A Good Man | Audio
By Andrew Brazier
Andrew Brazier is currently working on several writing projects and has been published in Rose and Thorn Journal.
Lenny Squire was caught in traffic. Of all things, on a Wednesday afternoon outside the sleepy town of Gilmore, population no more than 200 if any at all, he couldn't manage to merge onto the highway. An entire row of cars, twenty or more, riding bumper to bumper in the slow lane and not one was letting him over. Blast them, signal or not, he was moving over. A red convertible, top up on a cloudy day, slammed on his brakes to let Lenny in, and his own yellow Cadillac weaved to and fro before settling in line.
A salesman on a rural call, Lenny had no time to dawdle in Gilmore, he had to get around these blasted cars. Where did they come from? The nearest city was forty miles away in either direction. Anyhow, Lenny had a dreadful meeting scheduled with his boss and must get over to the center lane. He put on his signal, but there was no room. At once, the cars he was between all took the exit. Palmer Avenue, all of them. Before Lenny knew what was happening, he too, was on his way down Palmer, unable to stay on the highway, bloody hell.
No mind, he needed gas anyway. He signaled left but the line of cars continued to block him and they all had their lights on. Believe that! Lenny readied to turn but a man on a motorcycle was parked in the way, waving his arms like he was winding a clock. What on Earth? A parade? A presidential visit? Of course, to Gilmore. Not likely.
A funeral procession. Lenny spotted the hearse a dozen cars ahead, he was headed to the damn funeral home. How ironic, to a funeral or the boss's office. And why so many cars? Who was this dead man or woman and how important could he or she be? Not very, not in Gilmore. Next you know, Lenny was parking his Cadillac in a handicap zone, who cares? It's a damn funeral home. The cars kept arriving. Right on top of one another, fifty, maybe a hundred, parking on the lawn, the street, the lot, everywhere, all giving him dirty looks for being in the handicap stall, who do they think they are? Fine, then. Why not? They had no idea who Lenny was and by god they must have a decent spread and if he was already late to his boss's whine-fest, who's to say otherwise.
Lenny got out and walked with the crowd, a well-to-do lot if he'd ever seen one. Noses in the air, gloves stretched out with designer handbags on the forearm, men with their fedoras and gold chains jumping in and out of designer suit pockets. This he'd have to see. He gave a friendly smile and a nod but everyone just gave him a depressing response and Lenny realized, of course, he was at a funeral, and changed at once to a solemn, foreboding expression in greeting those he passed.
The chapel was naturally decorated in the finest array of roses and lilies, the stage set with pictures and memories of a rather old gentleman who apparently lived life full and admirable. Confound it. Surely he had secrets like the rest of them. Everyone joined in the hall while an organ played and by god if the old man wasn't hauled on stage himself, pall bearers built like Greek Gods, like a Navy Seal team was flown in for the occasion.
Lenny found a seat near the door five rows back. Considering there were twenty rows, he got a prime seat. As everyone stood, the widow was escorted to her place in the front row, although Lenny could hardly see how that made a difference, her eyes looked ripe as bananas without a hint of a tear. Old man, Gossimer, he found his name on the picture array, Henry Gossimer, must have left the old bag a minor fortune, maybe a private island here and there.
Everyone sat and the priest rambled on about the afterlife and Mr. Gossimer's most assured ticket to paradise. He spoke for near twenty minutes on accolades and do-good deeds the old man accomplished in his eighty plus years, how many? Lenny didn't pay attention to all of it, the boorish crowd was restless. Let's share memories. That's it. One by one, row by row, everyone shared a tidbit or two about old man Gossimer, he was a wonderful friend, gardener, husband, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather, neighbor, hardware store owner, and it was hard to imagine Gossimer was anything but a saint, a miracle worker.
Lenny was sure the next one in line would tell how Mr. Henry Gossimer parted the Red Sea while the Israelites stormed through the walls to freedom. If only it wasn't his own turn, and he stood and searched for words. Not a single person in the room had an inkling where Lenny Squire knew this Gossimer fellow and he could be his best friend or his mailman, although he'd probably just tell how impeccable Henry's addressed envelopes had been kept.
Fine. They'd kept him here, they'd connived and jostled him enough, he'd give them a line or two and see just how dainty and magnificent this old man was.
"Mr. Henry Gossimer was a great and awesome human being," Lenny sounded forthright enough, heads nodded and even the widow turned her darkened hair to the side and sent a small grin his way, "but like all of us, he was only human."
Heads nodded with less ambition and the widow's grin became a glaring scowl, and Lenny continued.
"He, like all of us, had his demons, carried with him secrets and yet he persevered and triumphed through his mistakes, how petty they may seem."
Oh, that got the crowd humming. Whispers, how could he? What on Earth? He heard them steaming from the gathering. A young man, several seats from the widow, a brother perhaps or a nephew, stood.
"Whatever do you mean? Demons? Secrets? This is preposterous. Who is it that makes this claim?"
Lenny smiled. "No bother, sir. I beg your pardon. I was merely pointing out that we all have regrets and certain sins we'd rather take with us to the grave and he has, judging by all in attendance, done his duty as a man and caretaker and should be proud of the things he has accomplished," the words rolled off Lenny's tongue, how exhilarating!
Lenny hadn't felt so alive in years, all due respect to Mr. Gossimer. He stood in front of the pompous crowd and felt the power of King Richard, by god, he held there every emotion at his fingers, toying with them as a cat would string.
"I insist, if you have anything to say, you should speak of it. We know nothing of any secrets Mr. Gossimer would take with him." The man said.
The challenge made, Lenny was forced to requite but he couldn't help but want to claim his fifteen minutes of fame in its entirety.
"Mr. Henry Gossimer is a man of contradiction, can I least speak on those terms? Sure he was mighty and wondrous, but come now, we all know him in a different light," Lenny said.
The crowd was turning on him. A dozen or so men stood and demanded an end to the harsh words, and the widow was shooting venom from her lips, so Lenny gave his curtain call and was about to sit down.
"Please excuse my words. Mr. Gossimer was a fine man and let's leave it at-" Lenny sat halfway down.
She was sixty, maybe a year younger or three years older, but she had a feathered derby on her head and fox fur draped over her arm and she walked the center of that aisle like she was taming the very wood she thrust her heels upon. Make-up done to shelter any lines her face possessed, a surly fragrance hissed in her wake as she passed by, and a devious grin that silenced the crowd.
"The man is right. Mr.-" she looked at Lenny who didn't think quick enough to give a false name.
"Mr. Squire here is the only man with guts to speak up, so be it." She spoke with a slight southern drawl, her lips reading a script her eyes weren't seeing.
"What is this?" The widow spoke, a blistering tongue-lashed tone that demanded a response.
"Pipe down, widow," the woman said, oh, the nerve!
The mystery woman looked at the casket and stepped on stage, she reached down and touched his face and the crowd gasped, Lenny remained standing. All at once she turned to the crowd and spoke.
"Mr. Henry Gossimer was the most beautiful lover there is, and we've been in love for twenty years." Tears pushed their way through the ducts, taking mascara on small journey towards her upper cheekbone. Meanwhile, the crowd erupted.
The curses and profane babblings resonated while others began to echo a more truthful and ill-natured concurrence.
"Figures! We knew it! He always did like the ladies!"
The woman continued, "He loved me in ways and places his wife never would. It was a beautiful thing, and I'll miss you deeply, Henry."
The widow fainted. Everyone seemed to offer an opinion, the mystery woman exited down the center aisle with the same strut that carried her onstage, and Lenny finally sat down while everyone else stood. What a woman! So it was true, by golly, the old man wasn't as perfect as these do-gooders let on.
The service ended promptly, the quicker they buried the old womanizer the better, they figured, and Lenny didn't feel as comfortable to witness the burial as he was to grab some crab cakes and cookies and make for the Cadillac. He received nothing but dirty looks and the mystery woman was nowhere to be found. Nuts. But he couldn't help smiling as he drove to the gas station. What a moment! The thrill of it all. Poor widow, he supposed, but hadn't he been right after all?
Still lost in his thoughts pumping gasoline into his tank, he heard a familiar voice.
"Mr. Squire?" The mystery woman.
He snapped out of his trance and put on a solemn face only to see the devious grin of the mystery woman.
"Virginia Coltrane," she extended a gloved hand, and Lenny shook it.
"Enjoy yourself?" She said.
"At a funeral, not really," he lied.
"At a funeral? Hardly," Lenny said.
She looked up at the darkening sky as though she'd howl at the moon, instead chuckling in a seductive, playful tone.
"I mean, was that your first time crashing a funeral?" She said.
She knew. No use hiding it, so his silence answered the question, so be it.
"Fun. Exhilarating isn't it?" She said. "I've been doing this for twenty years, never gets old. I can spot a fellow crasher, no need to be embarrassed. People don't understand the rush, the high it gives you, do they?" She stared him down.
So she wasn't his mistress after all! Unbelievable. Absurd. And yet, how absolutely brilliant. Lenny returned the smile, and he ventured it looked devious as Virginia's.
"Can I buy you a drink?" She said.
"Only if I buy dinner," Lenny replied.