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“It’s so wonderful to have you here,” he said gloomily, greeting yet another faceless guest at the chapel door, “Great Aunt Louisa would’ve loved to see you, if she were still with us.” He briefly shook hands with the newcomer--a tall woman with a black dress and sad eyes--and then abruptly ushered them into the chapel, hastily preparing himself to receive the next guest. He took a deep breath, smoothed back his hair, and repeated his small spiel.
“It’s so wonderful to have you here,” he sighed, still melancholy in tone, “Great Aunt Louisa would’ve loved to see you, if she were still with us.” He offered his hand to this attendee as well, but it was ignored; the man he had just greeted continued to drift absentmindedly into the church, as if he had never even noticed the other at all. The greeter observed the man’s odd actions behavior for a bit, but quickly shrugged it off and returned to reciting his speech.
“It’s so wonderful to have you here…” The thudding baritone echoed loudly, its sound seeming to bounce off of the walls of the vestibule. The newest attendee peered back at the greeter momentarily, but quickly turned away and continued to wander solemnly through the foyer. He traveled silently through the large room with gross disinterest, taking no notice of the chic furnishings that decorated this antechamber--the well-polished and bejeweled crosses on the walls; the exquisite lavender curtains, richly colored and intricately embroidered with biblical scenes, including that of the Last Supper; the elegant burgundy chairs with iridescent fabric, all sitting in a concentric pattern around a blazing hearth, each available, awaiting a worthy buttocks. Instead, with eyes cast to the floor, he walked distractedly into the body of the church, taking a seat in the pew furthest from the altar. The furious prattle of funeral goers floated through the air, filling the room with a slightly irksome buzz. Bits and pieces of conversation were audible to him:
“Such a darned shame… and she was such a wonderful woman…”
“Poor girl was barely over seventy years old. Cut down in the prime of life…”
“…I feel terrible, just terrible for the family… Just imagine how they must be coping with this horrible tragedy…”
“You know, I heard that she once found an injured flamingo on the side of the road and nursed it back to health…”
“What a great, remarkable woman…”
“She was a saint…”
“Such a tragedy…” The inane chatter flooded his mind; he felt as though his brain might burst from aggravation at any moment. His eyes moved about the room, studying the mourners’ faces. Not one hint of emotion existed within any of them--he found the occasional flicker of compassion, yes, but it was ridiculously short-lived, and died almost immediately. No one was the slightest bit upset--they were at a funeral, and no one was sad. The irony was so delicious he could hardly suppress his laughter.
Everyone took their seats. The ceremony was beginning. A priest appeared and made his way to the left of the altar, where the podium stood. In front of him lay a shiny, ebony coffin, and inside of that, a pallid, withered body, clownishly plastered with all things cosmetic--a burlesque of a human being.
“Dearly beloved,” he began, clearing his throat nervously, “We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of Miss Louisa Parkinson--a cherished, highly respected matriarch of the community. The man, finding humor in the parson’s words, began to cough loudly, hoping to stifle the bout of chuckles that dared to rise in his throat. The priest, perhaps simply ignoring the sputtering mourner, continued.
“Louisa was a kind, gentle woman; a loving and respectful daughter; and… well…” the priest tugged anxiously at the collar of his shirt. Beads of sweat began to form on his pale forehead. “Well, uh… let’s move on, shall we?
“During her lifetime, Louisa performed many great and charitable deeds. Though she never had children of her own, she acted often as a foster mother to many poor, unfortunate, underprivileged children, who lived on the streets and hardly--” The man began to cough louder now, hacking with such volume and intensity it seemed that he truly would spit out a lung. Fifty heads turned to stare at him--their one hundred blank eyes followed. He carried on for a little while, but gestured frantically, encouraging the priest to continue the eulogy.
“All… right…” he said, raising an eyebrow in bemusement, “Anyhow, she provided many young children with a temporary home. It is also known that she had a great love for animals. In fact, she once rescued and nursed an injured flamingo back to--” The uproarious coughing, which had somewhat abated during these past few sentences, had surfaced again.
“…Excuse me, sir?” the priest called meekly, “Are you… feeling all right?” The shaken pastor was signaled to continue.
“Well,” said the reverend, slightly flustered, ,”Let’s move on now… to something else.
“Louisa was a fine woman. She accomplished many great things in her life--she plundered countless Pharaohs’ tombs throughout Egypt, participated in building the world’s first nuclear warhead, and even played a significant role in the discovery of Pluto!” The vicar attempted to raise his fist in amazement, but, as he clumsily lifted his hand, accidentally knocked a black vase of roses, an object virtually unnoticeable against the rest of the dreary black décor, off of the podium. The fragile glass vessel fell with a crash onto the coffin and shattered, sending jagged shards flying through the air as it spilled its murky, stagnant water and dozen wet, sparkling roses on the prone body of Aunt Louisa. The unsettling noise echoed through the chapel, the stunned guests gaping in amazement at its source. Suddenly, a bout of laughter erupted from somewhere in the back of the church. One hundred eyes, this time yielding some intimation of emotion--mostly perplexity--were drawn to this strange man once more.
There, in his lonely pew he sat, the man who had sputtered like a poorly repaired engine during the eulogy, now chuckling uncontrollably. He giggled for a few moments more, the hungry, curious eyes of the shocked spectators following his every movement. Finally, he calmed himself, cleared his throat, and stood up.
“Excuse me,” he snickered, fussing with the cuffs of his dressy shirt, “Excuse me, dear sirs and madams… but don’t you all find this just a tad… funny?” Just like that he began again his obnoxious laughter, clutching his stomach and stumbling about like a drunk, though intoxicated by mirth alone. The crowd stared at him blankly.
“Don’t you?” he asked, “Don’t you just…” He stopped mid-phrase. A sly smile crept onto his face. “…That’s quite all right, ladies and gents, as I’ve the perfect solution. Here, allow me to be the gentleman and rightly explain this joke to you all.
“Great Aunt Louisa… well, to be frank… was an absolutely terrible, horrid woman! She doesn’t even deserve to be called a woman! She was a witch, a troll, a slimy goblin…” he pondered this for a moment, “…Some kind of monstrosity, anyhow. Whatever beast suits you best.
“We shouldn’t even have this funeral! She’s dead, folks--finally dead! How long have we been awaiting this joyous day! We should be celebrating! The fat, old broad has finally popped her clogs!” With that, he began to whoop and cheer excitedly, tears of joy parading down his reddened cheeks.
“Isn’t it just so wonderful, folks?” he cried, running a hand across his face. The guests sat in their pews watching him, simply staring in astonishment. All was silent for a moment, excluding the boisterous caterwauling of the man, who had begun to sing a cacophonous, but quite jolly, tune. After a few minutes of dumbly gaping, the shocked expressions of the group became aggravated murmurs, which quickly dissolved into shouts of contempt.
“How dare you!” screamed one of the many furious, veiled, black-clad women, rising from her pew and storming down the aisle to confront the man in his own, “You are an absolute disgrace!” She received hollers of approval from the crowd.
“How dare you!” they chorused, “Disgrace! Disgrace!” Another man stood up to address him.
“Someone, please! Take this, this… filth away!” he commanded, “Take him away!”
“Please! Please!” parroted the group, “Take him away!” The greeter, as urbane in appearance as ever, rushed in, hearing the heated commotion, and grabbed the now-unpopular man by the tails of his suit jacket. He wrestled the resistant man into his grasp, the unwelcome guest kicking and screaming at the congregation during the struggle.
“You fools!” he cried, “You bloody fools! You know just as well as I do! You know! You know that--” The greeter clapped a firm hand over his mouth and pulled him from the room. The priest--who had cowered beneath the altar during the entire angry spectacle--now reappeared at the podium, fully recovered from his surprised. Sensing the crowd’s collective relaxation upon the removal of the offending man, he continued with the ceremony as the once-irate guests calmly filed back to their seats.
The service went just as planned--there were no other disturbances. After mass and burial had ended, the final goodbyes to the deceased given, a reception was held in the basement of the chapel. Few words were spoken in the aftermath of the funeral over bland, tasteless refreshments, including small, moldy sandwiches and weak alcohol. Small clusters of guests gathered in corners of the room, occasionally discussing some unimportant current event, usually divulged by a tabloid, while others wandered aimlessly about the area, sipping the sour wine while attempting to digest the nearly inedible offerings.
However, despite the noticeable lack in conversation, at one point during the reception the guests gathered together in the center of the room, to toast the deceased.
“To dear Auntie Louisa!” exclaimed a tall, lanky man, raising his glass high in the air.
“Here, here!” called the crowd in response, respectfully gulping down their repulsive drinks. A second man stepped forward, his glass already in the air.
“And, of course,” he said, absentmindedly tipping the goblet a spilling a bit of wine on the brim of his hat, “To that poor, brave fellow in the back of the church. Sure, we all hated that terrible hag, but it was the woman’s funeral, for God’s sake! We all knew to keep our peace, to give the woman an appropriate send-off!” Man heads nodded in agreement.
“That poor, poor chap,” he continued, shaking his head as the rest of the congregation attempted to choke down more of the disgusting wine, “Certainly we all hated the blasted woman--he was simply the only one daft enough to say it aloud!”