Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Finding Faith
Chapter 4

“Sisterly Love…”

Phil approached the funeral home in a state of hazy dread. Although he had spent most of the last 48 hours on or near his bed, almost none of it was spent sleeping. So this morning he felt like a zombie on a brain fast. And it was not just brains he was deprived of. Phil hadn’t eaten since before he’d heard the news either. In other words he was in great shape for the emotional marathon he was about to run. The way he felt Phil would be lucky if he made it through the door.

The day was going to be divided into four separate but equal rings of hell. The first two would be the visitation and memorial service to be held at the Wade funeral home starting at the Un-Godly hour of 10:00 a.m. At noon, immediate family and selected friends (Phil among them) would go to the cemetery, for the internment. At 2:00 p.m. they would return to the Blessing home for a reception. Phil estimated the earliest he would be able to make it back to his room would be 3:30, given the vagaries of the transit system unless he could con somebody into giving him a ride. If there was ever a day that he regretted not getting a drivers license, it was this one.

To add to his misery, it was an absolutely beautiful day. He wanted it to be raining. Hell, he wanted a tempest of Lear like proportions. He wanted a convenient hurricane to devastate the city. He wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

As it happened Phil had never been to any funerals before this one. For one thing Marigold didn’t believe in them (among the laundry list of things Marigold didn’t believe in, despite any and all evidence presented to her that these things actually existed), and for another she had so alienated her family that if any of them had died , she would literally be the last one to find out. As a result Phil was unfamiliar with what was customary as he entered the funeral home, and was confronted by Mr. Malcolm.

Mr. Malcolm was a tall, cadaverous look gentleman, which made him the perfect fit for his job. It would have been difficult to guess his age without carbon dating. He stood so still at his post, that he startled Phil when he actually moved and spoke.

“Are you here for the Blessing visitation?” Mr. Malcolm inquired. He had the voice and delivery of a Victorian actor. A real “opera singer” as Olivier called them.

“Yes” Phil answered.

“That’s fine. The visitation is in Room 1 on the right. The memorial service will be held in the chapel in one hour’s time…” Phil started towards the room, but Mr. Malcolm stepped in front of him. “Please sign the register”

“It’s okay, I don’t need to sign the register, and I’ve known the family for over 30 years.” He again tried to enter the room, and once again was blocked.

“Please sign the register so that the family will know you were here” Mr. Malcolm was polite and pleasant, but insistent.

“The family will know I was here because I’m planning on talking with them” This time he attempted a pivot around him, but the old man was faster then he looked.

“Please sign the register so the family will have a memento of the occasion” Mr. Malcolm said calmly.
“I really doubt that the family will have much trouble remembering this occasion”

“Please sign the register” The old man wouldn’t budge. Phil finally gave in and signed the register. Mr. Malcolm gave him a death’s head smile, said “Thank you” He and finally allowed Phil to pass, which the latter couldn’t do quickly enough. From behind him he heard Mr. Malcolm request yet another signature to the register of the damned.

Room 1 was large and there were flowers everywhere, in arrangements from simple to one that looked like the DNA molecule. People milled about the sickeningly sweet smelling space, stood in small groups or sat in on uncomfortable looking sofas or chairs. Phil scanned the room and didn’t see Amanda there, but he found Matthew’s parents, Judith and Joshua Blessing, sitting in a particularly nasty looking love seat at the back of the room. He approached them slowly, and reluctantly.

“Mr. and Mrs. Blessing, I just can’t tell you how sorry I am. I mean…Matthew was my best friend …and …Well, I’m just so sorry” Phil struggled, “He was so special. You must be devastated”

“Oh no, dear” Mrs. Blessing said “We’re just fine”

“We’re fine, son” Mr. Blessing agreed. They were both smiling quite pleasantly.

“Oh, at first, we were taken aback” Mrs. Blessing explained.

“Oh yes, quite taken aback” Mr. Blessing confirmed.

“I mean with the suddenness of it all” Mrs. Blessing continued.

“Yes, it was all very sudden” Mr. Blessing backed her up.

“But then we realized that it was all part of God’s plan, and that Matthew is now in a better place” Mrs. Blessing concluded.

“God’s plan was to take Matthew to a better place, we realized” Mr. Blessing explained.

They were both positively beaming, practically giddy it seemed. Phil felt his stomach start to roll over.

“Yes, well I guess that was God’s planning, all right…Would you excuse me please?” he managed.

“Of course, Philson, you go right ahead, and thank you for coming” Mrs. Blessing said.

“Thank you for coming, Philson, and you go right ahead, of course” Mr. Blessing reiterated.

Once out of their eyeline, Phil physically shuddered. He didn’t know which bothered him more, the lack of change in their cheery demeanor (Matthew’s parents had always been like that, or their unwavering dedication to the idea that God was the hit man and that was perfectly okay by them. Between the flowers and his own unfiltered emotions, he was getting a headache of epic proportions, and they had only just begun. He spied Spencer sitting on a sofa, his head buried in his hands, and far enough away from the Blessings to make it viable. And Spencer would probably have drugs, legal ones of course, Spencer being one of the world’s great hypochondriacs. He would be prepared to forgive his housemate for not be home to give him a ride this morning, in exchange for a couple of Extra Strength anything he happened to have on him. Phil crossed the room, and sat down beside Spencer.

“Jesus Christ!” Spencer moaned “Do you have to bounce so much? Don’t you know how to sit like a normal human being?”

“That figures. Here I thought you were grieving, and it turns out that you’re fucking hung over!” Phil griped.

“For your information, I am not hung over I am sick. I stopped into an emergency room on the way here” Spencer grumbled. This was no surprise to Phil. Spencer was always going to the emergency room for one reason or another. Phil thought they might be giving him frequent flyer miles or something. If there hadn’t been universal health care in this country, he believed that Spencer would have moved to one that had it, just for the trips to the emergency room.

“What have you got?” Phil asked

“I’m not sure, they’re still running tests. I’m hoping it’s not a Hantavirus, those can kill you” Spencer sniffed.

“I meant in terms of pharmaceuticals, Spencer. I feel a big ass cluster headache coming on” Phil rubbed his temples, unsure of what it was supposed to accomplish other than to push the pain inward.

“Tylenol 3’s?” Spencer suggested, as he was searching the pockets of his suit jacket/ portable drug store. Once he found the right one, he produced the bottle and asked “How many?”

“Six” Phil said, blandly.

“I’ll give you two. Have you eaten? These shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach” Spencer advised, while handing the white pills to Phil anyway

“After I eat them, my stomach will no longer be empty” Phil reasoned, and then dry swallowed the pair. He hoped they were fast acting and that the codeine would take some of the edge.

“I think you may be the one that’s hung over” Spencer commented.

“I haven’t had a drink in 3 Days”

“Which would explain your charming attitude. Withdrawal Symptoms”

“It’s a fucking funeral, Spencer. Somebody has to look like they’re sorry he’s gone.” He snapped. He hadn’t meant to, it had just come out.

“And fuck you, Lawrence! He was my friend too, in case you forgot. You do not have the monopoly on grief here. Amanda’s so upset they had to take her home and sedate her, but nothing matters unless it affects you, does it. Well fuck you and your black hole ego” He had had the class to whisper this diatribe in Phil’s ear, but it hadn’t dampened the inherent fury of the words.

Phil took a long look at Spencer. This was a guy who had opened his home to Phil nearly 20 years ago, never complained when the rent was late, put up with Phil’s temperamental outbursts, and had patiently and brilliantly designed and lit virtually every set for every play Philson Lawrence had directed thus far. They had co-founded North Rose Players together, and yes Spencer had also been friends with Matthew. He’d earned a little respect, and Phil realized that he was giving him very little indeed. “I’m very sorry, Spencer. You didn’t deserve that. I apologize” Phil said, simply and sincerely.

Spencer put his hand on Phil’s shoulder“It’s okay. I know you’re hurting. You just have to remember that other people are as well. As for sorry, if you want to see sorry, take a look over there. Spencer directed Phil’s attention to the other side of the room.

She was sitting in one of the pseudo-antique looking wing chairs, trying to control the actions of 2 rambunctious toddlers with curiousity of your average kitten from that position. Phil guessed she was over 200 pounds. She was wearing a skirt suit that was a size small for her and too much makeup, presumably trying to distract from her body. Her hair was the same cascading brunette he remembered, but there were fine threads of grey running through it.

“My God,” Phil said, softly “That’s Hope”

“I thought it might be. I could never tell them apart, and haven’t seen any of them for years. It could have been Faith for all I know.” Spencer said.

“That’s not Faith” Phil stated, a little too emphatically.

“It does give one pause, though. I mean they always were identical. Do you suppose they still are?” The grin was implicit in his voice. It was rare for Spencer to do the bitchy queen bit, but when he did it was to perfection.

“That’s not funny, Spencer.” Phil muttered. Truth was he hadn’t seen Faith in almost 5 years. She could be the size of a house for all he knew, doubtful given her perpetual outdoorsy athleticism, but it was possible. “Besides, they were only identical if you didn’t really know them.”

“In the biblical sense…But then I guess you’re the only one who would be able to confirm that particular hypothesis, having boinked all of them” Spencer postulated.

“I did not boink all of them,” he said, then more quietly added “I only boinked Hope and Charity”

“You’re still sticking to that story about nothing happening in the tent that nobody believes, aren’t you?” Spencer asked, shooting him a “Are you for real?” look in the bargain.

“Nothing happened in the tent” Phil stated, flatly.

“How noble, and totally out of character, of you” Spencer then turned his attention back to Hope and mused “Just think, one of those charming little nursery trolls could be yours.”

“I’d better go over and talk to her” Phil said, voicing what he should do, as opposed to what he wanted to do which was avoid Hope Blessing-Jones and her progeny for the rest of the day if at all humanly possible.

“I’ll roll bandages” Spencer offered, helpfully

“You do that” Phil responded, and rose to his feet

It had been a torrid affair when they were in High School. For a while it was even good. Phil liked Hope for herself, and not because she was a substitute for Faith. But every once in a while, at a family gathering, or maybe in school, Hope would catch him looking at her sister a little too long, and that would lead to animosity and accusations. The end came at their senior prom.

By this point the girls had long since rebelled against the dressing alike business, much to Mr. and Mrs. Blessing’s disappointment. And although at that time they were physically still identical, their individual styles had begun to emerge. Faith favoured a natural look, her long hair loose and flowing, minimal makeup, simple clothes. Charity favored her hair up and whatever the she’d seen on Dallas or Dynasty the previous week. Hope was an experimenter, never being able to settle on any particular look, for any particular length of time.

At the time of the prom Phil was still going through his flirtation with Film Noir and wore a 3 piece black suit, black shirt, with a gleaming white silk necktie (Marigold told him he looked like a 5 dollar pimp, and Phil replied that if anyone knew what one looked like, she would). He completed the ensemble with the de rigueur Fedora and trench coat. And of course in those days he still smoked, so when he lit up he looked like teenaged Humphrey Bogart wannabe, which was to say ridiculous. Still, it was a style, and at that time style mattered more than substance, and Phil liked the look. He approached the Blessing home, with visions of Ingrid Bergman, and Lauren Bacall dancing through his head.

She opened the door in a shimmering white dress, remiscent of Jane Greer in “Out of the Past” or Lana Turner in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. Phil’s jaw dropped. It was lucky he had ditched the cigarette outside or it currently would have been burning the interior hall carpet. She smiled at him.

“She gave me smile I could feel in my hip pocket. She was enough to make a Bishop kick in a stained glass window”he said, his best Robert Mitchum, which was none too shabby. He grabbed her and pulled her towards him.

“But I…” She protested.

“Baby, I don’t care” he said and went in for the kiss, but he never made it, because at that precise moment Hope came bounding down the stairs. She was wearing a tailored, three piece black suit and a fedora, just like he was. It was supposed to be a surprise, and it was, but not the way she intended. He let go of Faith, and yes, he knew it was her all along, and tried to make light of it. “Sorry,” he chuckled “But I always wanted to play that scene”

Faith said nothing.

Hope yelled “ We’re going” to noone in particular, grabbed Phil and yanked him in a manner startlingly similar to one Marigold had used 10 years earlier.

It was silent on the drive to the Westin Hotel, for the most part. At one one point Phil attempted to broach the subject but was immediately stopped. “Shut up. We are going to the prom” was all she said during the ride.

Once they’d reached the hotel, it was as if nothing ever happened. She smiled, laughed with friends, even posed with him for Prom pictures in their matching outfits, looking as if she was having the time of her life.
Needless to say, he avoided any and all contact with or mention of her sister Faith, and for her part Faith did likewise. Matthew had opted not to attend his senior prom, because Amanda couldn’t make it.

It was on the dance floor that she made him suffer. She would only dance to slow songs and during them whispered an unending string of invective for his ears only, through lips locked in a smile. Every so often she would accidentally misstep, which landed her knee in his crotch. And he took it. Whether it was out of guilt or sheer masochism, he took it for the whole night

So it came as a complete surprise to him when she agreed to come up to the hotel room he had reserved, in anticipation tonight being THE night. Once the unmentionable happened he had given up Hope, or so he thought. But she seemed to have mellowed during the course of the evening.In fact she had gotten downright affectionate. She apologized for her earlier behaviour , she said. She realized that it was a misunderstanding, and that she had over-reacted, she said. And during the couple of room parties they had put in an appearance, she had been all over him like fleas on a stray mutt. And in fact they did go back to his room.
And when she undressed he was happy to discover that she hadn’t decided to copy his style of underwear too.

It was the first time for both of them. There was awkwardness and fumbling, and in the end it was all too brief. But it was nice. And the second time was not as awkward, there was no need to fumble, took a good deal longer, and was much nicer. They fell asleep in each other others arms and that was very nice.

And when he awoke, he was alone, his bird had flown. And she’d taken his clothes with her, everything except the trenchcoat in the pocket of which she had thoughtfully left his wallet, and a note on Westin Hotel stationery. “I’m glad I’ve finally seen you for what you are, and now so will the rest of the World. We’re through, Hope”

He put on the trenchcoat, folded the note and put it back in the pocket, and calmly walked out the door of the room. The front desk was disappointingly non-reactive when he checked out, as though they saw this type of thing all the time, which they probably had, particularly after prom nights. He didn’t have enough cash for a taxi, so he waited for the next bus. No reaction, a couple of furtive glances, but again no big deal. When he got home Marigold just laughed, and that was the end of it . He never tried to contact her again. There was no point. It was over, and he knew it.

All this came flooding back with hi-def clarity, as he approached the much changed Hope, who was oblivious to him, as she was in the process of dealing with her children. The girl he guessed, was about 4, Blonde and fascinated by the flowers which she was attempting to taste. The boy was about a year younger, toe headed and a brunette the same shade as his Mother and her sisters. At the present moment she trying to keep him from taking off his clothes. “Quit squirming, you little turnip. Now keep those on or I’ll put you back in the car” Then she looked up and saw Phil. In her eyes were the shock of recognition, followed by good old fashion hurt.

“Hello Hope” he said, and braced himself for the oncoming assault. But she said nothing. She just glared at him. That should have been enough to deter him, but he was not exactly thinking clearly at the present time, so he foolishly added “How have you been? You look great” That was enough.

“Well, well, well, well, well…If it isn’t Phil’s Son Lawrence. The world famous sister fornicator…Ruth, take that flower out of your mouth right now or I’ll make you eat the whole thing. So, did you ever make the triumvirate or has lucky Faith cointinued to elude the Stud Master?”

“I’m fine thanks, Hope” Phil replied “And you?”

“Oh, I’m just swell, thank you so very much for asking . My brother who I loved dearly just died. My husband left me, causing me to gain another 50 pounds to add to the 75 I added carrying his hellspawn…Put the bug down Gabriel…And to top it all off my ex high school sweetheart, who has been not so secretly been in love with my one sister, and not so secretly fucked my other sister, comes up to me at my brother’s funeral, and acts like there should be nothing wrong between us, and pretends that I don’t look like Shamu, the killer Whale in this outfit. Ruthy! Leave the flowers alone, honey. I see you finally got a new suit” She managed an ugly half smile at that one.

“Look Hope, I just came over to say how sorry I am that Matthew died. I don’t think we need to rehash ancient history right now” It was an attempt to make peace. A futile attempt, he knew, but an attempt nontheless.

“Why not. Actually I…Ruthy get your little brother away from the plug! Actually I was hoping for a reunion. What do you say, Phil? You and me? A little one-nighter? Gabriel! This is the last time I’m going to tell you! Drop the bug! Or don’t you sleep with fat women?”

It was then Phil decided to stop being pleasant as it didn’t seem to be working anyway. “Oh yeah, I sleep with all kinds of women Super-sized, fat, Medium, thin , skinny anorexic, black, white, oriental, hispanic, native, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, and at least one wiccan that I’m aware of. They’re all the same to me. But I do have some standards. There is one kind of woman I absolutely refuse to have sex with, and that’s the North American Self Pitying Hostile Bitch, so I guess that lets you out. Excuse me” He turned and started to walk away.

Hope struggled to get out of the chair, but was surprisingly quick once she did. She managed to stop Phil in his path away from her. “Wait a minute, Phil. I…I’m really sorry. I deserved that. I was being… everything you said I was. I really am very sorry for what I said. It’s just with Matthew dying, and Gerry leaving…I just…I just kind of snapped when I saw you…I’m…just so…angry…and sad….and…” She began sobbing and collapsed in to his arms.

“Is this the part, where I forgive you and end up getting mugged on the way to the cemetery for my shoes?” Phil asked, and much to his surprise she began to laugh, in between the tears. It made for a kind of hiccuping sound. She looked up at him, and the tears were real. “I apologize, Phil”

“ I know Hope. And it’s okay, I know where you are” Phil said, and he meant it.

“You do?”

“Yeah, I think I do”

“Where am I , Phil?” There was a childlike pleading quality to her voice, that touched him.

“You’re right about here” he said, pointing at her.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she giggled in spite of herself

“I have no idea. It just seemed like the right thing to say”

“Ever the smooth talking bastard” she smiled.

“Ever thus” he agreed. He hugged her and watched as Gabriel finally ate the bug

“Thank you, Phil. Now, If you’ll let go of me I have some midgets to hurt.” She squeezed his hand as she left. “Ruthy, put the urn back where you found it. Gabriel, where did the bug go?”

Phil actually smiled. He couldn’t help it. Then something he heard outside made him stop. It was the all too familiar sound of a ruckus. She wouldn’t, he thought, not today.

But she would, and she was. As he stepped out into the hallway, saw what he expect to see. It was Marigold in a confrontation with Mr. Malcolm.

“Please sign the register” he was saying, predictably.

“ I did sign the register. See?” Marigold pointed to a space in the book

“That is not a real signature” Mr. Malcolm said, dismissively.

“ I know it’s not a signature. That’s my symbol, just like the artist formerly known as Prince used to have before he became Prince again. It’s a Marigold. That’s my name” She was trying to be civil, Phil could tell, but it wasn’t going to hold for very much longer.

“It doesn’t look like a Marigold” Mr. Malcolm said after some appraisal.

“What are you? An Art Critic?” she sneered. Phil considered stepping in but a perverse part of him was enjoying watching Mr. Malcolm get his.

“ Look Lurch, My son is in there, and I want to see him. Now if you don’t let me in , I’m going to take that tie and shove it so far down your fucking throat that your testicles will be in a Windsor knot. Does that compute?"

“Please go right in” Mr. Malcolm apparently liked his tie.

“Much obliged, Mr. Munster, say Hi to Lily and the kids” she said as she blew past him. But before she could reach the visitation room, Phil intercepted her and hustled her back outside onto the sidewalk.

“What the hell are you doing here, Marigold?” he asked, through gritted teeth

“I just came to see my sweet little baby boy. I was worried about him. Happen to know where he is, Fuckface?” She hissed.

“Gee, I get all warm and runny when you call me that. This is Matthew’s funeral, in case you forgot”

“I know it’s Matthew’s funeral, you little shit. I’m the one that told you he was dead, remember?” She put special emphasis on the last word.

“Aren’t you the one who said you didn’t believe in Funerals, remember” Phil countered.

“I didn’t say I didn’t believe in them. I said that they were meaningless ceremonies to comfort the living, and had precious fucking little to do with the person who actually died”

“My mistake. You gave them a ringing endorsement! It still doesn’t explain why you’re here?” He was beginning to lose the last remaining threads of what little natural patience he had to begin with.

“I was concerned about your welfare, peckerhead. When you dropped the phone, and them never called back, and those idiot people you live with said that you hadn’t come out of your room in 2 days …I got worried, and thought you might do something stupid, not that your life thus far has been a ringing testament to your genius. I’m trying to tell you I love you and I’m worried about you, you flaming shitheel!”

“Jesus, Marigold, if you’re gonna go all maternal on me like that, you leave me no choice but to throw up all over your poncho” He was taking part in their usual biplay, but her real concern was a welcome surprise.

“It wouldn’t be the first time. And you’re avoiding the central issue. Are you okay?” Her eyes mirrored the sincere urgency of the question.

“No. No, I’m not okay. I’ve got a huge ache where my diaphragm used to be, and it seems like I’m looking at everything through gauze. I’m raw inside and out. But I have no immediate plans to end my natural existence by own hand at this time, although I’m having a little trouble understanding why. Does that answer your question?” He was having a hard time looking in her eyes, but managed it in the end.

“That’s what I’m asking” she visibly relaxed “ Well, that’s a good thing since I have no desire to have one of these meaningless ceremonies for your sorry ass, so I’d probably end up putting you out on the curb in a green plastic garbage bag, and what with Thursday being garbage day and all, I needed to know. But since you assure me you have no such intentions, I believe I will go home and watch my soaps. Anyway, those Blessing people give me the creeps. I suspect they are not made from natural fibres. Besides, Rabies needs worming and I assure that will give me a great deal more pleasure than this would” Rabies was her 12 year-old cocker spaniel. As she wandered toward her rust and twine purple VW Beetle, she added “Live , long and suffer”

“By the way, I love you too…Now get the fuck out of here, Swamp Witch” he called after her.

She stopped “ Admit it. Wouldn’t you rather have me than the Stepford parents in there?”
“You mean I had a choice? Shit! Now you tell me!”

“Bite me, Sonny boy!” she shouted, as she slammed the car door. The ancient piece of junk coughed to life and lurched off only to be immediately replaced by a gleaming white corvette stringray. The car was not the only thing gleaming and white. So was the driver.

She emerged from the car in what seemed like slow motion. This was less film noir, however, than 80’s music video. The outfit matched the car. She wore a white mini-dress, with matching jacket, white hose and heals. She looked like Hugh Hefner’s nurse. The sun glinting off all that white gave her something of an ethereal glow. She moved with a purpose, and she didn’t so much walk as undulate, but the thing that surprised Phil most of all was that she was headed directly towards him. Before he thought to react, she had her arms wrapped around him and her tongue in his mouth. It was undulating too.

When Phil came up for air, normal time had resumed, and he let go of her. “ Hi, Charity” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Hi Larry, it’s been a while” Charity Blessing replied, just as flatly.
Phil began walking back towards the funeral home entrance “ It must be. You’ve forgotten how much I hate to be called Larry”

“You used to let me call you anything I wanted to” She was matching him step for step, but looked much better doing it.

“Used to wet the bed too, but I don’t do that anymore either” He replied, not looking at her. “ Nice ’Vette. Yours?"

“A gift from an Ex- Boyfriend”

“Uh huh, and did he know it was a gift, or did you just help yourself?” He asked, strictly out of morbid curiousity.

“Let’s just say it was in the nature of a settlement” She grinned.

“I see. So you’ve graduated to extortion” He inferred.

“Whatever pays my bills” She didn’t bother to deny it.

“ I see you’ve dressed appropriately” He sniped

“It’s traditional for Buddhists to wear white to funerals” And she said it with a straight face.
“ You’re a Buddhist now?”

“ No, but one of my exes was. Besides, it goes with the car.”

“ I see” Phil said, and then asked “ So, what do you wear when you wear plaid?”

“ I don’t wear plaid” she said, and darted through the door in front of him, race won.

Mr. Malcolm attempted to get her to sign the register, but couldn’t manage to articulate a single decipheraple word, just pointed at the book and gaped at Charity. She sauntered past him, without noticing and most importantly without signing the register. She went directly to Room 1. Mr. Malcolm was not having a very good day, and yet he was smiling.

Phil followed the sign to the upstairs men’s room, filled a sink with cold water and dunked his head in it. It was the most human he had felt all morning. He just hoped to hell there were paper towels in the room somewhere. He hadn’t bothered to check. There were, thankfully, and after a few minutes he thought he looked together enough to take another stab at the visitation room. In retrospect he would consider coming out of the bathroom one of the bigger mistakes he made that day.

Phil returned to Room 1 only to discover that his friends were having an in depth conversation…about him, and apparently hadn’t noticed his reappearance. Even though he felt slightly foolish, how often did an opportunity like this present itself. He faded a little further into the background.

“ You think he’s going to be okay?” Margot asked. It seemed to be the burning question of the day. ‘Is Phil going to be okay?’ Unfortunately nobody knew the answer, not even the subject of the question itself.

“It’s hard to say. Today was the first time I’d heard a word out of him since Monday. Apparently he didn’t think I was grief-stricken enough” Spencer responded

You flaming bastard, Phil thought, I apologized for that, and you supposedly forgave me. It was all of maybe 10 minutes ago, remember?. But he kept his silence.

“Not a good sign,” Margot opined.

At this point James, who hadn’t really been paying attention but had in fact been staring at Charity Blessing, decided to join the conversation. “What’s not a good sign?”

“Keep up, James, you’re falling behind the rest of the class” Margot chided, then turned to Spencer again, “Have you seen him eat anything?”

“ No” Spencer replied, “but then there’s never really any food in the house, so that doesn’t really mean anything”

“ Maybe he’s in love” James offered. The other 2 stared at him.

“What?!” Margot finally squeeked out.

“Well, I don’t know…Who are we talking about?” James sputtered.

“Phil, you moron!” Margot cried.

As a professional actor and director , Phil’s natural instincts told him he wasn’t going to get a better entrance cue so he took it. “You called?” he asked from behind them. He almost thought he saw them make a tiny jump.

Margot immediately went into spin and damage control mode, which Phil loved to watch because she wasn’t particularly good at either “ Oh, Hi Phil. We were just talking about you…I mean I was just talking about you, and I wasn’t actually calling you a moron. I was calling James a moron, which I guess sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it, and then you came along. Bad timing, really. Not that we aren’t glad to see you, I mean. How are you?” She finally stopped.

“I think I was okay until I walked over here, that is” Phil said “So, what were you saying about me?”

“ We thought you might be in love” James replied which got him an elbow from Margot “I mean I thought you might be in love” he corrected, which got him another elbow, so he turned to her and finally asked “Why do you keep hitting me?”

Margot opted to ignore him, and spoke directly to Phil instead “ Look, we were worried about you. We know how depressed you are about…well, you know…I mean, you were shut up in your room all that time…”

For some reason the tune to “Same Old Song” began running through his head and once more he explained “Look guys, I’ll admit that I’m very low right now, but eventually I’ll be okay, I think. In the meantime, stop worrying. You don’t have to hide the sharp implements or anything”

“Were we going to do that?” James asked, and this time Margot slapped him.

“You’re lucky I’m a woman” James shot back. The rest of them just stared at him. “What?” he asked and before Margot had a chance to strike again, Spencer deftly removed him from the line of fire, and into another area of the room, leaving Phil and Margot together, where Margot began her favourite past-time, Catty Bitching. Spencer and she were pros at this non Olympic event.

“Haven’t seen Faith yet. Think she’ll show up?” She was just trying a few practice pitches.

“Of course she’ll show up” Phil muttered.

“I suppose. My God! Can you believe how fat Hope has gotten?”

“Well, she’s had problems” Phil responded. His attitude towards Hope had softened , almost as much as she had.

“ Problems keeping the refrigerator door closed, you mean. And did you catch the nerve of Everybody’s favorite Charity wearing white to her own brother’s funeral” She was on a roll now. Phil considered sneaking off, but he was too tired. Instead he fed her her next straight line.

“Buddhists wear white to funerals” he offered up Charity’s own rationale.

“Do they now? Well, if she’s a Buddhist, I’m the fucking Dalai Lama. It’s obviously a plea for attention from a fading sex bomb…” Margot began ranting. When it came to Charity Blessing, she had no objectivity and thus went from Catty Bitchiness to Bitchy Bitterness in the blink of an eye. She was good for another hour on Charity and Phil felt himself fading out.

In the end it was all his fault, and even if it wasn’t Margot would go on blaming him until the end of time, he supposed. He would forever be the one who crushed her dreams of stardom and discovery, not to mention denying her the role of a lifetime in favour someone whom she considered to be second cousin to the Whore of Babylon. But it wasn’t really like that, or at least he didn’t think it was like that.Was it?

It was 5 years earlier and the New Rose Players were feeling flush and cocky. They had come off a season that had built success on success, and all the while alternating the classics, Canadian , and cutting edge theatre, the 3 “Cs” of their mandate. When Phil had announced that he had chosen “ A Streetcar Named Desire” as the classic selection for the season and that he would be directing it himself, Margot Morrelli’s eyes nearly popped out of her skull. She had been quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, campaigning for the play since the group had been founded. So it came as absolutely no surprise to anyone when she found a replacement to carry out her duties as executive producer, and showed up at the auditions, dressed like Vivien Leigh from the movie. And her audition was good but…

Casting a play is a quirky art, dependent on a number of intangibles and variables. It depends on who comes out, how they read, do they play well with others, chemistry, particularly if there’s supposed to be romance involved and, yes, looks. It’s a delicate thing, and if you get one aspect wrong it tumbles to the ground like a human pyramid.

So when it became obvious that when David Giraldi was the front runner for Stanley, it put the kibosh on Margot’s chance to play Blanche DuBois. The main reason for this was his height. David was 6’3”. Margot was 4’11 in heels. It would have been a jarring effect, over emphasising Blanche’s powerlessness, or as Phil put it “It would have looked as though Stanley Kowalski were beating up a representative of the Lullaby League, and it wasn’t quite the image I was looking for”

It didn’t help, that the obvious choice for Blanche then became, as Margot had dubbed her, “Everybody’s Favorite Charity”

Back in the present, Margot was still going on about it “I should have had that part. I was so “Southern” I could have owned Slaves. I was so fucking genteel I had trouble farting. I had Chinese Lanterns on every lightbulb in the house. And then everybody’s favorite Charity comes along, blows the director, and cheats me out of what was rightfully mine.”

“Jesus, Margot give it a rest! Just for one day, please? Especially this day…”

“Why should I be a hypocrite just because Matthew died?” she glared.

“Because you’re so good at it, for one thing, and because the primary reason you didn’t get the part was that you were and continue to be a munchkin. And finally Charity didn’t get the part because she blew the director.” He was saying all of this very matter of factly, without emotion.

“Right” Margot sneered.

“Look, I was that director and, while I admit to a somewhat eclectic view of morality, I would never sacrifice my artistic integrity for a lousy blowjob” He said.

It was, in fact, a spectacular blow job, but it hadn’t affected the casting either. Not that either Margot nor Charity, for that matter, would ever believe it. When it came to his work Phil was the soul of integrity, and sexual favors from all of the triplets in their prime wouldn’t have gotten Charity the part had Phil not thought that she was right for it.

“ It was my goddamn part!” She spit “ And I don’t recall Tennessee Williams writing that Blanche had minimum height requirement!”

He looked at her for a long moment, then walked away from her shaking his head.

At that moment Mr. Malcolm appeared in the doorway and solemnly requested that the Blessing Family and Friends please move into the chapel. Phil found himself unable to move, but then then was propelled into motion when Hope had grabbed hold of his arm and was moving him forward. She had a vice grip on him, and he was trapped. He looked around the room as it emptied and saw no sign of the missing triplet. He resigned himself to having to sit through the service. He could accept that.

What he had trouble accepting was the casket at the sitting in front of the Chapel.

It was open.

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