It was a blustery afternoon. Archie, named for the cartoon character his mother had lusted over as a girl, turned up the dimmed overhead lights slightly. He looked around his library, now called a man-cave by his wife, with appreciation. Although he did all his research on a computer, and most of his reading on a Kindle, he loved the ambiance of an early twentieth century library; shelves of books, a couple of globes, maps of the world, a Galileo thermometer, a Lionel train set inherited from his father, which he ran at least every week, all against a background of pine-green wallpaper. A rolling library ladder assisted in dusting, since the books were rarely moved. The library was on the second floor, of course, acknowledging Carnegie’s idea of elevation due to learning.
His older friend Dennis, the town undertaker, toyed absently with the stopper on the crystal decanter of single malt scotch. He sat on the other side of an antique Partners Desk. He sighed, “I suppose I should be getting back to the mortuary, but sitting here with you and drinking is so damned nice.”
“Stay. No one died today, and besides, you have an assistant and your wife helps.” Archie sat opposite him. “It’s nasty out there right now, but the storm may break later. If it doesn’t, we can share a pizza and keep drinking. If you don’t want to drive, you can sleep on the couch in here. I don’t think your wife will mind.” As if to underscore that thought, a blast of heavy rain washed away any residual Windex from the outside windowpanes.
“Oh, she never minds. She’s grateful for what I give her, and the permission to be a recluse, but what about your wife?”
“Nicole will probably kill a pound of shrimp and a bottle of Chardonnay in front of a movie, her idea of a perfect evening. Besides, she knows I don’t want to go into the living room and kitchen with all Mother’s flowers there, the fragrance is overwhelming.”
“They’ll be gone soon. They’re ephemeral but also ethereal. The florist did a good job, with some requests from my reclusive wife, will wonders never cease? She actually went to his shop! Nicole doesn’t mind all that fragrance?”
“Nope, she’d rather have the flowers in the house than my mother, and said so. She’ll never forgive Mom for squirreling around and blocking our marriage, I don’t believe the crap that woman invented! Now Nicole can’t have kids, and it’s a sore spot. Besides, the flowers look like something from a fairyland, Nicole’s favorite place. They go well with shrimp, Chardonnay, and a movie, I suppose.”
Dennis looked uneasy as he poured himself another two fingers of scotch. “I thought I’d just hand you this envelope and walk out, but I can’t.”
“It’s from your mother, and I know what’s in it since we wrote it together. It’s an answer to questions you never knew to ask.”
“That sounds mysterious, and you wrote it together?”
“We were sometime lovers, you know.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, I guessed as much. Not to be crude, but did you fuck in a casket?”
Dennis laughed, any uneasiness forgotten. “Not usually. She was a pretty young widow after Viet Nam, you can’t blame me. My own wife doesn’t want sex. The mortuary is a large building; plenty of women have found excuses to stop in.”
Archie refreshed his drink and leaned back. “This is more than you and some local ladies. What’s been going on?”
“You know who Nicole’s parents are?”
“Not really, she was adopted. Her biological mother is my wife, and her biological father was your father, my wife’s brother.”
Archie was so astonished his eyes crossed. “I married my sister?”
Dennis leaned toward his younger friend and relative through marriage. “Small towns have many secrets. Dumb young husbands scratch their heads when that first kid comes so early. My wife was molested by her brother. She got pregnant. Her parents sent her to an aunt in the area, and then poured fury on their son. He hurriedly married your mother, got her pregnant, and went to Viet Nam where he died.
“Nicole was adopted by people in town, and my wife stayed out of her life, she didn’t even want to run into her. She married me and cut all outside ties. She hates sex, but understands me catting around, and doesn’t mind being an undertaker’s wife, a rarity, trust me.”
“Did my mother know about this?”
“Yes, your father confessed right away. She would see Nicole around town, but it was just another little girl. Then you and Nicole got interested in each other, and your mother knew she had to block it until Nicole was infertile, even if it meant the two of you hating her. My wife loved her. They exchanged cards all the time.”
“Oh, good God, if I’d only… You need a program to tell the players.”
“Would things have been better? I doubt it, and I know my wife would like to enjoy that Lionel train some Christmas. She was the one who made all those lovely fairytale trees and flowers.”
“She likes fairytale stuff, like Nicole does? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I suppose it’s wise not to deliver the train to my aunt myself?”
“I’ll take care of it. Do you still want to share a pizza, Nephew?”
“Sausage and mushroom OK, Uncle?”
“Perfect. Here’s the envelope, and I think it’s better if Nicole never sees it and upsets her adoptive parents. They didn’t tell. What’s the expression? ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’?”
I was kind of hoping to write about a friend’s Siamese and his mockery of dumb human sitters, but I’ll stay within Chuck’s perimeters using library, ethereal, undertaker, storm and envelope.
A Chuck Wendig Friday Flash Fiction: