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When the Veil Is Thinnest
Copyright 2008 by The Bard of New Mexico
“You lucky dog!” Janet squealed as she held a lady vampire costume against her body and admired herself in the full-length mirror. “I’m soooo jealous! You get to work in a funeral home this Halloween!” Janet said, referring to where Mary Ann got a job as a secretary a few months ago. She giggled.
“Cut that out! Nothing strange has happened yet,” said Mary Ann who was sitting on Janet’s bed. She watched as Janet picked up a sexy witch’s outfit and chose that to wear to the Halloween ball the next night.
“Don’t you know?”
Janet grabbed a flashlight off a shelf and shone it on her face to create a spooky effect. “Halloween is the day when the veil between this world and the spirit world is thinnest.”
Mary Ann burst out laughing. “Just because it’s your Sabbath, don’t drag me into it! Halloween is just a day like any other except for bat-shaped sugar cookies.”
* * *
“Yes, I understand that, but your people were supposed to be here an hour ago. We need to set up for the Woodson viewing,” Mary Ann replied to the person on the other end of the line, trying her best to keep a pleasant tone in her voice. “Do you have any idea where they might be?”
“Let me call ‘em. Can you hold?”
Mary Ann heard the florist speak to her delivery people on another phone. She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but in a moment, the florist came back on the line. “They’re practically on your doorstep.”
“You’re welcome. Have a nice day!”
Mary Ann hung up just as a buzzer sounded. She looked at the screen hooked up to the delivery entrance security cam, released the lock, and let the florist’s people in.
“Where do you want ‘em, ma’am?”
“Please follow me.”
Mary Ann efficiently and quietly led them to the Serenity visitation room and propped open the oak doors. She noticed the casket was still closed. She would open it later and check the final details before family and friends came for the visitation. “Just put them in there.”
The delivery people carried in the first few armloads of flowers and started setting them up as Mary Ann went back to the desk to answer phones. She was only helping out with the various deliveries and conducting the Woodson viewing because Kimberly, the director, called in sick that morning and they were short-handed.
Chuck, the embalmer, was waiting for her at the front desk. He had a clean pair of scrubs on. “Hey, M.A. I forgot to tell you.” He sauntered over to her desk and set down a Ziploc baggie that had a few pieces of jewelry in it. “When the Woodsons brought over Helen’s dress, they included a bag of stuff that they found in her nightstand drawer. They’re gonna sort through and see if they want to bury her with some of it.”
Mary Ann looked at some of the things through the bag’s clear plastic. Most of the articles were nice, maybe even antiques, but there was a curious brass ring that stuck out from the rest of the items. “Wow. How’d that old thing get in there?”
“Mixed in accidentally?”
“Probably. Maybe it was a cheap thing from a carnival
game or some vending machine.” Mary Ann smiled. She answered a quick phone call as she put the bag in the wooden cabinet next to her desk and locked the drawer. Then, she went to the storage room, got the push sweeper, and headed back to the Serenity viewing room to make sure the room was clean and comfortable. She threw out an old Kleenex, polished the glass end tables, and plumped up the cushions on the sofa.
As she was finishing, Chuck poked his head through the door. “There’s a lady at reception.”
“I didn’t hear the bells.”
Chuck shrugged. “Neither did I, but she’s waiting.”
Mary Ann quickly dumped the cleaning supplies into the empty room next door and hurried back to her desk.
“Good afternoon. How may I help you?”
The lady appeared to be in her seventies and was wearing clothes that went out of style years ago. She had on a pink pillbox hat, a white blouse covered by a pink jacket, and a pink calf-length skirt. The ensemble reminded Mary Ann of Jackie Kennedy’s stylish outfits of the ‘60s. She looked a bit shy.
“Are you here for the Woodson viewing?”
“Yes.” Her voice came through creaky, but very softly.
Mary Ann tried to appear delicate and distinguished at the same time. “I’m sorry. You’re here a little early. It starts in another hour and a half, but you’re more than welcome to wait.” She noticed the Ziploc bag of jewelry on the desk next to her elbow and thought she’d forgotten to lock it away safely. She mentally berated herself for being so careless. “You’re related to Miss Woodson?”
The lady nodded.
Mary Ann set the bag on top of the desk and an idea flashed through her mind. “While you’re waiting, did you care to sort through her effects?”
The old lady again nodded and Mary Ann carefully spread the things onto the desk. The woman slowly eyed the jewelry and picked up the brass ring. She smiled and indicated for Mary Ann to put everything else back. “Thank you,” the visitor said in barely more than a whisper.
“You’re welcome. The viewing is being held in the Serenity room.” Mary Ann got up to show her to the room, but the phone rang. “Excuse me. Go on ahead if you want. It’s just down the hall and to your right. Let me know if you need anything.” The woman left.
The phone rang again. The last call was from family who had just lost their dad and was looking for a funeral home to handle the arrangements. Mary Ann hung up, satisfied that she was able to help them, and looked at the clock to see how much time she had before the viewing. Her work had kept her an hour and she wanted to check on the old lady.
“Do you need…” Mary Ann started as she entered the Serenity room, but stopped when the old lady was nowhere to be seen. She knew the lady hadn’t left through the front entrance because she was facing it while she worked and the lady hadn’t crossed the wide-open reception area and passed through the front door. Mary Ann quickly searched the other visitation rooms and chapel, hoping the old lady didn’t get confused and get lost. No luck. Mary Ann went to the ladies’ room. “Hello? Pardon me, ma’am, are you in here?” There was no answer and she didn’t see any feet under the stalls. Thinking the visitor must’ve gone where only staff was allowed, she checked the break room. The coffee urn on the rolling trolley was full and ready, but there was nobody in there. Finally, she briskly walked to the back where Chuck was waiting for another body. A glass partition separated his work area from the delivery entrance.
Chuck noticed the slightly worried look on Mary Ann’s face. “What’s up, M.A.?”
“Did you see a little old lady in pink back here?”
“She didn’t leave through the delivery entrance?”
“No. Hey, what’s all this about? Did you lose someone?” Chuck laughed at his classic funeral home joke.
“When I didn’t see her in the Serenity room, I was worried that she might’ve gotten confused and wandered off. I didn’t see her leave, either. I checked everywhere but the men’s room.” She blushed.
Chuck got up and stretched. He wasn’t sure what all the fuss was. “Well, I’ll go look.”
They quickly walked to the restrooms and Chuck went in. He called from inside, his voice echoing in the tiled room, “She’s not here, either.” He came back out. “Listen. Don’t worry about it, okay? You’re just anxious ‘cause you’re running the show for the first time. Just go see how beautiful I made Helen and relax, okay?”
Mary Ann took off for the Serenity room again and smiled at herself. She put on quiet, peaceful music, dimmed the lights to a soft, dignified glow, and raised the lid on the coffin.
She felt as if she’d jumped into a pool of ice cold water and her breath left her lungs. “Oh, dear God!” she whispered as she stumbled to the couch and collapsed onto it. Helen Woodson’s body was dressed in a pink outfit and a brass ring encircled the left ring finger. It was the old lady!!!!!!
Mary Ann reached into her pocket, pulled out her cell phone, and somehow managed to hit speed dial although her hands shook uncontrollably. Her stomach turned and tunnel vision was setting in.
Loud party music and sounds of people enjoying themselves drifted through the receiver when Janet answered. “What’s up, hon?” she asked with laughter still evident in her voice.
“The veil is thinnest....” Mary Ann’s hand could no longer hold the phone and it tumbled to the floor. A second later, Mary Ann followed in a faint.