I’m not exactly sure where this came from. I don’t usually write about funerals or viewings (and now they are mentioned in two sketches in a row), or horror/suspense. Nonetheless, take it for what it’s worth.
Beverly Monaco had been a human beehive. Besides the honey-combed nest of her hair and her sticky-sweet personality, she buzzed around the social circles of Bluefish Estates. Never mind that Mrs. Lemke possessed the only blue fish, her prized angel fish Mona, within 60 miles of the Estates; Bluefish was a high-end middle class community further from the beach than its residents liked to admit and stayed distracted from this fact by staying tidily in order.
Besides Mr. Cornwall and the doctor and Mrs. Tabora, the owners of homes on Dolphin Circle gathered together in the Trinity Funeral Home. Lying in a casket of honey-blonde wood was Beverly Monaco.
I shimmied out of my raincoat. It was only natural that a damp day accompanied a viewing, and the weather was proving itself successful in that respect. Right away, Trent Denver, whose slack-lidded eyes had fixed gratefully on me, broke away from his wife’s social pity-party circle and strode forward. We shook hands.
“How are you, John?”
I sneaked a glance at the casket at the end of the atrium, just visible beyond the line of people, and I shuddered inside. Open casket. I imagined thousands of flying insects, droning as they orbited the body.
“I’m doing well. And you?”
His voice was tight and subdued as he replied, “Just great. Marianne sent the kids to their grandmother’s. They wanted to come, since Bev had always been kind to them, but we both agreed they didn’t need to remember her like this.”
I nodded in agreement. I would gladly have skipped the viewing in favor of attending only the funeral, but for whatever reason, Beverly had wanted her neighbors to say a last, private goodbye to her. Perhaps that was why I felt strange about this entire situation. Beverly’s saccharine style of networking had always kept me from being overly fond of her, and the rare times we shared a word were usually about the hedges and whether or not I should pressure-wash the wall of my house that faced hers.
“Have you gone yet?” I asked.
Trent looked at his wife, who was animating one of her kid’s baseball games with her hands.
“No. But I want to get it over with. I’ll go grab her and we’ll join you in line.”
He walked back to snatch his wife from the webs of chatter. I walked to the end of the line, shoes clattering and sometimes squeaking on the travertine floor. Meanwhile, the rain had vigorously recommenced. Mr. and Mrs. Danning, who lived down the street a few houses from mine, stood in line in front of me but didn’t turn around, and I didn’t bother them.
The Denvers and I slowly slogged our way down the line and finally to the casket. We talked about nothings and maybe-somethings, and the entire time I kept my eyes fixated on either one of them. I could almost hear the humming of bees as we neared the casket.
At last it was my turn. My muscles tried to betray me as I stepped forward, stiffening when I thought of the corpse before me. I figured I could say a quick prayer, perhaps, and then apply as much mental antiseptic as I could handle to burn away the image of Beverly’s ashen face from my mind.
The casket was fitted out well, shimmering inside with ivory silk. I wondered momentarily why a dead body would need such luxurious bedding. I peered passed it and caught sight of Beverly’s face. Something about it wasn’t right. Not the paleness; I expected that. Nor was it the stiffness or the fact that her mouth looked contorted when it wasn’t forced into smile.
The eyes, I realized with a sharp gasp. They were open. And as I stared, the face before me morphed from the dead Beverly to that of a dead young woman with fuller cheeks and thinner lips.
I stood there stunned, terrified, confused, disbelieving. I wiped furiously at my eyes. It only occurred to me later that watchers would think I was crying. I gazed again. Young face. Rounder. Higher-bridged nose. Wider-set eyes. Eyes still open, a lusterless gray-blue. I jumped back.
“I don’t… I don’t understand.”
Trent rushed forward and grabbed my shoulder.
“John, are you okay?”
“The face changed. It changed!” I whispered. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the edge of the coffin, though the face was now hidden from view.
“Well, she’s not vibrant, of course.”
I chanced a look at Trent’s expression. Pity, patience, a slight hint of disgust about the eyebrows.
“No, Trent. The face was her face—Beverly’s face—then it became… someone else’s. It is someone else’s!”
Trent frowned and peered forward into the casket.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he hissed. His wife had already moved forward. I joined her at the casket.
The face was Beverly’s again. This time the eyes were closed. She looked at peace, if a bit stiff still, and Marianne tsked her tongue.
“John, maybe you ought to have a seat. Or talk to the priest.”
Neither option sounded appealing. Outside, the rain beat a tattoo on the roof. I could excuse myself. I would excuse myself. There was something confining about this place, something unnatural, and I had a feeling the face-changing was only one of many things out of place here.
“I’ll see you later,” I whispered, fleeing.