DEAD GIRLS ARE EASY
“Ech - can you believe that woman? As if my Morty would ever be interested in a skinny kvetcher like Gladys Finch.”
Irene and I stood in the shade of a large oak, watching as a simple pine coffin was lowered into the ground. ‘My Morty’ was a chubby, balding man in his sixties who stood at the edge of the grave and wept openly, round cheeks wet with tears. Clinging to his arm, murmuring comfort, was a thin woman who couldn’t look more like her name if cliché were the rule.
There were no flowers, no songs. The turnout was decent, though, for at least thirty people were gathered to lay Irene Goldblatt to rest. All the mourners wore black, of course, stark figures outlined against the gray tombstones. They listened in respectful silence to a reading of Psalms, standing still as clothed statues ruffled by the breeze.
“She’s had her eye on my Morty for years,” Irene said. “Owns the condo next door.” Another sniff and pat to her hair. “But he’s tasted her cooking - she’ll never have my Morty.”
The Rodeph Shalom cemetery was a peaceful place, a huge mosaic of green grass, stone and marble. The serenity invited you to stay and visit, to linger on shaded benches and listen to the silence.
“Don’t you want him to be happy again?”
Irene gave me a look. “Of course I do, dear. That’s why you’re here, remember? I don’t want my Morty to live with guilt on his conscience. But I know my husband - he’d never be happy with a woman who can’t cook and constantly whines about how her kids never come visit.” She threw up her hands. “Why should they come visit? So they can get stomach aches?”
Irene’s gossiping seemed out of place given the solemnity of the occasion, and besides - I didn’t care. This sweet little Jewish grandmother had been driving me crazy for two days, and I wanted my life back. “Shhhh. You dragged me all the way out here to see this. I wanna hear the Rabbi.”
He’d lowered the Psalms and was reciting something from memory, eyes closed and face lifted to the sun. I didn’t understand the language, but the cadence of the words was beautiful.
“Kaddish.” Irene murmured. “A mourner’s prayer.”
We listened together in silence. Morty’s sobs, muted during the prayer, became sniffles as the Rabbi finished his prayer and stepped back, away from the grave. Then the sniffles stopped, leaving only the rustle of wind in the trees, soft as a sigh of farewell.
Morty bent and scooped up a handful of dirt, tossing it into the yawning hole. One by one, others came forward and did the same, touching Morty sympathetically on the shoulder or murmuring a word in his ear as they filed past. They moved in knots and clusters down the hill toward their parked cars, leaving Morty to stand, obviously grief-stricken, by the grave. Gladys tried to draw him away, but he shook his head. Whatever he said to the woman sent her trailing reluctantly after the others. He then stood alone, staring woodenly down at the coffin, as two men with shovels moved in to cover it forever.
“He doesn’t want to let you go.” I turned to Irene, expecting to see her cheeks wet with tears. Instead, I found her serene and smiling, eyes alight in a way I hadn’t noticed before.
“We’ll be together again soon enough,” she said, as though there were no doubt. “I’ll be waiting for him.”
Remembering the Light, it all seemed so clear, and so simple. I knew why Irene wasn’t sad. I swallowed hard, suddenly wondering who would be waiting for me when my time came.
“What do you want me to say to Morty?” The memory of the Light beckoned, drawing me as well as Irene. For the first time, I felt Irene’s impatience as though it were my own.
“You tell him that ‘the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’.”
“What?” Peaceful visions of everlasting understanding splintered.
“You heard me, dear. He’ll understand.” Irene wasn’t looking at me. She was watching her Morty. “Then you do this.“
To my astonishment, Irene recited in a sing-song voice, curtseying midway, “Schlemeil, schlemozzle, Hahsenfeffer Incorporated.”
“You want me to sing the theme song from “Laverne and Shirley?” I’d watched enough weekend reruns to recognize it. What she was asking was just too much. “He’ll think I’m a lunatic!”
She reached out to pat my hand, but stopped short. I wouldn’t have felt it anyway. I’d already learned that Irene could be seen and heard, but she had little or no influence on the physical world. “Don’t worry, dear. It’s our little code. Just do it.”
“Oh, jeez,” I muttered.
“And by the way - “ she smiled with such sweetness my heart clenched, “ - thank you.” Irene faded, but I knew she was still there. I knew it as surely as I knew my own name.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped from the shadows and marched toward Morty.
He didn’t notice me at first. The rhythmic sound of shoveling - scrape, plop, scrape, plop - had a hypnotic quality. Morty was crying again, silently this time, while the two men doing the shoveling stoically ignored him. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time they’d filled in a grave while family watched.
“Nice day, huh?” Oh, my God. Great opener there, Nicki.
Morty barely glanced at me before he went back to watching the hole fill with dirt. He didn’t answer, mopping at his face with a crumpled tissue.
“What I mean is, at least it’s not raining. You know, like in Spain.”
“Miss, I don’t know who you are, but I’m burying my wife.” Irene’s Morty had a voice like gravel, no doubt hoarse from weeping. His plump face crumpled, then steadied. “I don’t have any money, and I’d appreciate it if you moved along.”
He thought I was a either a hooker or a vagrant! That’s what dressing funky could get you - totally typecast. Either my heavy mascara and dark red lipstick branded me a vamp, or my waifish build and vintage clothes labeled me a beggar. Which was it? Desperate to get Irene’s message over with, I blurted, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”
Morty’s eyes widened. “Are you all right, Miss?”
Now he thought I was a lunatic hooker/bum. Great.
“Mr. Goldblatt, your wife wants you to know that your matzo balls weren’t dry and that it wasn’t your fault she choked on one.” Morty’s mouth fell open. “And she said you’d understand if I did this - schlemeil, schlemozzle, Hahsenfeffer Incorporated.”
The rhythm of the shovels ceased as all three men gaped, but I didn’t care. It was done, it was over, and I was free.
“I’m sorry about your wife.” I started backing up, away from the grave. “Bye-bye.”
Then I turned and ran like hell, ignoring Morty’s delayed shout. “Miss . . . Miss . . . come back . . .”
I ran all the way to my car. I’d parked it at the base of the hill, far enough away that no one could easily read the license number, but not so far I couldn’t reach it pretty quick.
I thought I was home free when I grabbed the door handle ¾ until someone called my name.
“Dr. Bascombe?” I couldn’t believe the timing. “What are you doing here?”
He was wearing a black suit. Dolce and Gabbana, unless I missed my guess. The tie was a blue patterned silk, crisply knotted. He looked well-tailored and well-off, and so unlike the two previous times we’d met that it was no wonder I hadn’t recognized him among the mourners. Just showed how eager I was to be rid of Irene that I could miss a hunk like that, even if corporate boytoy wasn’t my usual taste.
“Call me Joe.” He smiled, and my heart did that annoying flip thing it does. At least now I knew why - not true love, just a heart defect. “Irene Goldblatt’s obituary was in the paper. I came to pay my respects.” He hesitated. “But I was really looking for you.”
My radar went up. “As my doctor or . . . “ I let the question dangle, very curious to hear the answer. A quick glance at the mirrored surface of my car window confirmed I was looking pretty good - hardly the weak, pale creature he’d known in the hospital. I’d just run down a hill and was barely out of breath. My heart was as reliably unreliable as ever, so why was Dr. Handsome looking for me?
“Research, actually.” I blinked at my reflection, not expecting that one. “You know the paper on near death experiences I’ve always wanted to write? I’m going to do it, and I wondered whether you’d consider being my first test subject.”
“Your what?” The words ‘test’ and ‘subject’ were not in my vocabulary. “I really don’t like the sound of that.”
So much for my delusions of vanity - Mr. Cute Doctor was here to do a sanity check.
“You should see your face.” Joe laughed, looking truly amused. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I was just hoping you’d agree to an interview so I could record your experience. Your impressions, your feelings.” He leaned against my car and kept talking. “How it’s changed you.”
I still didn’t like the sound of this, and I liked even less that he’d hit on the one thing that was bothering me. For the experience had changed me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be changed.
“No thanks, Doc.” I unlocked the car door and opened it, forcing him to step back a pace. “I’ve already forgotten most of it, and I’m the same old Nicki Styx I was before. No life changing revelations here.”
“Oh, really?” The skeptical tone of his voice was unmistakable. I turned, hand on the door.
“I suppose the old Nicki Styx was in the habit of approaching grieving widowers and singing the theme from a 70’s sitcom?”
I was mortified. He’d seen me make a fool of myself. “Laverne and Shirley,” I said icily. “And it’s none of your business what my habits are. I do a lovely rendition of ‘Gilligan’s Island’, too - but I save it for Bar Mitzvahs.”