© James J. Doyle, Jr. 2014
“What did we forget?” Phil asked.
A weak smile crossed Annie’s face. Trips always started this way. “I think we have everything.” Out the passenger window, she watched the countryside speed by.
“Let’s go over things. . . . Billfolds?”
“Suitcases and clothes?”
“In the trunk. We put them in together.”
“Wait. I’ve got you on this one. Wedding invitation?”
“In my purse. Remember, I showed you when we started out.”
“Right, but you can never be too organized. I just read that somewhere.”
“Phil, we’re set. The cell phone is here on the car console, and the pad is in your briefcase in the back seat. The weekend schedule and hotel information are in the briefcase.”
“Where are we staying and where’s the wedding?”
“The Metropolitan. The wedding party and my family are all staying there. The wedding is in that little church just south of downtown, and the reception is back at the hotel.”
Phil glanced at the ignition key, thought for a second and slammed his back against the car seat. “Oh no,” he wailed. “We forgot about the wills. I knew it. I knew there was something we forgot. Something important.”
“What did we forget about the wills? We just got them back from the attorney. They’re safe in the house.”
“And when we die, no one has a key to the house. No one knows where the wills are. Our children are doomed.”
“We are not going to die, and our children are not doomed.”
“That’s easy for you to say. We’ll both be dead.”
“Not if you pay attention to the road and stop worrying so much.” Annie told herself not to be angry. “We’ll call your sister. She has a key to the house. We’ll tell her where the wills are, and we’ll give her the attorney’s number. Just in case.” She took a deep breath. “I’m putting the cell on speakerphone and dialing right now.”
Annie dialed the phone and held it between the two of them as it rang.
Phil turned his head toward the phone, momentarily taking his eyes off the road.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Phil lifted the suitcase from the trunk, a pained expression on his face.
“What do you mean?” Annie set her bag on the valet rack.
“There, you’re doing it again.”
“Answering a question with a question. I asked you where you’d like to go for dinner, and you said, ‘What do you feel like?’ You do it all the time. You never answer me. Never. Never. Never.” Phil’s voice was rising and his face was turning red.
People entering the hotel stopped and looked over with concern.
“Phil, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You never mean. You never listen. It’s just like our counselor says, ‘Don’t hold it in. Let it out. Or, you’ll explode.’ We’ll I’m letting it out, because I’m going to explode. Enough is enough. I can’t take this anymore.”
“Here, Ma’am, let me help.” The valet gently took the rack. “You can check in at the desk and we’ll bring the bags to your room.”
“Th . . . Thank you.” Annie was tentative. She looked at Phil, not saying anything.
“Ok. Ok.” Phil sighed deeply. “Let’s check in.”
“The tour starts in five minutes.” The brewmaster waved his hands high in the air and started walking toward the stairs down to the vat room.
“Are you guys coming along?” the nephew asked. “I hear the tour is fun. Isn’t this a great venue for a rehearsal dinner?”
“It is.” Phil set his empty glass down on a table. “Your dad told me it was an old school district warehouse before they gutted it and put in the banquet facilities and the fermenting equipment.”
“Yep, a good job there,” the passing niece interjected as she pushed her cousin to follow the crowd. “Hurry up, slow pokes.”
“It does sound like fun, Phil.” Anne smiled.
“It does.” He took her hand. “If you’ll go with an old crabby face.”
“Not so old. Quite handsome, I’d say. Thank you for entertaining all my relatives. They really like you.”
“And I like them.” He squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry Annie. I don’t know what it is. It’s like, I don’t know, something gets into my head.”
On the small table behind the last pew, Phil moved the ciborium to the left of the pitchers containing the wine and water.
“What are you doing?” Annie asked.
“I was arranging the gifts so it would be easier for us to pick them up.” Phil’s voice was edgy. “You told me we’re taking the gifts down during the wedding mass.” He bent his head and squinted an eye, as if he were listening to something or someone. “Why are you always so confrontational?”
“I wasn’t trying to be confrontational.”
“You are, and you hurt me. It’s just like that article I was reading back in the hotel room. People hurt each other all the time, and they don’t see it. They say they don’t mean it.” Phil sneered. “They just do it. The magazine was right. Most hurts aren’t caused by evil people. They’re caused by ordinary people who don’t care and who can’t say they’re sorry.” Phil beat the back of the pew with his fists. “You never say you’re sorry. You just attack me and act like nothing’s happened. I’ve had it. I’m going to leave. I’ve got to. . . .”
“It really doesn’t matter which side you put them on.” The gray-haired priest bent and touched the silver vessel with the hosts. “Or who carries which. We’ll straighten it out in front, when you get to the altar.”
The cleric glanced up at the sun shining through the rose window. “We have time. The bridal party has yet to arrive, and my study is just over there.”
A strong elderly hand rested on Phil’s shoulder. “I’ve been watching the two of you, when you arrived, last night – I didn’t have my collar on – and just now.”
Locking arms with the couple, the kindly priest moved them toward a small side arch.
“There’s something you need to know.” He gave a quiet laugh. “Yes, something you both should know.”
Cajun music blared.
The guests cleared a space and stood around in a circle.
On his face on the floor in a sweat-drenched white tuxedo shirt, cuff’s rolled up and bow tie pulled to a side, the father of the bride extended his arms and legs and began to rock back and forth on the pivot of his rather rotund middle, faster and faster, appendages dangling and gyrating in wild discordance to the zydeco tune.
“Like an alligator,” Phil said. “The bride told me it’s called the ‘Floppin’ Gator.’ He does it at every wedding.”
“Did he do it at ours?” Annie watched in amazement.
“He tried, but there were too many of us dancing.” Arm around her waist, Phil pulled his bride closer. “You never left that dance floor. I know. My feet ached the entire honeymoon.”
“You never told me that.”
Turning to each other, they kissed. The music had stopped and they were alone on the dance floor.
“I see you.” It was the nephew from the reception dinner. “And so does everyone else. You lovebirds, when will it ever stop?”
“Never,” they said together and laughed.
“Ok, you can tell me. What’s up? What’s going on with you two?”
Phil looked to Annie. They nodded their heads.
“Ok,” Phil said.
“We’ll tell you,” Annie added.
“But you won’t believe us,” Phil finished.
“We’re dead,” Annie said simply.
“We died in a car wreck on the way here.” Phil explained. “It was my fault.”
“It was more than you, Phil. Remember what Father told us.”
“Thanks, Annie, but it doesn’t really matter any more.” He faced the nephew. “We are quite dead.”
“Dead,” the young man repeated slowly.
“Yes,” Annie smiled. “And, in Heaven.”
“Hallelujah,” Phil intoned.
The nephew’s eyes widened and his head tilted to one side.
“If you’re in Heaven,” he asked quizzically, almost to himself, “where am I?”
“Cigar?” The executive passed the box, leaned back and swiveled in the upholstered desk chair to admire the view, exhaled and adjusted the very expensive silk tie.
“Thanks.” The associate lit the tip of a cigar. “You know it’s against building rules. No smoking on the premises.”
“Oh my, we’ve broken the rules.” The executive blew a spoke ring. “When will we ever learn?”
“Never,” they said together and laughed.
“We should have gotten the man,” the associate commented.
“That’s what the Boss said.” The executive coughed. “He was not pleased with the outcome.”
“I did everything I could.” The associate fidgeted in his chair and dropped burning ashes onto the Persian carpet. “I was in the man’s ear, directing his gaze, leaving the props.”
“Using the glance at the ignition to remind the husband no one had a key to the house. Masterful.” The executive mused. “That got the process started. Seeding the quack counselor’s words was a stroke of genius. We almost had him there. And, the bogus magazine article with the world of hurts. Truly, a deft stroke. The husband was close to lost.”
The associate sighed. “But, in this particular scenario, someone always showed up at just the wrong time.”
“The valet, the nephew, the priest.” The executive dropped red-hot ashes onto the papers in the trash can at his feet. “That old priest knows too much.”
“And always the wife,” the associate moaned. “Always her.”
“Still,” the executive sneered. “We had the husband. At the car wreck, we could have taken him — if it weren’t for the second chance.”
“Who’s idea was that?” the associate made a face. “The second chance. It’s one rule I would like to change.”
“Bad luck, the Boss has been trying for ever. It’s He Is Who Is.” The executive dropped more glowing ashes into the trash. “He Is made the rule and He Is won’t change the rule. If you ask me, He’s too easy on His creation.” The executive turned quickly to his associate. “And don’t ever use His name with the Boss. It will be the end of you.”
“Right.” The associate set his cigar down on the polished mahogany desk where the finish began to melt and smoke.
“My, that does smell bad.” The executive smiled a wicked smile. “You need a new assignment, and I think I know just the candidate.”
“Who?” The associate was excited.
“The nephew. He doesn’t seem to know where on the way he is. Heaven, hell or somewhere in between.”
Evil laughter drifted between the smoke and flames rising from the burning rug, the smoldering trash, the fuming desk and the two cigars.