None of the Early Birds actually knew Milo Grant, but that did not dissuade them from attending his funeral service. Heritage Village provided a van service for group activities off campus and funerals fell in that category. Agnes, who usually welcomed these group trips, even if they only went to Walmart or Kroger’s, found the idea of a senior field trip to Bartlett and Hall’s Memorial Chapel to say “good-bye” or in her case, “hello and goodbye” repugnant, but still didn’t want to turn down a Senior field trip.
With any luck they stop at Shoney’s for lunch on the way back. Ruth thought Agnes’ notion that to attend a funeral just to get out was silly; poor old Milo didn’t have much family according to the gossip. The group from Heritage Village would be standing in for relatives long passed. Besides Ruth and Thelma Louise had met him during the brief time he spent in their wing of the Village. Neither the Reverend nor the Colonel had met him and the Colonel flatly refused to consider paying final respects to a man who he had no knowledge of.
“Perhaps he wasn’t even worthy of respect.” The Colonel asserted, “That would just create some bad Karma.”
“Did he say bad caramel?” Thelma Louise barked at Ruth.
“No,” Ruth replied, lowering her voice in hopes that Thelma Louise would get the hint. She spelled the word, “K-A-R-M-A.”
“I don’t think that’s right. I think it starts with a “C” and ends with an “L”; it usually goes bad when you overcook it.”
Thus engaged neither Thelma Louise nor Ruth followed the discussion that ensued between the Reverend Henry Porter and Colonel Henderson Wilcox about reincarnation and the after life. Agnes envied them their oblivion, but found no good reason to join in either conversation. So after a few minutes, Agnes set out for her apartment.
Approaching her door, she met Pauline Pettigrew carrying Peaches, the toy poodle, her daughter had brought her. The woman looked distraught, so Agnes had no choice but to stop.
“Something wrong, Pauline?”
“It’s Peaches.” Pauline regarded the poodle that looked perfectly fine to Agnes, not that she knew much about poodles. He was conscious, a trifle wiggling and, Oh, My! Agnes thought, as the air filled with a distinctive odor, very flatulent. Pauline caught the look on her face, before Agnes could hide it.
“That’s the problem! She passes gas all the time. I will never be able to entertain again!” Pauline groaned. Agnes didn’t try to keep up with Pauline, but she doubted much entertaining went on in Pauline’s apartment. Too small for one thing. Four people in any of the apartments constituted a crowd. More than that and the living area started to look like a can of sardines.
“Could be her food.” Agnes offered, then before entering the world of canine dietary needs, an area about which she knew not one thing, decided to change the subject. “By the way, Pauline, we were discussing attending Milo Grant’s funeral. Are you going?”
Pauline looked up at her with a baffled expression, wrinkling her nose as another whiff of poodle gas entered the atmosphere. “Who is Milo Grant?” Pauline asked.
“A resident in the Hospice Wing. He passed yesterday and the funeral is tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.”
Pauline brightened. The prospect of a funeral lifted her spirits pushing her concern over her dog’s flatulence to the far corner of her mind. Agnes stifled a smile when Pauline’s voice rose to full political bravado.
“Oh, my, but of course, I try to uphold my late husband’s concern for all the people, both big and small. I certainly must extend my condolences to the family.” She looked down at Peaches. “I’ll just go call my Clarice and have her keep Peaches, while we’re gone.”
Pauline fluttered off cooing to Peaches about the appropriate attire for a funeral. As Pauline prattled away, Agnes wrinkled her nose noticing the fetid smell in the air. For sure, either Peaches, Pauline or both were polluting the air. Inside the apartment, Agnes eyed the lounge chair lustfully, but headed for the computer.
The size of the chicken population necessitated further investigation. For one thing Agnes wanted to explore garden enrichment with chicken litter. As she brought up her internet service, she debated as to what words to use in her search for information.
The dancing line on the Google search bar begged her to enter something. Dropping her poised fingers to the keyboard, she entered “Chicken excrement as fertilizer”, Results 1-10 of about 5,160 sites included such as “Methane Digesters for Fuel Gas and Fertilizer” which dealt with fresh excrement plus bedding material and “Pay Dirt” a look at a new type of chicken dropping pit. My, My, Agnes thought, who would ever image that chicken droppings would command over five thousand web sites?
A laugh surfaced, breaking out with unexpected power. Clear as the sound of a train in the night and passing as quickly she heard Howard’s voice, “Looks like chicken manure is a deep subject. Better wear boots, Aggie.” Her hand shot to her shoulder, half expecting to grab his hand and scold him for reading over her shoulder. Agnes rubbed the spot, feeling a wave of loneliness or maybe just a longing. During the first year after Howard’s fatal heart attack, episodes of sensing his presence or hearing his voice, visited her regularly, but with time fewer occurrences dogged her steps.
Since she moved to Heritage Village the hauntings diminished drastically. She couldn’t remember if Howard had drifted through even once until today. A quick glance around the apartment reassured her that no ghosts, including one as wonderful as Howard lurked. Though the tenor of his voice hinted at mirth—teasing her in a way he had done a thousand times during the nearly fifty years of marriage they had shared— Agnes shivered, sensing his passing through as some kind of omen, a warning.
Turning back to the monitor, she shook off the feeling and scrolled through some of the websites finally choosing to take a virtual tour of a large chicken farm as they collected chicken droppings and rice husks from the floor of a massive chicken coop, bagging it for fertilizer purposes. The sheer magnitude of the product echoed Howard’s words, because at times the workers stood ankle deep in dung.
Helen Marcum entered Mavis’s office without the benefit of announcement or knocking. Mavis cringed. Even though her door was open—a fact Helen pointed out to her, when she indicated, a knock would be appropriate—Even so noted, Mavis felt as if she had been blindsided—again.
Helen was unapologetic, but there was an air about her that Mavis could not identify, the set of her shoulders, the crinkle of fine lines around her mouth and eyes. That was it! Helen’s eyes while bloodshot expressed a sad weariness unseen by Mavis on any other occasion. Her hands clutched something that Mavis could not identify and Helen appeared preoccupied with it and her hands. Mavis recognized a gravity in Helen’s emotions, a weight of sadness, disappointment or something akin to those feelings.
So intrigued with sizing up Helen’s demeanor was Mavis that the silence between them lingered for several moments.Ordinarily, Mavis would be pushing the conversation along eager to get her thorn in the flesh removed and out of her office as quickly as possible.
Helen spoke first, raising her eyes from her hands to meet Mavis’s gaze. They were rimmed in red and a pool of tears—another first, Mavis noted—threatened to spill onto her face.
“I have come to report a theft.” She placed the object in her hands on the desk. It appeared to be a soft sided fake leather pouch for glasses.
Mavis reached across to pick up the case; she turned it over in her hands noticing a clip on onside to secure it in a pocket. The object perplexed her. It appeared empty, but as if that were not obvious, Mavis squeezed the case opened and peered inside. Quite empty, she thought and her audible words echoed her thoughts.
“It’s empty. Did someone take your glasses?” Even as she said it she realized that was absurd. Helen didn’t wear glasses—at least not as far as she knew. Mavis had never seen her even use a pair to read. Mavis braced for Helen’s retort, but none came.
There was a tremor in Helen’s voice when she responded. The sound in any other voice would have catapulted Mavis around the desk to wrap a comforting arm across her shoulder, but with Helen the effect cemented her legs to the floor. For the first time in ages that she heard every word Helen spoke. Usually Mavis was so busy planning her response to Helen that she only half listened to anything Helen said. The tremor in Helen’s voice had the same effect on Mavis that a teacher who whispers has on an unruly class. She settled back and listened. Helen had her full attention.
While Helen explained why the theft of Milo Grant’s glasses upset her so deeply, life went along as scheduled in Heritage Village. Frank and Otto completed the chicken coop and pen. The Reverend and the Colonel discontinued a discussion that had become heated and were playing bridge with Thelma Louise and Ruth.
Pauline combed through her closet looking for an appropriate dress for Milo Grant’s funeral. Peaches scratched, yipped and in general protested the fact that Pauline had shut her onto the balcony of her apartment. Agnes Webster scrolled through the chicken manure websites printing information about using rice hull litter in the coop and roost, cleaning the area and creating a compost pile with the hulls and droppings for use in the garden and Amy Davidson motored down the corridors toward Lydia Brownfield’s room.
The shadows of individuals Amy encountered in the hall spoke as she passed and Amy smiled cordially at each one. Some of the voices were becoming familiar in the way of casual acquaintances. Amy catalogued them in her memory banks based on the height and breadth of their shadows and the tenor of their voices. Voices were like fingerprints to Amy, no two alike. She arranged them as they passed. Long, lean, baritone with a Chicago accent. Big all over, with the gush of breath that accompanied a lateral lisp. For a few she could even assign names based on their voices.
All in all Amy felt pleased with her accomplishments in the few days she’d been at Heritage Village. Dear Mr. Grant had departed, if not on the wings of a dove, at least on the strains of a waltz. Like her mother there had been no reluctance, no hesitation at the door to eternity only the hint of catching one last glance before the portal closed behind him.
Lydia Brownfield might prove a more reluctant traveler. Evidently, though paralyzed from the neck down, she could still communicate verbally. That fact alone heralded adventure. The disease had trapped Lydia’s mouth and mind in a useless body, and the steady decline would within days, months, in slivers of seconds possess her mouth before her mind. ALS ravished its victims sucking every possible movement until the brain alone, the intellect, the personality, the essence of the sufferer remained, but without a single avenue of expression.
Amy shivered in anticipation. Lydia could prove to be an exciting person to usher. The thought titillated Amy. She inhaled sharply, considering her mission.
A challenge would make Lydia’s swan song more thrilling and the finale would be to die for. Breathing deeply, she pushed into the room without benefit of knock or announcement.
This would require a perfect performance. Amy squared her shoulders and advanced.