Friday, March 18, 2011

You Taught Me Well

Fiction Friday prompt: The one thing your character regrets learning the most is…. 

Louisa sat to one side and watched the room. Two or three people would enter the room together, never just one, and glance around. They would see the casket on the far side of the room and venture toward it. They would approach slowly, almost as if it were a skittish animal that would bolt if walked upon quickly.

The small group would stand, hands behind backs, staring down at Jeremy in the highly polished ebony box. Sage nods. A few quiet words about mortality or the quality of his appearance would pass among them. They would turn, almost as one, and scan the room.

At some point, one of the group would spy Louisa and they would move toward her, more purposefully than they did the casket.

Louisa stood to meet them.

“So sorry, Louisa.”

“He was so young.”

“We’re just devastated about it.”

“He looks so natural, like he’s sleeping.”

“If there’s anything we can do….”

“We can’t imagine this place without him.”

Louisa would nod and mumble and shake hands through the chorus. They would turn and move away. Louisa would sit and watch for the next crew of mourners.

As the crowd thinned and trickled to the corners of the house, Louisa twisted a black lace handkerchief. “Oh, Jeremy,” she said quietly to the dead man. “I so loved you. I would never have become the mistress of an estate or known how to even try to run a household without you. You were a worthy teacher and I your willing pupil.”

She dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief, stood, and walked toward the casket. “You taught me so much,” she whispered to the ashen face. “Much more than most husbands must teach their wives. Most men in your position marry women who have been trained from girlhood which fork to use for which course and what linen rotation means. They know proper greetings for every possible type of guest, from ambassador to Bollywood starlet.”

Louisa turned to make sure no one was close by. The mourners had all retreated to the outer rooms, finding snacks or their coats. A funeral home man stood near the door. He looked at her when she moved.

A slight bow. “Do you require anything, ma’am?”

“Just a few minutes alone, please.”

“Of course, ma’am.” He stepped backward through the double doors and closed them softly.

Louisa looked back at Jeremy. “I was so glad to learn it all, Jeremy. I even enjoyed learning your hobbies. Collecting stamps. Bird watching. Obscure theatrical trivia.”

Louisa sighed. “All but one. I should not have followed your interest in pharmacology. I became quite adept. Or perhaps I should not have followed you on your late night excursions. Yes, those two skills that I developed from you. I regret that. Following you and discovering who you truly loved. Not me but her. Or at least that’s the impression you gave her. And of all the things I have learned from you, selfishness is the strongest. I could not share you, Jeremy, so pharmacology came into play. So now you will only be mine, Jeremy. She will not be able to visit you in the family cemetery as I will every day.”

Louisa lowered the lid of the casket, the click echoing in the almost empty room. “You taught me well, Jeremy. You taught me well.”