Only a small group of mourners gathered for this service. Junior and Naomi had been so intensely involved with each other that, unlike many young married couples, they had made few friends.
The Hackachaks were present, of course. Junior had not yet agreed to join them in their pursuit of blood money. They would give him little privacy or rest until they had what they wanted.
Rudy's blue suit, as usual, pinched and shorted his shambling frame. Here in a boneyard, he appeared to be not just a man with a bad tailor, but a grave robber who looted the dead for his wardrobe.
Against the backdrop of granite monuments, Kaitlin hulked like a moldering presence from Beyond, risen out of a rotting box to take vengeance on the living.
Rudy and Kaitlin frequently glared at Junior, and Sheena most likely gouged him with her gaze, too, but he couldn't quite see her eyes through her black veil. A stunning figure in her tight black dress, a bereaved mother was likewise hampered by this accessory of grief, because she had to hold her wristwatch close to her face to see the time, when more than once the service seemed interminable.
Junior intended to capitulate later today, at a gathering of family and friends. Rudy had organized a buffet in the showroom at his new Ford dealership, which he'd closed for business until three o'clock: lamentations, lunch, and moving reminiscences of the deceased shared among the shiny new Thunderbirds, Galaxies, and Mustangs. That venue would provide Junior with the witnesses he required for his reluctant, tearful, and perhaps even angry concession to the Hackachaks' insistent materialism.
Elsewhere in the cemetery, about 150 yards away, another interment service-with a much larger group of mourners-had begun prior to this one for Naomi. Now it was over, and the people were dispersing to their cars.
From a distance and through a scattering of trees, Junior wasn't able to discern much about the other funeral, but he was pretty sure many if not most of that crowd were Negroes. He surmised, therefore, that the person being buried was a Negro, too.
This surprised him. Of course, Oregon was not the Deep South. It was a progressive state. Nevertheless, he was surprised. Oregon wasn't home to many Negroes, either, a handful compared to those in other states, and yet until now Junior supposed that they had their own cemeteries.
He had nothing against Negroes. He didn't wish them ill. He wasn't prejudiced. Live and let live. He believed that as long as they stayed with their own kind and abided by the rules of a polite society, like everyone else, they had a right to live in peace.
This colored person's grave, however, was uphill of Naomi's. Over time, as the body decomposed up there, its juices would mix with the soil. When rain saturated the ground, subsurface drainage would carry those juices steadily downslope, until they seeped into Naomi's grave 'let mingled with her remains. This seemed highly inappropriate to Junior.
Nothing he could do about it now. Having Naomi's body moved to another grave, in a cemetery without Negroes, would cause a lot of talk. He didn't want to draw more attention to himself.
He decided, however, to see an attorney about a will—-and soon. He wanted to specify that he was to be cremated and that his ashes were to be entombed in one of those memorial walls, well above ground level, where nothing was likely to seep into them.
Only one member of the distant funeral party did not disperse toward the line of cars on the service road. A man in a dark suit headed downhill, between the headstones and the monuments, directly toward Naomi's grave.
Junior couldn't imagine why some Negro stranger would want to intrude. He hoped there wouldn't be trouble.
The minister had finished. The service was over. No one came to Junior with condolences, because they would see him again shortly, at the Ford dealership buffet.
By now he recognized that the man approaching from the other graveside service was neither a Negro nor a stranger. Detective Thomas Vanadium was annoying enough to be an honorary Hackachak.
Junior considered leaving before Vanadium-still seventy-five yards away-arrived. He was afraid he would appear to be fleeing.
The funeral director and his assistant were the only people, other than Junior, remaining at the grave. They asked if they might lower the casket or if he would rather that they wait until he was gone.
Junior gave them permission to proceed.
The two men detached and rolled up the pleated green skirt that hung from the rectangular frame of the graveyard winch on which the casket was suspended. Green, rather than black, because Naomi loved nature: Junior had been thoughtful about the details of the service.
Now the hole was revealed. Damp earthen walls. In the shadow of the casket, the bottom of the grave was dark and hidden from view.
Vanadium arrived and stood beside Junior. His black suit was cheap, but it fit better than Rudy's.
The detective carried a single long-stemmed white rose.
Two cranks operated the winch.. The mortician and his assistant turned the handles in unison, and as the mechanism creaked softly, the casket slowly descended into the hole.
Finally Vanadium said, “According to the lab report, the baby she was carrying was almost certainly yours."
Junior said nothing. He was still upset with Naomi for hiding the pregnancy from him, but he was delighted that the baby would have been his. Now Vanadium couldn't claim that Naomi's infidelity and the resultant bastard had been the motive for murder.
Even as this news pleased Junior, it also saddened him. He was not merely interring a lovely wife, but also his first child. He was burying his family.
Refusing to give the cop the satisfaction of a reply to the news of the unborn baby's paternity, Junior stared unwaveringly into the grave and said, “Whose funeral were you attending?"
“A friend's daughter. They say she died in a traffic accident down in San Francisco. She was even younger than Naomi."
“Tragic. Her string's been cut too soon. Her music's ended prematurely,” Junior said, feeling confident enough to dish a serving of the maniac cop's half-baked theory of life back to him. “There's a discord in he universe now, Detective. No one can know how the vibrations of that discord will come to affect you, me, all of us."
Repressing a smirk, feigning a respectful solemnity, he dared to glance at Vanadium, but the detective stared into Naomi's grave as though he hadn't heard the mockery-or, having heard it, didn't recognize it for what it was.
Then Junior saw the blood on the right cuff of Vanadium's shirt. Blood dripping from his hand, too.
The thorns had not been stripped from the long stem of the white rose. Vanadium clutched it so tightly that the sharp points punctured his meaty palm. He seemed to be unaware of his wounds.
Suddenly and seriously creeped out, Junior wanted to get away from this nut case. Yet he was frozen by morbid fascination.
“This momentous day,” Thomas Vanadium said quietly, stiff gazing into the grave, “seems full of terrible endings. But like every day, it's actually full of nothing but beginnings."
With a solid thump, Naomi's fine casket reached the bottom of the hole.
This sure looked like an ending to Junior.
“This momentous day,” the detective murmured.
Deciding that he didn't need an exit line, Junior headed toward the service road and his Suburban.
The pendulous bellies of the rain-swollen clouds were no darker than when he had first come to the cemetery, yet they appeared more ominous now than earlier.
When he reached the Suburban, he looked back toward the grave.
The mortician and his assistant had nearly finished dismantling the frame of the winch. Soon a worker would close the hole.
While Junior watched, Vanadium extended his right arm over the open grave. In his hand: the white rose, its thorns slick with his blood. He dropped the bloom, and it fell out of sight, into the gaping earth, atop Naomi's casket.
On this Monday evening, with both Phimie and the sun having traveled into darkness, Celestina sat down to dinner with her mother and her father in the dining room of the parsonage.
Other members of the family, friends, and parishioners were all gone. Uncanny quiet filled the house.
Always before, this home had been full of love and warmth; and still it was, although from time to time, Celestina felt a fleeting chill that couldn't be attributed to a draft. Never previously had this house seemed in the least empty, but an emptiness invaded it now-the void left by her lost sister.
In the morning she would return to San Francisco with her mom.
She was reluctant to leave Daddy to adapt to this emptiness alone.
Nevertheless, they must leave without delay. The baby would be released from the hospital as soon as a minor infection cleared up. Now that Grace and the reverend had been granted temporary custody pending adoption, preparations had to be made for Celestina to be able to fulfill her commitment to raise the child.
As usual, dinner was by candlelight. Celestina's parents were romatics.
Also, they believed that gracious dining has a civilizing effect on children, even if the fare is frequently simple meat loaf.
They were not among those Baptists who forsook drink, but they served wine only on special occasions. At the first dinner following a funeral, after the prayers and the tears, family tradition required a toast to the dearly departed. A single glass. Merlot.
On this occasion, the flickering candlelight contributed not to a romantic mood, not to merely a civilizing ambience, but to a reverential hush.
With slow, ceremonial grace, her father opened the bottle and served three portions. His hands trembled.
Reflections of lambent candle flames gilded the curved bowls of the long-stemmed glasses.
They gathered at one end of the dining table. The dark purple wine shimmered with ruby highlights when Celestina raised her glass.
The reverend made the first toast, speaking so softly that his tremulous words seemed to bloom in Celestina's mind and heart rather than to fall upon her ears. “To gentle Phimie, who is with God."
Grace said, “To my sweet Phimie ... who will never die."
The toast now came to Celestina. “To Phimie, who will be with me in memory every hour of every day for the rest of my life, until she is with me again for real. And to ... to this most momentous day."
“To this momentous day,” her father and mother repeated.
The wine tasted bitter, but Celestina knew that it was sweet. The bitterness was in her, not in the legacy of the grape.
She felt that she had failed her sister. She didn't know what more she could have done, but if she'd been wiser and more insightful and more attentive, surely this terrible loss would not have come to pass.
What good was she to anybody, what good could she ever hope to be, if she couldn't even save her little sister?
Candle flames blurred into bright smears, and the faces of her good parents shimmered like the half-seen countenances of angels in dreams.
I know what you're thinking,” her mother said, reaching across the table and placing one hand over Celestina's. “I know how useless you feel, how helpless, how small, but you must remember this . . .
Her father gently closed one of his big hands over theirs.
Grace, proving again the aptness of her name, said the one thing most likely, in time, to bring true peace to Celestina. “Remember Bartholomew."
THE RAIN THAT HAD threatened to wash out the morning funeral finally rinsed the afternoon, but by nightfall the Oregon sky was clean and dry. From horizon to horizon spread an infinity of icy stars, and at the center of them hung a bright sickle moon as silver as steel.
Shortly before ten o'clock, Junior returned to the cemetery and left his Suburban where the Negro mourners had parked earlier in the day. His was the only vehicle on the service road.
Curiosity brought him here. Curiosity and a talent for self-preservation. Earlier, Vanadium had not come to Naomi's graveside as a mourner. He had been there as a cop, on business. Perhaps he had been at the other funeral on business, too.
After following the blacktop fifty feet, Junior headed downhill through the close-cropped grass, between the tombstones. He switched on his flashlight and trod cautiously, for the ground sloped unevenly and, in places, remained soggy and slippery from the rain.
The silence in this city of the dead was complete. The night lay breathless, stirring not one whisper from the stationed evergreens that stood sentinel over generations of bones.
When he located the new grave, approximately where he'd guessed that it would be, he was surprised to find a black granite headstone already set in place, instead of a temporary marker painted with the of the deceased. This memorial was modest, neither large nor complicated in design. Nevertheless, often the carvers in this line of business followed days after the morticians, because the stones to which they applied their craft demanded more labor and less urgency than the cold bodies that rested under them.
Junior assumed the dead girl had come from a family of stature in the Negro community, which would explain the stonecarver's accelerated service. Vanadium, according to his own words, was a friend of the family; consequently, the father was most likely a police officer.
Junior approached the headstone from behind, circled it, and shone the flashlight on the chiseled facts:
... beloved daughter and sister...Seraphim Aethionema White.
Stunned, he switched off the flashlight.
He felt naked, exposed, caught.
In the chilly darkness, his breath plumed visibly, frosted by moonlight. The rapidity and raggedness of his radiant exhalations would have marked him as a guilty man if witnesses had been present.
He hadn't killed this one, of course. A traffic accident. Wasn't that what Vanadium had said? Ten months ago, following tendon surgery for a leg injury, Seraphim had been an outpatient at the rehab hospital where Junior worked. She was scheduled for therapy three days a week.
Initially, when told that his patient was a Negro, Junior had been reluctant to serve as her physical therapist. Her program of rehab required mostly structured exercise to restore flexibility and to gain strength in the affected limb, but some massage would be involved, as well, which made him uncomfortable.
He had nothing against men or women of color. Live and let live. One earth, one people. All of that.
On the other hand, one needed to believe in something. Junior didn't clutter his mind with superstitious nonsense or allow himself to be constrained by the views of bourgeois society or by its smug concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. From Zedd, he'd learned that he was the sole master of his universe. Self-realization through self-esteem was his doctrine; total freedom and guiltless pleasure were the rewards of faithful adherence to his principles. What he believed in-the only thing he believed in-was Junior Cain, and in this he was a fiercely passionate believer, devout unto himself Consequently, as Caesar Zedd explained, when any man was clearheaded enough to cast off all the false faiths and inhibiting rules that confused humanity, when he was sufficiently enlightened to believe only in himself, he would be able to trust his instincts, for they would be free of society's toxic views, and he would be assured of success and happiness if always he followed these gut feelings.
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