Emend by Eclipse
Chapter 32

Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac

November 17, 1976

Tim and Benny assisted Sandra and Cathy in removing their heavy winter coats. The two young ladies sought out Gladys’ family having been invited to sit with the family. The young men carried the coats to the coat rack that was off to the side of the entryway into the funeral parlor. They hung the lady’s coats and then removed their own. It was a little awkward since they were wearing their winter coats over their suit coats. The temperature outside was a chilly 36 degrees and they didn’t have the kind of overcoats that one normally wore with a suit.

In a little alcove where they could talk privately, Cathy turned to Sandra and said, “I don’t know if I feel sorry for Benny for not being quite human or if I should laugh at him for how poorly he’s imitating one. He’s struggling so hard to do the right thing. The problem is that he has no clue what that might be.”

“You’ve got to admit, he’s trying to be there for you.”

“I know. It’s just that I’d feel better if he wasn’t here.”

“Why?”

“He trusts me.”

“I don’t get it.”

Cathy understood why Sandra didn’t get it. Her friend still didn’t understand Benny. The thing was, none of this was happening in his world. None of this touched his world. He knew that everyone felt like he should be bothered by it, but he wasn’t. Playacting came across as false.

“This is all play acting for him. I know it and I don’t need it. The people here, they don’t know him and they could care less if he’s here or not. We’re pulling him out of his world for no real reason.”

“I think I get it.”

Cathy said, “I should come up with some excuse to send him back to the house.”

“What for?”

“I could say we need him to watch over the house since everyone is away.”

“That’s a good idea,” Sandra said thoughtfully.

Cathy said, “Let’s find them.”

They found Tim and Benny searching for the room where the family was to wait. Cathy said, “Benny, I need you to do something for me?”

“What?”

“We need someone to watch over the house. I’ve heard that burglars target houses where they know everyone is attending a funeral. Could you go back to the house and watch over it?”

Glad to have something to do that didn’t involve this messy business of being around grieving people, Benny answered, “Yes.”

She handed him the key. “Here’s the key. Maybe you could put out the food in about an hour from now so that it will be ready when everyone shows up at the house.”

“I can do that.”

Tim watched Benny walk off. He was pleased that Cathy had come up with something to keep Benny away from so many people and out of such an emotional environment. Benny didn’t handle funerals very well. He had joked that the only funeral he had done well, was his own - he had died and then had showed up for it without making a single incorrect or tasteless comment.

“Let’s join the family.”

The family room was filled with the children and grandchildren of Gladys. The son, Alan, had a son in his early twenties and a daughter who was nineteen. The daughter, Wendy, had two boys, one in his early twenties and one in his early teens. The grandchildren were looking at Tim, Cathy, and Sandra as if they were competitors who had stolen some of their grandmother’s affection from them.

Once they had all arrived in the room, Alan asked, “Where’s Benny?”

“I realized that we left the house unattended. This is the perfect time for a burglar to break into it, so I sent Benny back to the house to watch it.”

Kyle said, “That’s a good idea. I’ve heard that burglars read the newspapers looking for houses listed in obituaries to identify when it will be empty.”

Trish said, “It’s a shame that he can’t be here to support you.”

“I feel more comfortable knowing that he’s watching the house than I would if he was here and no one was there,” Cathy said. “I’d feel really violated if someone broke in.”

“What were you doing living with grandma?” the granddaughter asked in a snippy fashion.

All of the grandchildren looked at her. Alan was about to answer, when Cathy said, “The judge thought it would be a good idea for me to live with an older adult after I was emancipated. Your grandmother volunteered since she needed someone to take care of the house since she couldn’t lift heavy things anymore.”

“What’s emancipated mean?”

Tim answered, “It means that she went to court and was legally declared an adult at 16.”

“Why did you do that?”

Tim answered, “Her mother was trying to kill her. She was a very sick woman and everyone agreed that Cathy would be better off living on her own.”

“Wow,” the girl said with a horrified look on her face.

Cathy said, “Gladys used to talk about all of you, her grandchildren, all of the time. She enjoyed going to your school events. She used to complain about not being able to attend some of the outdoor events because of the weather. When you get to be seventy, it’s hard to deal with the cold, wet, and wind. She did want to be there, and she sometimes worried that you might think she wasn’t interested.

“I’ll admit sometimes she couldn’t make it because I wasn’t able to drive her there. I’m a junior in high school and I work after school every day. You’d think that being declared an adult would be great, but it means that you have to go to work to support yourself. I’m going to miss her.”

“We’re all going to miss her,” Wendy said.

Alan said, “We do appreciate that you were there for her. She didn’t want to move into the retirement home. You allowed her to live in her own home right up to the end. That’s what she really wanted more than anything. To live out her life in her home.”

The funeral director came in and solemnly told them it was time to start. They followed him out of the waiting room and slowly marched down the aisle to the front row of seats. Each person lost in their own thoughts while walking stiffly. They sat down and stared at the casket at the front of the room.

Tim was the last in line. While walking down the aisle, he looked around at the people there. There were only six people outside of the family. To some, it may have seemed like a pathetic turnout, but Gladys was old. Her peers had all died off making her the last of her cohort. That was a source of sadness all its own.

He was a little irritated that Sandra’s parents hadn’t attended the funeral. It wasn’t so much that they knew Gladys, but they knew Cathy. They should have been there for her. Even Benny, the guy who didn’t notice things like this, had made a greater effort on Cathy’s behalf than they did. It was true that Benny’s parents should have attended. After all, Cathy was his girlfriend. He wondered if Benny had told them about it.

In terms of ill attended funerals, Tim felt that Benny had the record. He had died at 60. Only his wife, his two children, and Tim had showed up at the funeral. The spouses of his children hadn’t come. The grandchildren hadn’t come. Even his coworkers at the university hadn’t come. When he and Benny had talked about it, Benny had been surprised that his children had showed up. The fact was, they had only been there at the request of their mother.

Tim had no idea how many people came to his funeral. He assumed he might have had a pretty good turn out. After all, he had hundreds of people dropping by while he was sick. He wasn’t even all that curious about it.

He would have been surprised to learn that it had been close to seven hundred people. Everyone liked Tim. Even Benny’s wife and kids, complete with spouses, had shown up. If Tim had known that, it would have made him angry at Benny’s kids for their lack of respect they had shown their father.

Although the service was held for Gladys, it focused more on death itself than the elderly woman. Tim sat through the service thinking about life and death. His perspective was a little different than what most people would have. This was his second time through life. Despite everything, he was still learning about life and death was a mystery. So far his life had been a totally different experience, a much better one than his first pass, and he hoped that it continued to be this good.

The end of the service came. After a little delay while waiting for them to load the casket in the hearse, they went out to the grave site. It was bitterly cold, 40 degrees, with a wind of 6 mph. The fog that had been hanging around all morning had lifted and it was now clear. The temperature was rising, but it wasn’t going to get warm enough to shed the winter coats. Bundled up with coats and gloves forced a kind of isolation on people throughout the service. It was a short service.

Once the casket had been lowered into the ground, they returned to their cars. It was a small procession to the house comprised of four cars, including the one neighbor. Everyone parked at the curb in front of the house. The driveway held Cathy’s car.

They all went into the house where Benny had put out the makings for sandwiches. It wasn’t the prepackaged stuff, but real lunch meat and cheeses sliced at the deli. The bread wasn’t the typical white bread, but large sandwich rolls from the bakery. There was a fruit salad, a garden salad, pickles, and chips. Everyone loaded up a plate and dug in.

Having done his bit, Benny sat in a chair eating his sandwich and watching everyone else. He was present, but separate. Everything was pretty much how he wanted it. Tim came over and sat beside him. They sat there saying nothing.

Cathy came over, “The spouses and grandchildren are leaving. Alan and Wendy are staying behind because they want to talk to me alone.”

“Should we leave?” Tim asked.

“Actually, they want you to stay here. They have something to ask you after talking to me.”

“Okay.”

When Cathy walked away, Tim leaned over to Benny and whispered, “Now might be our chance.”

“Let me know.”

Ten minutes later, Cathy was seated at the table facing Alan and Wendy. She was not looking forward to this discussion. She was sure they were going to kick her out of the house.

“I’m sure that you’re wondering about your living situation now that Mom is gone.”

“I have been wondering about that.”

“We’re planning on selling the house, but we have to wait until after the will has gone through probate. It also needs to get fixed up. That’s all going to take time, so you can stay here for now. In fact, we feel a little better knowing that someone is here looking after the house.”

“Okay.”

“Your school gets out right before Memorial Day, right?”

“Yes.”

“We don’t think any of this will be finished before Memorial Day. At least that way, you don’t have to worry about finding a place before school is over.”

“That’s a relief,” Cathy said.

“This weekend, Alan and I will come over and go through Mom’s things. There are family pictures and mementos we’ll want to keep.”

Cathy said, “She told me that the china and crystal were to go to Alan. The jewelry and silver were to go to Wendy. She has an awful lot of nice stuff here. You might want to walk around the house today and take an informal inventory.”

“That’s a good idea.”

It all suddenly became too much for Cathy. She burst out in tears. Sobbing, she said, “I’m going to miss her so much. She was like a mother to me. She taught me how to cook, to sew, and to keep a house. She always had something nice to say, even when my food came out horrible.”

To say that Gladys was like a mother to her was no exaggeration. She was definitely more of a mother than her biological mother had been. With her biological mother, there had been no cooking lessons, no sewing lessons, and keeping house was more like maid’s work than how to keep a house nice for a family.

Gladys had even been more caring. She had taught Cathy a lot about taking care of a house and, perhaps more important, about taking care of loved ones. The elderly woman had taken a real interest in Cathy’s life including her relationship with Benny. She had offered advice, words of comfort, and words of warning. It had been desperately needed and almost too late. Cathy knew she owed the woman a great debt.

Cathy breaking out in tears set Wendy to tears. “She was a great mother.”

Alan said, “She was older than the other mothers. She was over thirty when she had me. I think being older than the other mothers made her calmer and more collected.”

The three spent time reminiscing about Gladys. Cathy and Wendy talked about the recipes she had taught them. Before they knew it, an hour had passed. Alan and Wendy came to the realization they had actually said all they needed to say to Cathy.

“We want to talk to all four of you about fixing the house. Would you get the others?” Alan said.

With a call from Cathy, Tim, Benny, and Sandra joined them at the table. They weren’t quite sure why they were there, but Tim and Benny had suspicions that they were about to be offered a job.

Wendy said, “Mom told me about how you four fix houses for sale.”

“We took a look around the house and it’s not in very good shape. The carpet is worn. The walls need painting. There are lots of little things that need to be fixed. We need you to go through the house and come up with an estimate on how much it will cost to fix it up to where it can be sold.”

Tim tapped Benny on the arm and said, “Now.”

Nodding, Benny asked, “How much do you want for the house?”

“Fair market value. I’m not sure what that is at the moment,” Alan said.

“When you know, let us know. Cathy is going to want to buy it.”

Cathy looked at Benny as if he was crazy. “What are you talking about?”

“You need to buy a house. The sooner the better. This is a good house for you to buy since it is small, affordable, and located in a nice neighborhood. It needs some work, but you know how to fix it up. You even have the world’s worst boyfriend, his friend, and the friend’s girlfriend to help you. You’ll be able to deduct the interest payments on it from your income tax.”

It should be noted that at that time basically all interest was deductible, not only mortgage interest. That included interest on car loans, credit cards, student loans, and home mortgages. The tax rates for a single person were high. It was 25% on the earnings over $10,000 and under $12,000. Any deduction could end up saving a fortune.

“By the way, you need to see a tax guy. If you’re not careful, you’re going to get slammed with federal taxes this year, particularly with the sale of the lead house, and the shit house. You could easily end up paying fifteen hundred dollars or more. You’re single and only have one deduction - yourself. That’s not good.

“It’s going to be worse next year since we expect to flip two or three houses.”

Tim said, “Benny and I have found a nice house to work on over the winter. We’ve put in an offer in for $18,000 and the owners accepted it. We figure it’ll run about $2,000 in repairs. It’s all cosmetic, but if they had to pay to have it done, it would easily run them $5,000. The sellers are desperate and want out of the house. According to Cynthia, it should be worth at least $30,000 when we’re done with it.”

Cathy asked, “Is that what that $1,800 check was for? Ernest money?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Benny said, “It slipped my mind.”

Tim said, “I thought you knew. You’re doing the books for Cynthia.”

“When’s the closing?”

Tim answered, “The closing is right after Thanksgiving. It’s not going to be as profitable as the shit house, but you can expect to earn about 50% on your investment over a five or six month period. You’re going to have to invest some of that money from the shit house to recover some of taxes you’ll have to pay on it. Like I said, you’re going to need to talk to a tax man soon.”

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