This week I decided to share an excerpt from my novel, Secrets of the Apple. Let’s look in on Ryoki Tanaka and his assistant, Kate Porter, as they take a break in Kate’s hometown during a Porter family gathering.
Ryoki was coming down the stairs for breakfast, when the doorbell rang twice in a row, followed by a thumping sound outside, like something heavy falling. He swung open the door, intending to jump out and startle whatever giggling niece or nephew he imagined was out there. Instead he found a middle-aged woman with hair the color of wheat rinsed in pink lemonade, wearing a black polyester cocktail dress with stretch wrinkles across the middle.
“Hi, I’m Susan Calvert, from down the street. My finger just slipped on that bell when I dropped my purse. Sorry about that.” She was nervously brushing invisible dirt from her bag and looking at Ryoki who smiled politely, his eyes drawn to the erratic motion of her hands.
“I understand all the girls are here today and my mother passed away two days ago and—” She put a lace-edged handkerchief to her eyes, almost concealing the white tissue protecting the delicate fabric from her mascara.
“Mrs. Calvert?” Kate said, coming down the hall. Ryoki saw his chance and attempted to bow out, but Mrs. Calvert snagged hold of his arm to be led inside and offered a chair. “Come in, and I’ll call the other girls,” Kate said, leaving Ryoki and his charge in the formal living room to shift uncomfortably on the elegant but uncomfortable furniture. Silence slapped the oxygen the minute Kate left and Ryoki was about to make a daft comment on the fine crystal chandelier, when Mrs. Calvert stepped into the breach.
“You must be Kate’s boyfriend. I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said, plucking at her handkerchief, carefully so as not to shred the tissue. He opened his mouth to clarify, but she didn’t give him the chance.
“My mother’s funeral is on Monday. I’ve been wondering and wondering what to do about the music. Then I saw all the cars and remembered the Porter girls were all home for a few days. They’ve sung together for lots of things, even their own mother’s funeral. Beautiful family, such lovely people.” Her voice broke and she paused to dab her eyes.
“I sure miss Mary. That’s Kate’s mother, but of course you know that,” she said, tapping her forehead. “They gave her quite a send-off when she died. Must have been a whole shop of flowers and people lining up at the funeral home and filing by the casket for three solid hours the night before, then that big old church full clear to the back for the funeral. Those girls singing and playing . . . You’d have thought she was somebody important instead of just a housewife. But she seemed to have that effect, which is funny, because she wasn’t what you’d call a social butterfly. In fact, she once told me that what she really wanted was an electric fence so all she’d have to do is go out in the morning and pick up the bodies. But people sure did line up to pay their respects when she died. She just had that effect.”
Ryoki managed to make a few more noncommittal noises before she put her hand back on his arm and leaned toward him. “I want to get your opinion on something. I want to sue that nursing home for neglecting my mother.” Her eyes refilled with tears. “There was this woman that used to steal my mother’s pudding two, three times a week, and none of the staff ever said a thing to her. Then this woman up and trips during dinner and flips her dress clear over her head. Naturally my mother just laughed and her lower teeth fell out, that’s when the meatball slid wrong and cut off her air. If they hadn’t all rushed off to help that other lady, my mother might still be alive. Besides that, somebody should have helped her get some better-fitting teeth. And besides all that, if they’d stopped the other lady from taking my mother’s pudding, she wouldn’t have laughed and she’d still be alive today. What do you think about that? My husband says no.”
The Porter sisters began trooping in, followed by their father who entered holding a hand out to Mrs. Calvert. Ryoki saw his chance and bolted.
While Mrs. Calvert is fictional, the story of the funeral is not. My mother’s name is Mary, and at her funeral my sister, Shara, sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which remains an important family hymn, and one of my favorites. My mother really did say she wanted an electric fence, yet that big old church was full through the chapel, and clear to the back of the cultural hall behind. She really did just have that effect.