Classifieds/Obits/Some Clerical
A Short Tale





 

“Writing, and about the…DEAD?!” the still painful, predictable advice curdling the lips of the less-than ‘Dear’ Abbess, mother superior and unsought advisor/proprietor of the virtual nunnery Margaret Hoppe knows as her life.

“Mother, please; it’s an entry level job, yes, but at the Times……if I do well, who knows”, her meek voice answering selfish doubt with Maggie’s reflexive token disagreement. It’s always ‘Maggie’, the passive portion of that psyche—crowded with the deep and wide collection of factoids we call ‘well-educated’—who handles the routinely weak defenses mustered by the plain-faced ownership of its small, hectic house. ‘Meg’, now, she…SHE is saving her breath, excited about the prospect of delving into the private lives of the deceased.  ‘It’s why I took this stupid job’, her voiceless words bouncing off the bony walls of that house shared with the always compliant ‘Maggie’, the sacrificial caretaker of that…invalid.

I can’t deal with…her; I’m going places…she’s lucky that I can do most of my research at home, on the internet…thanks to that law, but, I don’t care what the Abbess—hey, sounds like ‘abyss’—whoa, look at this: ‘Ms. Abercrombie, distant relative to the retail entrepreneur, died Sunday, after a long illness…’woo-hoo, my first rich corpse, and they pay my expenses to interview these fat-cats’ friends and fam…Jeez, she’s calling…

“Margaret, Margaret, can you hear me?”  A bell annoying enough to summon the, now, angry dead will now be vigorously chimed—and it isn’t just the tremors in those hands which give it it’s shrill quality, according to Meg’s tintinnabulation symptoms—because Maggie has the same problem with her…ear…s.

The tip-off is how she never waits for a reply, no…do ‘rhetorical questions’ include this sort of crap, whining?!  Good thing I’m leaving for the office soon, I’ve got phone calls to make, and that trip to Princeton, I’m so looking forward to that…

“Yes, I heard you, without the bell; the doctor says the bell…” She cut me off, again.

“This person you’ve arranged to come in…”  My turn, ‘rode rage’, I call it, from being ridden!

“She’s a practical nurse, paid for by MY generous insurance…”

Two, three, four…after the pouting: “It’s just that I’m used to your ways;” I don’t respond, then: “Ditto, mother, thanks to your bell ringing…please don’t do that to her, ok? Now, look what I’ve brought you…your favorite movie!”

The shiny plastic box, with its original theatrical artwork cover, filmdom’s latest iconic assurance that whatever lay inside is valuable, in need of your personal protection, for only $19.95, impresses Mother Hoppe.  Its monastic new owner’s taste in such objet d’art as perverse in content as her reclusive state is anti-social; Mother superior Hoppe tends markedly toward the usually inferior realm of horror.  Her self-bestowed pardon is described by her with the safe term ‘classic’. 

“Oh, you are good to mother, Margaret—how thoughtful, your replacing my VHS with this special edition…look, there’s commentary from the director!” 

‘I wonder if John Carpenter experiences horror, in the classic sense, I mean…’ is Maggie’s verbalized portion of a thought which continues, silently, via Meg: ‘…my guess is that if he does it would be that YOU treasure his work!’

“A true master, shattering the silly ritual of today’s sanitized Halloween…practiced by a bunch of…hollow weenies!” Sounding none too superior, Mother Hoppe wheezes herself into a coughing jag brazenly crossing the tubercular border, in broad daylight.

“Time for your pills…open…” Meg’s fist, clenching a medley of colored capsules, aggresses the open cavern serving as the maternal monastery’s exit way, usually, for the small homilies, sermonizing regularly concerning the failings of the sinful, disappointing, ‘so-much-like-her-father’ Margaret whose service has never enjoyed the privilege of all true novitiates—to leave, before formal vows, what Margaret privately calls the ‘habit of the None’.  Margaret’s shyness is such that, rather than causing her pain, it gives her too much comfort, silent comfort such that, until now, this play of words—once bemusing to her sanity—is all she has to break away; now, it will be her job at the Times.

Tintinnabulation, a surprisingly evocative phonetic capture of what Margaret hears: small cymbals, chiming, vibrating in an otherwise quiet skull, busy with the thoughts from who knows where, what.  She avoids working in any semi-private workplace, fearful of the teasing over answering old-fashioned phones; she’s relieved that her new office phone buzzes, even if no one else is there to hear it.  Margaret’s therapist recommends that she even wear a tie to work to serve as a distraction for both her and her co-workers.  Margaret is surprised at the results: the ringing in her ears is gone.

Buzz, buzz, buzz…………. “Hell…hello?”

“Margaret, could you stop by my office as soon as possible?” His voice is so…kind, like my father’s…and, why didn’t his secretary call me?  Isn’t he too busy, he’s the Senior Editor.  Making her way through the corridor of semi-private cubicles, Margaret’s peripheral vision floods with friendly snapshots of faces seemingly admiring her.  Could be the tie, she thinks, it is very pretty. 

“Yes, Margaret, please…” The voice enters her ears, bringing a sepia image from somewhere to her inner eyes, and she smiles at it. 

“Well, I must say, you’ve certainly brought him to life…” This causes Margaret to jerk, physically, from her reverie.  She sees a folded newspaper section handed to her, realizing that he means Mr. Abercrombie, of Princeton.

“Tell me, how did you get all this juicy detail…I knew the man, and hadn’t a clue about all this…”

Margaret just laughs nervously, unaccustomed to such high praise from authority; (in college she got mostly accusations of plagiarism when her brilliance would percolate up from its unknown home).

“Your sources, you obviously went beyond a telephone interview…”

Margaret senses a shift, a sea-change…the Meg in Margaret, the strange, powerful undercurrent of her streaming consciousness—the powerful urge that likes the tie idea and trips to talk to unfamiliar people, in strange places…Ariel is heard, echoing loudly from that old Shakespeare neural imprint…

Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Emboldened by the tempestuous thought, Margaret explains how she doesn’t like the telephone, laughing dismissively, then, enjoying her private joke, going on to tell the Senior Editor of her methods, including dressing in a style she thinks will put her subjects at ease, a kind of paternalistic approach common in the times she enters on such trips---after all, it is the past… ‘when in Rome,’ she adds, sensing that this old phrase appeals to the Senior Editor; she is right.  Margaret is convinced that this is why he surprises her with additional duties; writing for the new high-end Personals page he tells her is going to be called ‘Rich & Strange’.  She suggests that her pen name be ‘Ariel’ and he is very approving, adding his own erudite warning: “…provided ‘nothing of him’—that’s you, Meg, what with the tie and all— ‘…doth fade…;’ you’re my most promising writer!”  Margaret likes the meeting of minds with this older man, not quite avuncular, more fatherly.  She makes a mental note that he’s a ‘man’s man’--they understand each other.

“Where are you…going, Margaret?”  How is it that intonation, almost regardless of the words it envelopes, is what the ear hears and the brain seizes upon other than the worn-out, faded power of simple words to capture meaning?  Meg knows these words’ message: ‘you’re always abandoning me, leaving me, lately… ‘zwhat your father did to me, to us, you know?!’

“I have a…date, you know, the sort of assignation you and you-know-who had, that led to…me?!”

“Well, just who is expecting those favors from you, and your privates!?” This message also decoded easily in Meg’s ear: ‘…I see your ‘Rich & Strange’ personal column is well-named…it isn’t your boss, is it?!’

Margaret’s column is very popular; in fact, it is now syndicated in most major papers nationwide, affording her more financial freedom and a private nurse for her once superior mother, the habit-ual behavior now exchanged for a far more colorful wardrobe---especially the ties, now, her closet’s signature.

“If it makes you feel any better, it’s a Detective…”

“Oh, you haven’t been creating work for yourself, have you?!” The wizened laughter is somehow less innocent, more like a warning. 

“I’m going to have to stop you watching those Halloween movies, mother; besides, I don’t own a ski mask.”

But there were a number of very strange deaths of the rich, according to Margaret; she tells her mother the sort of details that not even her Detective friend might have knowledge of, attributing it to her ‘secret’ methods of research…and her well-practiced imagination, cultivated during her years in the Hoppe abbey.  It’s forgotten, as mother’s new horror classics collection grows.  Buttressed by Margaret’s growing prestige, mother Hoppe has begun a nationwide petition to have John Carpenter honored by the AFI, and it’s getting some real buzz on the internet, and in Hollywood.  Carpenter actually sends her a letter and blesses her campaign---the letter is dated October 31st.

“You know, I don’t even read personals—unless it’s some serial killer investigation, but your column, it’s so insightful, both sides, every time; I’m hooked.”  They’re an odd couple, by usual standards: he, jacket and black tee, she, the ubiquitous tie, now accented by jacket and noir-style hat.

“Not bad for a little church mouse…I guess I just understand the way people think, men and women” Margaret offers, her body language causing Lt. Spenser’s back-of-the neck follicles to come to attention.  He decides to rely upon that biology lesson he was receiving, very directly, from that part of his head others say he’s got another set of eyes.

“Meg, where were you on the 16th?”

Meg does understand men, how they think…without looking up from the expensive menu she softly utters: ‘…I think I want to speak to my lawyer…my female lawyer…’ 
Of course, he laughs, admiringly, as the server saunters up with a wine list. 

“Pepperwood Syrah, that good for you, Maggie?”  She didn’t see that coming….what does he know, really?  How could he know the way she hates that name, what it means to her?  Let it go…Sure, we’ve gone out for a couple of months, but, I don’t recall mentioning…wait, I might have…unless he spoke to…mother, the new, activist mommy Frankenstein, she’s helped bring back to life. Careful.  Still, he doesn’t understand me, no, he can’t.

“So, when do I meet Dad?” 

That’s pretty direct, what’s he up to…loaded questions, that’s what these last two are; eat your food, no giveaway body signals…most people give their thoughts away with that silent language, the one humans relied on way before the mouth took over, with its easy lies, it’s too confident, that piehole, just look at politicians…that’s what he’s looking to see, to hear: ‘outrageous’, ‘unacceptable’, ‘zero-tolerant’…blah, blah, blah, no dice, I’m not rolling ‘em.  This body’s a fortress, the kind where a nun feels safe, and this mouth’s vowing silence.

“As soon as I do…never around, left early on” Good, tight.

“No idea where, even from mom?” Nail him shut, now.

“Good luck getting her to talk about…the sperm donor.”  Bam, door shut.

“Dessert?”

Let’s see how our boy does when he lets his shield down: “I’d like to go somewhere for a drink…”

“I thought you had an early flight?”

“Well, I do, but it’s not like I’ll be in that cockpit driving…or will I?”

“Maggie, Maggie, now I know what Rod Stewart’s singing about! Check please…”

The Times/October 31/Rich & Strangely Personal, by M. Hoppe:

It’s All Hallow’s Eve, my loyal readers…what do we do, all of us, on this strange occasion? We open our doors to…strangers, disguised strangers who want something from us, something sweet; yet, it’s these strangers, seeking such enrichment from us, that gets all the focus of our fears…for them! 

And, what of us, the unsuspecting doorkeepers of our threshholds who are in potential danger…how can we know the mind of that costumed marauder, that potentially twisted soul, man, woman or child; truly, in a larger sense, isn’t, then, this modern world captured in this ancient practice of celebrating deadened souls? 

What is our rich fascination with strangeness: answer that, and you will understand why we need to be scared, yes, afraid, of…what we ARE; and why, we, all of us, must change—evolve, become that something we all know we can, MUST, be, if we are to be happy, however personally painful…for our collective need for a sea-change in the way we behave, most of it being, sad to say, habit-ual. 

Nietzsche, so easily called mad, had it right: I must philosophize, with a hammer!  Finally, for the rich, a special word: the “Status Quo’s” got a Latin name for a good reason---YOU.  Your little club needs new blood, where only old blood has been—and, if need be, transfused, with the blunt action of a club….that’s right, give me, us those hungry who would and can be high…plenty of room, atop the rich heap of those who don’t, won’t see through their deadening eye; it’s time for those thought strange, to be strange and rich, a sea-change for those who are unafraid…

It’s said that old habits die hard; yet, it is those old habits which—unless exchanged for better ones—will cause our death, as a species. Happy Halloween, fellow habitual offenders.”

 

The column, unlike what is customary, is placed adjacent to a front page story about a gruesome murder of a wealthy family’s surviving members whose patriarch had recently died and been featured in the obituaries.  That story tells of a Frankenstein mask being found at the scene, with a small orange plastic jack-o-lantern. And, a 40’s style man’s hat.  That scene was out of town, but well-within the national circulation of the paper.

Margaret is, uncharacteristically, on the phone; her ears haven’t rung in some time.

“What the Hell are you talking about?!  My column was deliberately misplaced, and I wanna know why and by whom!  I don’t care who or why you have to contact, you tell them to call me, personally, ASAP….I’ll be at home…”

I’ll be god-damned if they’re gonna get in the way of my operation; I’ve got to think…Meg’ll know what to do, I’m so close, so close…the doctors in Amsterdam, they’re ready, I’ll have to find a way to move up the operation, without arousing any suspicion…those hats are very common…it’s all easily dismissed, unless…somebody knows, somebody close…mother? No, she knows my imagination…

It’s two a.m. and a cell phone begins playing the theme from a certain film: Halloween.

“Hell….o, who’s calling!?”

“Wake up Maggie, or is it Frank?  I think I’ve got something to say to you……”

 

Finis

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