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Chapter 9
Memorial Service
-1-
Fond Farewell

I didn’t go to church Sunday morning. I felt exhausted and Dad said I probably was depressed from what had been going on lately. I slept in, then spent the morning reading a ridiculous, but thoroughly entertaining “teen romance.” I had mixed feelings about going to the memorial service for Nancy Parker, but Mrs. Wilson called and said she would be by to pick me up on her way. She sounded eager to see me, and I didn’t have the heart to back out.

I was afraid I might be conspicuous at this service, however, nobody seemed to be paying any attention to me, because they were watching the Parkers. Boy, this was hard. I knew these people; had known them all my life. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. Something unusual. Someone here who shouldn’t be or not here who should be. Also, I needed to watch those who had ties to New York.

Maybe this was a waste of time. It would take money for New York trips. Doc and the professor had the money for annual trips, but few other citizens did. Most of our little town is middle class with middle class values. Those same values brought them to a memorial service of an almost stranger. I began to doubt any hope of finding the murderer lurking about at Ferguson’s.

You need to understand the culture of a small town death. If the Parkers had lived in Connors Station, the ritual would have started with food taken to their home on the first few days following the death. Visiting mourners dispensed sympathy while presenting casseroles in disposable dishes, canned preserves, chocolate cakes, and fruit pies. Viewing of the body would take place the evening before the funeral. Friends and family members would reminisce about the deceased, remembering every wonderful and humorous incident in both public and private life. The funeral would be the next day with a sermon from the preacher of the decease’s congregation, or by Mr. Ferguson, if church going was not part of the lifestyle of their dearly departed.

Of course, this situation was different – no visits and no funeral. I wasn’t sure how I felt about seeing Miss Parker, but whatever work Ferguson did, she had to look better than the way I remembered her. Mr. Ferguson learned his business from his father. Familiarity with everyone in town made it possible for them to capture the little quirks of a person’s face perfectly. The old saying, “Why they look so lifelike!” applied to the work Ferguson did. I wondered how he’d fared with Miss Parker, someone not familiar to him.

When Mrs. Wilson picked me up, she gestured, moving her hands from the top of her head down with a smile. I knew she was referring to my hated dress. The only time you see me in a dress is when it is inappropriate to dress in anything else. I even wear dress pants to church most Sundays.

We agreed to stay separate at the service and compare notes later.
When we arrived, everyone was filing respectfully into the viewing area, past the open coffin. Mrs. Parker latched onto my arm as soon as she saw me, and the two of us led the way with Mr. Parker trailing behind. It became completely silent and I felt all eyes on us. Everyone wanted to hear Mrs. Parker’s reaction when she saw her daughter. Mr. Ferguson lingered as inconspicuously as possible next to a large potted palm just behind the coffin.

“Oh, Henry, doesn’t she look just beautiful? Why, that dress is almost exactly like the one she wore when she was in that play. Her hair and everything.” Ferguson took two steps forward. “Why Mr. Ferguson, how did you ever know?”

“My dear lady, that is why I wanted to have her here. I would not wish anyone to see the body of their dear departed in any but the best possible circumstances. We do want to remember those we love at their best, now don’t we?”

I closed my eyes, counted to five, said a little prayer – for myself, I admit, not the dear departed or her parents – and peaked at Miss Parker. Her mother was right; she looked simply wonderful. She certainly didn’t look dead! Ferguson knew his stuff. I expected for a moment her eyes would open, she’d thank us for the nice little nap, and sashay out the door into the sunlit day. I was glad I came. My mental images of the body on the path were fading. They would have left completely if Grace Glisson hadn’t interrupted my reverie.

“Are you all right, Courtney? You look a bit pallid.”

“Just fine, Mrs. Glisson.”

“Well, move along then dear. We do all want to pay our respects, you know.” She really wanted to satisfy her curiosity. Mrs. Parker’s comments guaranteed everyone attending would view this body, even those who always refrained at other times.

Those who were older took seats with the rest of us standing at the rear. I tuned out most of what Brother Sherwood said and looked around to see if anyone was missing who might reasonably be expected to attend. Betty from the Downtown Diner must be preparing for her Saturday night crowd. Also missing was anyone employed on weekends – local small business owners and weekend workers. Most of the crowd were older or part of the professional members of our community – doctors, lawyers, teachers, and owners of larger businesses who could leave their stores in the hands of a manager. I saw Carol Jenkins, the owner of Carol’s Cut and Curl, the only hair salon in Connors station. She had a woman I did not recognize with her. There wasn’t anyone missing that should be here, nor did I see any strangers.

The soloist from the Methodist church in town sang Psalm 23, too loudly in my opinion. After the closing prayer, non-specifically sending Nancy to her unknown resting place, people milled around, reluctant to leave before the Parkers.

Let’s see. If I were at the memorial service for a young woman I killed, where would I be? Probably where nobody would notice me. And where was that? In the most unlikely place – the middle of everybody.

My eyes went to the center of the crowd in the viewing area. I looked for a man. Alone, well off, single, but not necessarily. Okay, I saw George Gallagher, the newspaper publisher. That made sense; he was here in a professional capacity. With him were my paper customers Doc Daniel and Professor Finch. They weren’t the curious types, but they both had a reason to be here, since they had known Nancy.

I moved close enough to hear their conversation.

“Why so much interest in this Parker woman, George?”

“Natural curiosity, Professor. My article in the paper probably contributed. And remember, small town life can get boring, especially for folks who watch all those crime stories on television. What do you think, Doc?”

“Well, I’m here in a semi-professional capacity. As the only doctor in town, I think it is only right I attend. Those poor parents!”  

Okay, they weren’t mentioning they knew Dawn Davis, which seemed a bit strange. Maybe they had their reasons. After all, Gallagher is the newspaper editor.

As I stood looking around for any other likely prospects, Mr. Ferguson emerged from his office with a red-eyed, weepy Mrs. Parker. Mr. Parker looked relieved of a huge burden. A smile even played around his mouth.
“Folks, can I have your attention, please. The Parkers have decided to go ahead and bury their dear departed daughter here in Connors Station.” The crowd murmured a low babble of surprise and anticipation. Mr. Ferguson continued, “In addition to the memorial service now, we will have the funeral at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. The Parkers would like all of you to attend.”

The crowd slowly filed past a prosperous looking Mr. Ferguson standing with the Parkers. People received a renewed invitation to the funeral as they shook hands and offered condolences.

My dad didn’t look happy. I realized he would spend most of his Sunday afternoon escorting the body to the grave site and directing traffic after the end of the graveside services.

I was in line with everyone else and, when I reached the Parkers, Mrs. Parker grabbed my hand and said, “Courtney, thank you again for being here. Please sit with Mr. Parker and me tomorrow afternoon. I would like my daughter’s death finalized with your presence. It seems fitting.” I shivered, because the invitation sounded ominous.
 


Comments

03/06/2017 5:08am

Another story for me to add to my reading list. I was reading and didn't noticed that I was in chapter 9. That's the reason why I am so confused. HAHA. But then, I found this story very interesting, so I will make sure to read this after I finished reading my current book.

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I will definitely read this story. I think that maybe I should start from the very first chapter. I love your style of writing. It's unique and fearless. I know that there are a lot of writers and good story out there but this is one of those stories that has a meaning to it. It didn't just sprout from somewhere. I can say that it came from the vast imagination of the writer.

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Susan Box Mann, Writer