from Brighton with gardens bright with flowers and birdsong. The inspiration, she had said once, had flowed smoothly.

The first to come in was Mr. Smith, he of the lush moustache and bawdy tongue. He had been a character in one of her novels about a drunkard named Malcolm. Mr. Smith had been his friend. He had drunk to death from cirrhosis. There was a collective gasp as men and women cringed at the sight of this unkempt specter. By and by they reconciled to his presence.

Along came Polly Norton. She was the brightest of the young kids at the school that was run by the National Endowment for Financial Education. She had earned straight As in all subjects except physical training, but one could always allow some leeway there. She had been an aggressive harridan in one of Jenny's novels, a hag who had outgrown her youthful charm to turn into a bitter old spinster. There was a murmur of discontent through the crowd, which the priest did well to order.

Now Mr. Connery made an appearance. He had been a harlequin in "Traveling Circus", who had fallen in love with Emma, an expert hatter who had gifted him a handsome hat made of solid wool felt. They had lived happily ever after in the book, but in the here and now, Emma had deserted Connery for Smith. Obviously, the usher guided Connery to a pew safely distant from Smith's.

By and by the star of the ceremony Ms. Roger arrived. The writer of such classics as "Two Timing" and "Traveling Circus" made a guest appearance at her funeral. Nobody had expected her, for she was infamous for her haughtiness, but it's not everyday that one gets to attend one's burial. Connery was cross with her for ruining his life, but for the sake of propriety, he kept silent.

Mrs. Delaware was asked to deliver the hagiography. She stood on the podium and read in a clear, detached tone from a note. "This ceremony has been organized in the dear memory of my beloved friend Jenny Roger. There isn't much to say about her, for she led an extremely private life, except that she wrote. She wrote books that spoke to one's soul, and one, 'Two Timing' based on the life of our common friend Emma, who I see is not present today, changed my views on marriage and commitment. Her voice was always tempered, which I assume must have been a daunting task, because the last thing one expects from Jennykins is restraint. As long as I live, I'll be proud to have been given the opportunity to read her books, which was, I must add, infinitely easier than my failed attempts at reading her. It is an indication of the uniqueness of this remarkable woman that despite herself, she has managed to honor us with her presence today. Ladies and gentlemen! Jenny Roger!"

The crowd burst into applause apparently inspired by Delaware's slow buildup towards something meaningful. "Ladies," Roger spoke with passion, "I can't waste my time with the odious details of this ceremony, and so I ask you simply to contribute towards recovering its costs by making donations in the blue box that is placed at the entrance. In return for your kindness, each of you would be provided with a printed copy of the Ceremony Text, that includes exclusive extracts from my next novel "Taking Lives" and also Rose Delaware's complete speech. I hope this would be appreciated not only as a record of an important occasion in Lewes's cultural calendar but also because it would provide a means of disseminating information to relatives or friends who have been unable to attend the funeral. I hope you all have a good time. I wish my husband was here too, but we have not been on good terms lately. Some people just cannot deal with a few moments of silence and some uplifting music. My novels are spare, you see. I could not have managed a pompous event for his service."

Just as the pastor decided it was time, he was handed a slip by the usher, which contained a request by some in the audience to allow them to pay obeisance to Jenny Roger. The pastor wasn't too keen on this, for there were other funerals to conduct, but one really can't be squeamish on such occasions. The first to grace the stage was old Mr. Wembley.

"My fellow Lewesians!" he crooned, "I stand before you to honor the life and death of our dear Jenny." He looked towards her, and she nodded like a top-notch intelligence officer instructing a young recruit to begin. "It’s the perfect day for a ceremony like this. When in the morning, the sun had shone mercilessly, I had quipped to Angelica that after all, the final chapter of "Brutal Hands" would not be played out like in the novel. But as the morning wore, the sky was suddenly overcast, and now, this hailstorm. Just as in the novel. My heartiest congratulations to Jenny! She was a master of the craft. I ask that you rest in peace, dear, that you watch over us, because we here have been, uhmm, the only ones to consistently appreciate your work."

Mr. Wembley alighted after asking Mr. Connery to speak a few words. Connery, ever mindful of his background in the army, stood very erect and droned in his ponderous baritone, "Dear all! It’s a pleasure to stand before you to appraise Jenny Roger's life and work. The last time I attended her funeral was as a kid of 9. In my gumboots and relaxed gait, I had no idea then where life would take me." He paused. Now that the subject of his past had come up, he expected a violent sympathy to rise in the hearts of those attending. "My father often gave me Jenny's books to learn what the future held for us. The first book that I read was incidentally based on my life."

Connery glanced at Smith crabwise, and found the sot squirming in his chair. "I took a shine to it because it was so engrossing in places I forgot that my father killed himself in it. 'Two Timing' was a brilliant saga of men who toiled for this country and returned victorious. The nation deserved us; you deserved us, the novel hollered. When I read it now, it is one of the books I am truly nostalgic about, because one, I relate to how I read it in childhood, and one’s childhood is always a wonderful time, and two, it ended on a happy note that I wished had played out in real life too. Emma I truly loved and I would never know what she saw in that drunken bastard fooling around on the third row here. My poor widow. Oh! My poor widow," Connery howled. He leaned over the dais and wept copiously.

"Was I invited here to witness this baloney?" shrieked Polly in her cracked accent.

"Oh, do shut up, Polly," pitched Mrs. Wembley, "what would you know of love?"

"Martha Wembley, would you please stand up?" Polly snapped bitingly. Martha Wembley did not know why she please stood up.

"I would have known love and I would have known marriage, and I would have known life, if pretty Ms. Delaware there, sitting cozily next to her very masculine hubby, had not abandoned me!"

The crowd raised a collective gasp, and faces turned and footwear screeched, and this hurt Smith, for inducing consternation had been his exclusive preserve. But the scandal was so delicious he let it pass.

"How dare you, Norton?" Rose rushed towards Polly, for there could not be a better time than this to use the pocket knife that Simon had brought for her from France. She grabbed hold of Polly’s hair, took a moment to rummage her purse for the weapon of choice and slit her neck wide open. A spurt of blood fell on Simon’s shirt, his very proper English shirt, which Rose rued. But she remembered the Tide commercial that she had seen on TV last night, and thank God for the New Tide, which assured cleanliness so white, they were marketing free sunglasses with every pack to prevent blindness from its brightness.

It was the placid Mrs. Wembley who gave a start and announced, "I told you! Missy’s book has landed plum reality before reaching the market. Taking lives, my ass!"

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