by Charles C. Cole
Whit and Brenda planned to announce their engagement at a wake held for Whit’s grandmother. They entered a small dining room where the body was lying in state, a quilt of rolling hills and twinkling stars draped neatly over the legs. Whit carried a shoebox under his arm.
“So this was your grandmother,” said Brenda.
Whit smiled. “You would have liked her. She had a lot of spunk.”
“Hi, spunky Grandma Fillmore,” said Brenda. “Sorry you died, though it finally got Whit to bring me down and meet the family.”
“They should arrive soon,” said Whit, glancing out the nearest window and spotting a familiar 1939 Allis-Chalmers tractor.
“But it’s not a funeral?” asked Brenda.
“We’re not that conventional,” said Whit, without turning back.
“You said each of you gets to choose something special of hers,” said Brenda. “That’s pretty conventional.”
“Just the oldest males from each branch of the family tree,” Whit explained.
“What are you hoping for?” she teased, tickling his chin.
“Honestly, I kind of have a collection of right hands, started from when I was fourteen when I inherited my Dad’s collection.”
“You have a collection of severed hands?” asked Brenda, stepping back.
“Welcome to the family,” said Whit with an apologetic shrug.
“We’re talking about your Grammie, a sweet old lady. A lock of her hair sounds nice.”
“Kind of girlie,” Whit countered.
“You mean because it’s soft and pretty, unlike a manly twenty-foot length of intestine.”
“You can only take what you can fit in a shoebox,” Whit recited, “and I’ve never been much into feet. You can’t touch the face, though ears are fair game, but that would be...”
“It’s pretty impressive,” said Whit, before recognizing her shock. “It’s our family tradition; it’s what we do. You carve perfectly good pumpkins, stick candles in them, and stick them on the front porch until they’re black and moldy.”
“Me and a few million other people,” said Brenda.
“Don’t judge me,” said Whit. “I treat the relics with respect, like family heirlooms. If I didn’t do it, I’d be offending my grandmother. This is what she’d expect.”
“I get it. I accept it, sort of. But the next time you get a hankering to take your family skeletons out of the closet, don’t.” Brenda glanced at Grandma Fillmore, biting her lip. “You don’t have to cut the hand off, do you? Yourself?” she blurted.
“I guess I should have told you before proposing,” said Whit.
“For the record,” said Brenda, “if I die first, you are going to lose my body. You can feed me to an endangered species if it makes you feel better. Give me your word.”
“That’s a tough one,” said Whit.
“If you want to walk me down the aisle,” said Brenda, “you’ve got to promise me I’m leaving this world with the same luggage I arrived with. I can just picture you, the merry widower, and some future girlfriend getting acquainted with a couple of glasses of wine over a non-threatening game of Operation — only I’m the body!”
“That’s not how it works!” snapped Whit. “I hate it when people try to win an argument through gross exaggeration.”
“I’m just telling you,” said Brenda, “when the heartfelt dissection begins, I am so out of here.”
“This is your chance to meet everyone,” said Whit. “If not today, then it won’t be until the ceremony.”
“How about I meet them in the receiving line?” Brenda implored. “Everyone will be blissfully full of champagne and cake, with no room left for Grandma and Grandpa.”
“We’re not cannibals!” cried Whit. “Are we that different? We just have to get through the wedding, then we’ll come up with our own traditions, a little of yours and a little of mine.”
Brenda felt the air knocked out of her and leaned against the chair railing. “Oh, God!” she gasped. “If you have some dark bridal traditions, you better let me know right now, mister. You don’t want to surprise a bride on her wedding day. Not on that day. Now, is there anything else you want to tell me?”
“You know everything there is to know,” said Whit, rubbing his forehead unconsciously.
“I’m a little nervous here. Holding my hand is not out of the question,” said Brenda. He reached for her. “My hand! Never mind. I think I better head back to the hotel and wait for you.”
“That makes sense,” said Whit gently. “It saddens me, but I support you. I don’t judge you.”
Brenda stepped toward the door and hesitated. “I can’t do this,” she said. “I can’t go to the hotel and think about what you’re doing back here. Did I see a Skilsaw in the trunk? Is that what that was?”
Whit reached for her tenderly. “Are you okay?” he asked. “This is a lot to handle.”
Brenda pulled away. “Don’t touch me!” she snarled.
“Why don’t you take the car and drive back home?” Whit suggested. “I can get someone to drop me off. One of my cousins lives only about thirty minutes away.”
“One of your relative lives nearby?” asked Brenda. “What does he collect? Feet? Ears? Do you guys ever play mix-and-match? I think we should probably end this right now. I’ll leave the saw on the porch.”
“Sorry to be so old-fashioned,” said Whit. “We’ll talk when I get back. It’s not that big a deal.”
“Here’s your ring,” said Brenda, removing it and dropping it in his shirt pocket. “I hope you kept the receipt.”
“You’re overreacting,” said Whit. “I’m beginning to think you’re a little prejudiced.”
“Me?” asked Brenda. “I have gay friends and conservative friends and military friends, but maybe that’s not enough. You’re right, I thought I was open-minded but, let’s face it: when it comes to body snatchers, I’m an insensitive bigot. Shame on me. Good thing you found out about me before we got married. Bye, Grandma Fillmore. Guess I won’t be joining the family after all.”
Copyright © 2013 by Charles C. Cole