Tommy's Novel, Part 11
Here's part 11. Huzzah.Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
The drive from my house to Lyndon’s doesn’t take but five minutes or so, if you’ve got a mind to get there.
Hell, it shouldn’t take much more than ten even if you don’t have a mind to.
It took me about a half hour to finally turn off the frontage road onto the dead end gravel County Road on which Lyndon’s house sat.
I’d never actually been to Lyndon’s house. Not that I could recall, anyway. I was always struck by it, though. I called it a crackerbox earlier, and that’s not too far from the truth. A small, white-washed, wood-framed house with a green tin room and green shutters, set atop a red brick foundation. The house sat at the very front of the Waverly property, which stretched as unused pasture land for about eight or ten acres behind the house. The pasture land, the house and the hickory-rail fence that stretched along the road the length of Lyndon’s property were all framed by the rise of mountain on either side. In fact, looked at from a certain point of view, it was almost as if Waverly’s home and property were acting as a gateway (or a tollbooth, my mind said) to the relative wilderness of the mountains above.
Now that I think about it, I do have one distinct memory of Waverly’s place. I noted that as I pulled my truck into the last place in the small line of cars that were parked in front of Lyndon’s house.
In the past, Lyndon would decorate his crackerbox for Christmas, lighting it up with thousands, more likely tens of thousands of white lights. And he would stretch the lights up the rise into the hills in no set pattern (unless it was discernible by Lyndon). Up into the hills, even up behind the house. I always enjoyed riding by it, with Mom and Dad. It was always one of the last we’d see, before turning across the hill and heading home. The way it looked, with the house, the fences, the trees, even the hills lit up...it was like the Mountains were beginning to celebrate Christmas as well.
I had one of those moments of self-envy, where I wished I’d appreciated that a little more as a kid. I liked it, but I never really soaked it in. Lyndon hadn’t put the lights up for a few years. Poor health, I assumed. And now he was gone.
There were eight or ten cars parked in front of Lyndon’s home, already. I looked at my watch, despite knowing what time it was from a drive where I think I glanced at my dashboard clock every twenty seconds. I knew that it was 1:27, all the way down to my socks. It didn’t keep me from look at my watch once more on the hundred-foot or so walk to the door, and once again when I would get to the door.
I glanced at a couple of the license plates I saw as I walked by. Out of state, but nearby. Georgia. North Carolina. I figured Lyndon had family that lived nearby. My mother’s family had been spread across Dickerman, McMinn, Polk and Monroe counties, in the mountains, for generations. Pretty much since the first few boats from Europe had come aground in the New World, way back when. I figured there were probably Waverlys in these mountains the same way there were O’Dells (like my Mom) or Reeces. There are so many Reeces in Trainersville, you can’t throw a handful of gravel without hitting seven or eight of them. I had two weeks of detention in the fourth grade that’s testament to that fact.
I took one last look at the silent line of cars on the road. I didn’t see any local plates, but I thought I recognized the white pickup parked on the other side of Lyndon’s driveway.
Well, I stepped to the door. I pulled the screen door open, and as I was about to give the inner door a knock, it was pulled open from the inside.
“Michael! So Good to see you!”
The same face who’d awoken me the day before greeted me now.
Do you ever get into a conversation with somebody that you’ve never met, and had them introduce themselves, and then you realize halfway through that conversation that you weren’t listening to what they said?
I had no idea what Lyndon’s nephew said his name was, but he was already grasping me by the shoulder and pulling me into the house. He closed the door behind me and announced in an echoing voice: “Michael Wells has arrived!”
I’ve looked back over this memory probably a dozen times. I swear there have could been no more than ten cars out in front of the house. And I suppose ten cars could have hauled all the people current inhabiting Lyndon’s little homestead if you packed a couple into trunks, a few in the beds of pickup trucks and sat somebody on the armrest hump of every front seat out in front of the house.
Lyndon’s house was packed. To the rafters. And now they were all turned, facing me. I couldn’t and still can’t place the look on their faces as they turned to regard me. The closest I can get to describing it: Expectant.
The next few minutes were spent being ushered around the room, being introduced to Rogers and Bills and Helens and one guy named Dick. I knew I’d have no trouble remembering that one.
I never got told a last name. I don’t know if that bothered me or not. I think in the rush of names and faces, I didn’t give it much thought. But I was rushed from person to person, by Lyndon’s nephew whose name I did not remember. Jeff? Jerry? John? I mentally settled on Jeff, but wouldn’t have bet on my being right. Seemed like it started with a J.
I was shuttled through a Wanda and a Paige, past a Tommy and a Lance, my gregarious host absolutely pleased as punch to show me to the family and friends, those family and friends equally pleased to see and meet me. I was ushered through a Karl and a Steven and a Janet. In the corner of my eye, as I was introduced to a Pete, I saw a familiar face sitting himself on the hearth of the fireplace, drinking a cup of something warm. I wondered if Jesse Cochrane had walked all the way out here, or if he’d found the Gremlin.
I was whirled around and guided to another corner of the room before I could even catch Jesse’s eye to say hello.
Again, I was greeted with another Bill, a Ryan and a Stephanie. I wasn’t given time to engage in much more conversation than a simple “howyadoing?” or “nice to meet you” before I was pulled to another corner or area of the house to meet somebody new.
There were three things I remember noticing as I was pushed through this hurricane of people: All were smiling and happy. I realize that many cultures view a funeral as a happy time, but I wasn’t used to wandering into one in the middle of the Bible Belt, where many took a death as a cross to bear (or badge of honor) for years. But this was a happy, partying group. Also: everybody in the group was huge–not fat or anything like that, though there were a couple who’d taken on a middle age paunch. Rather, everybody seemed built big. I’m 6'2", and I felt like I was looking up into a lot of faces. And lastly, a lot of folks, but not all, spoke with the same stilted accent that my host (George maybe? John? I still thought Jeff) spoke with. Saturday, I’d placed it near Chicago–and maybe there was some of that, but it wasn’t like anything I’d ever really heard. A lot of talk coming from the top of the mouth, and through the nose. I would work on that accent a lot.
Lyndon hadn’t had a huge house, though it seemed larger on the inside than it looked from the outside. I’d never have guessed you’d pack so many people into a house this size, yet not feel entirely crowded. I mean, you’d have to move somebody out of your way if you suddenly had to take a piss, but it wasn’t like everybody was pressed shoulder to shoulder at every turn, either.
After being paraded through the living room, den and kitchen, meeting and greeting every Tom, Dick and Harry in the house (Harry being the last fellow I met), I was guided down a corridor that led off the kitchen down the back of the house. It didn’t have a door to any of the rooms that would have bordered the corridor on the left, or a door to what should have been the outside of the house on the right. It was lit by old-fashioned lamps on the wall every four feet or so. As I walked by one of the lamps, I took a whiff and confirmed my suspicions: This hallway was lit with gas.
I was about to comment on it when I was guided through the heavy wood door. I don’t know what I was assuming was behind the door–a workshop, or maybe a den of some sort.
I’ve never been lead into a chapel, in somebody’s house. And that’s all I could think it was. There were pews. There was pulpit. There were ornate windows. There was a piano in the corner. I suddenly felt like I was in church. There were no religious ornaments. However, in one corner, a bird sat on a perch. It looked like a cardinal.
The room was empty, save for one person.
Willie Hammond sat in the very front pew. It had been his white, rusted pickup truck I saw parked in front of the house. In retrospect, the front bumper fashioned out of a 2x10 should have been something of a giveway. But then, I’ve never claimed to be that bright.
He turned from the cardinal, which he’d been studying from his eat, to regard my host and me.
“Willie’s been here for a few minutes already.” George/John/Jeff/Joe said. (I was now tending toward John). “Why don’t you two get reacquainted. We’ll proceed shortly.”
From the hallway: “John?”
My host turned, and left the room.
I turned back to Willie. “His name was John.”
Willie nodded once.
I walked up to the front pew, where Willie sat. I joined him. He was dressed in a green wool suit that had probably seen its finest days in the late 1970's. The cuff of the right arm was pinned just below the shoulder. I could see the stump of Willie’s arm through the material when he moved his arm. He wore a white shirt, and a brown and green tie that probably had been bought with the suit. The knot of the polyester material was the size of a midget’s fist. I wondered who had helped dress him. The last I’d heard, his wife Velva had left him to return to Texas. It was Willie and Ronnie by themselves down in Chattanooga.
“Willie,” I said.
“Mike.” Willie always called me Mike, even though I went by Michael.
“Crazy seeing you here.”
“Alright, I reckon.”
And we small-talked the conversation of two guys gifted in life pursuits other than conversation. Neither of us looked at the other. We both were looking at this odd room. It was a chapel, though it wasn’t like any I’d ever seen nor heard of.
We talked, and it was so inconsequential that I can’t even remember what we said, until Willie hit a nail on the head:.
“Mike, where’s the body?”
“Where’s the hearse?” I asked in return.
“Is there a preacher?”
“Where did all these people come from?”
“Michael,” Willie said. “I’m really fuckin’ freaked out right now. What the fuck is going on?”
Before I could answer, I heard “Ahem.”
I turned, and saw Teddy standing in the door way.
“Thank God,” I said.
“May I speak with you, Michael?”
“‘scuse me, Willie,” I said, noting the look on his face that was placing me onto the list of things gone awry in Willie Hammond’s world.
I walked to the back of the chapel, where Teddy stood. He motioned out into the hallway, and I followed. The gaslight corridor was empty. I could hear the multitude of voices, the clink of dishes going into a sink, down the hallway, like the party was continuing with me and Willie stuck in the strange chapel down the weird corridor that the giant people with weird accents didn’t seem to think strange at all.
“How long have you been here?”
“Several hours,” he said. He put a hand on my shoulder. “This is a tremendous gathering.”
“I love gatherings of the living. I truly feel that it’s is one of the few times that the living truly come alive We don’t have many gatherings in the afterlife, Michael. And the ones we do I find dreadfully dull.”
“Really?” I said, though it wasn’t so much of a question.
“Oh certainly,” he said, arms waving in grandiose manner. “Gatherings of the afterlife are made up of folks who have no more goals, no more aspirations. They’ve achieved their highest calling. Now they just want to discuss the weather.”
“And this?” I waved an arm down the corridor.
“Beautiful. People with dreams, people with passions all coming together and celebrating. And make no mistake, Michael,” he said, pointing down the corridor. “That is a celebration of a life.”
“Okay, okay...so, this is a funeral after a fashion.”
“Where is the body?”
“I do not know.”
“Again, I know nothing.”
“What about a preacher? This is really weirding me and Willie out.”
“I seriously doubt that you’ll see a preacher here.”
“Teddy....how do you know that this is a funeral?”
“Oh. I’ve spent the last several minutes talking with the deceased. Wonderful man. You really should have gotten to know him in life. And those folks there,” he pointed toward the main of the house, “he was quite beloved by them. This is, indeed, a celebration of his life.”
Events often take an extra second or two to digest, when dealing with Teddy.
“So, you’ve been talking with Lyndon? He’s here?”
“Oh yes. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s heading to the other side. He may not see some of these folks again. He wants to say goodbye, as well. Wonderful chap. Absolutely delightful. And he’s one of the lucky ones.”
“His people believe in reincarnation. He’ll most likely be back on Earth before he knows it.”
“Good for him,” I said.
“I agree! Why did I have to be raised Protestant?”
“He speaks very highly of you, though, Michael.”
“Of me?” Between the missing girls, monsters on film, talking cats, hundreds of people stuffed into a crackerbox and the gaslit corridor leading to a chapel in a house in the woods in my small town, this whole relationship between Lyndon and me was getting to be The Weirdest part of the weekend. By far.
“I barely knew the man, Teddy.”
“But he knew you. And to him, that’s all that was important.”
“That’s actually kind of creepy, when you say it that way.”
“He knows you better than you know yourself.” Teddy was giddy with that information.
“Teddy why am I here?”
“Just wait,” he said. “It will be completely worth your while.”
Teddy was beside himself. He was bursting at the seams with some happy news, I could see. He was like a little kid with some secret knowledge, flushed to the gills with pride at having that knowledge. I felt like that if I pressed, I could probably get Teddy to reveal the secrets, but I don’t know if I could have kept him in the conversation long enough, even if I’d had the strength of a dozen dead presidents. Even in our conversation, I could see him keep turning toward the other end of the corridor, where Lyndon’s friends and family were hobnobbing. He desperately wanted to be able to rub elbows again. And he was on pins and needles to be back among them.
“Okay, Teddy. Let me ask you this: He is dead...Lyndon is dead... but there’s no body.”
“No, that’s not right. I don’t know where the body is.”
“Does Lyndon know where his body is?”
“No. But he is rather curious as to what’s become of it.
“He doesn’t know?” I asked.
“No. He’s very nearly giddy in anticipation to find out.”
“You know Teddy. I appreciate you coming out. You’ve answered precisely no questions and you’ve succeeded in creating dozens more.”
Teddy either missed or ignored the sarcasm: “Not a problem in the least, Michael. If you don’t mind,” he waved an arm toward the gathering he was itching to rejoin.
“Be my guest,” I said.
I watched Teddy galavant down the hallway, practically clicking his heels to rejoin the celebration, even in his diminished capacity. I leaned back against a wall, and ran a hand through my hair.
“Who were you talking to?”
Willie Hammond had pulled open the door, and was now regarding me suspiciously through a crack big enough to put his face through.
“Ummm...nobody...Trying to sort out this day. What time is it?”
Willie, being of one good arm, pulled an old fashioned pocket watch from his right suit pocket. He clicked it open, never taking that guarded eye off me, save for a glance at the face of the watch.
“Five till two”
“So it’s almost time.”
No sooner had Willie spoken those words when we heard “Gentlemen!”
Willie and I both looked down the hallway, expecting to find the speaker near the kitchen entrance to the corridor. Nobody was there.
Willie looked back first, and I saw his eyes widen a little. I poked my head back into the chapel through the door. The only door. And there I saw a woman in a bright red cloak, her face nearly covered, cloak running and overflowing to the floor, standing at the head of the small room.
“Willie,” I whispered. “Was she here the whole time?”
“No. She wasn’t.”