Moon Over St. James Parish

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

A story of love discovered in a funeral parlor. Nicholas, whose job is preparing the dead for viewing, finds love in a most disturbing way.

Moon Over St. James Parish

 

by Frank J. Mueller III

 

 

Azure skies and sunlit pathways of water gave accent to the life of the swamp. Harmony, guided by her wanderings into romantic things, thought herself the protector of the swamp and the life it held. Of her part of it. Extending through bayous, marshes, and wetlands, the swamp needed more than what she could give. Because this expansive and beautiful swamp was dying. Did the black bird perched on his stump of cypress know it? Did the gator lying in stealth know? Or the fish that fought the lines of the fisherman? And what if they did? The swamp went languidly on.

 

For those who lived and worked here, The Swamp was enough. For Harmony, it was more than enough. She wondered if anyone appreciated how truly beautiful it was. The swamp had its many visitors. They would walk through it, would marvel at its mosses and vegetation, at the cypress that seemed to spring from the water. The waters themselves had their swimmers. Swimming wasn't easy here, navigating the many plants of the swamp was an experience she did not want to have. Although there was open water, and lots of it, where the swamp met the Louisiana coast, she had seldom wished to stray away from her small place in it. Harmony appreciated the peacefulness and majesty of the swamp, it made her feel that God looked down from the heavens and blessed her by letting her have so much of this as her home.

 

Harmony left the swamp every day to work at the Dress Shoppe. She loved working in this place, loved imagining herself in any one of these dresses, wearing it while walking in the swamp. To feel beautiful in this place where everything was wondrous and good. She couldn't dream of a better life.

 

 

The funeral

 

 

Nicholas

 

The moon witnessed through that haze of the autumn sky afforded him a sense of mystery. For all its mystery, this was a friendly moon; amusing to him, for how, he wondered, can an inanimate object be called friendly? But over here, deep in the Bayou, the thought was pleasing. In his caring for the dead, Nicholas saw his mission as vital. He was important, taking his value in seeing to their final disposition. He dressed and cleaned them when he was asked to do so. He enjoyed his work. Sometimes, he even played comforter for the grieving. He, himself, though he could see little reason for it, grieved for those who didn't have anyone to grieve for them. Funerals did bring people together, and his sincerity was weighed against the number and attractiveness of those attending these affairs. He would offer platitudes that had as their central theme "I'm sorry for your loss" and would freely speak words designed to console. The beneficiaries of these words seemed appreciative, which justified his seeing them.

 

Somewhat paradoxically, he was not at ease with funerals. Saying things to assure that he didn't mean, and saying them over and over again. Seeing sadness in the faces and eyes of the bereaved, confusion in the faces of others. He would rather be alone, thinking of the bodies that came to him, the women mostly. Because they had to be dressed. Had to be prepared.

 

Evangeline

 

Evangeline Hart walked the bayous of her the home, a frequent pleasure of hers. Waterways that, more often than not, were accentuated with thickness of Cyprus, that were havens for an abundance of life. Animals, large and small, fighting for dominance and survival, the bayous had always been places of beauty for her. She felt herself an explorer by nature, and she certainly had her opportunities here: the mossy swamps, the meandering and shallow waterways of her home, the beautiful blue and cloudy skies that fed her imagination. She could not imagine living anyplace else.

 

She enjoyed the life she had chosen for herself. Her friends, but not all, were not reserved in in saying she chose wrongly. She listened, but but ignored them. When the night came and sleep called, she wondered if they were right. Not worth the concern, just something to wonder about.

 

Nicholas

 

It was hard to think of her as just another body. This woman with glorious hair and expressive face. He might love her, if she weren't dead. He thought about this. He would, although he didn't know it yet, think about this for weeks and months to come.

 

She doesn't need much work, he told himself. Women as beautiful as she usually don't. It was a shame, and he hoped God was listening, for someone so young to die so soon. But, there were, curiosities here. How did she meet her death? Was she killed? The lack of violence evidenced on her face and body indicated she hadn't. Had she killed herself then? There had to be a dramatic cause, it would make it easy to feel sorry for her. He very much wanted to feel sorry.

 

He felt a responsibility for her that extended beyond the requirements of his office. He would wash her, would perform the necessary procedures, and would feel good in doing so. He was a good employee. But, this one – ah, this one.

 

Evangeline

 

The respect Evangeline held for the Bayou was great. Respect for the animals that lived there. Respect for the predation of the swamp. She felt the Bayou held respect for her too, that each had things they could do to the other. Such were the thoughts of the young Evangeline, who had the forest and watery Bayou for her playground. For her world. Evangeline understood the things of death in this place, that that some lives were forfeit by the natures of their existences. Birds and fish prayed on insects. Gators ate mostly what they wanted. She was able, also, to appreciate that the living things of the Bayou, and those, very much like herself, who benefited from them, shared an insoluble relationship.

 

Nicholas

 

It can be a dangerous proposition, allowing the beginnings of emotion to take place.

 

His eyes were full of the body before him – the body that was given him – and he gave himself fully to such a proposition. He had a desire to know her name. A woman as beautiful as she ought not to be anonymous.

 

"Are you finished with her?"

 

"Should I be?"

 

"Yes, I think so. There there are others you should attend to."

 

"You're right, of course. It's just so hard to leave her."

 

"She's dead."

 

"Yes, I suppose she is."

 

At the cemetery, prayers were offered for Evangeline, supplications to the Lord above that she might be granted a better place. It was well thought that she would be in, that she had to be, no one felt it improper to witness to God what should be. He would not argue with such wisdom.

 

Nicholas felt privileged to care for for his dead, but sometimes did feel a bit claustrophobic in the environment of the parlor. Here in the cemetery, among the people who bid their farewells, he felt none of this, among the fullness of trees that complemented the geography of this place, framing the stones and monuments of this small cemetery.

 

"Evangeline," someone said, "would have liked this."

 

She would have, he thought. And then: Evangeline. My God, what a beautiful name.

 

The music of the Bayou and of the city +continued the celebration of Evangeline's life. Funerals were celebrations here.

 

"Evangeline loved her jazz."

 

"She loved her life."

 

"We loved her."

 

He let his mind play with these words. And he had a good time with the game, filtering images of love and subjugation through the stuff of his mind, letting it become a jumbled and porous thing. He was greatly amused.

 

The graveside was again made sparse as he watched Evangeline's guests leaving for their homes. For evenings of entertainment. For times of closeness.

 

He stayed. Evangeline should have someone to be with.

 

Again in the parlor, Nicholas awaited his newest body, unsure of his present thoughts or feelings. This one, he'd been told, would require the full compliment of his services. He should feel good about that, but the work he had looked forward to was becoming just something to be done. He wanted to say, "give this one to someone else," but there was no one else. When this body arrived, when he saw the depth of work he had to do, his response was "I'll do my job," with no real feeling of anything at all.

 

This one bore the scars of smells of the swamp. It had been a while since he had been challenged like this. His feelings of the relations of the deceased were dependent upon his skills. He hoped they would be good enough. Not all that much to hope for, but it was all he had left. Evangeline was in a grave, a beautiful young woman taken from life. And from him. His service for the dead had done much to console him. This, too, had died with Evangeline. One thing was clear. He no longer enjoyed his work. It was not his weighing what he should or shouldn't do, but the lure of sky and air, of not spending much of his daily hours in the enclosed environment of the funeral parlor, was far too great to dismiss. Evangeline had changed the way he viewed things, and he saw no downside in that.

 

 

 

The Dress Shoppe

 

 

 

It was a small shop. She had thought this more than once. It was one reason why she had liked working here. Another was the dresses, some inventoried for later display rather than to be sold. Their colors were pleasing. Their fabrics testified beautifully to their worth. She look forward to her days spent here. Days that didn't seem long enough.

 

His presence in the Shoppe gave her a satisfying bit of curiosity. With his tour of the dresses, more like an examination, curiosity was becoming suspicion. It made her feel like people she wanted to divorce herself from, people who thought ill of others. Right now, though, feeling a measure of suspicion was acceptable to her. It was not the usual thing to see a man in here without the company of his wife. Or his girlfriend. Or with a woman of any calling. He was the only one, other than she, in the Shoppe, and this provided her with all the opportunity she wanted to observe him. Why is he in here? Was the thought that came far easier than it should have? Stop it, Harmony. But, she couldn't. She knew it.

 

She watched him walking from dress to dress, and she had to admit she was enjoying herself. She knew why, of course. The dresses here were beautiful. Nicely cut. Of soft fabrics. She spent all the time she could imagining herself in any one of them. And then, she would think it feels so good to have dreams.

 

The dress, so appealing in its shadings of reds and blues, captured the attention of the man. She smiled because it captured hers as well. He must have seen that smile, she thought, because he focused his eyes on her, and called her to him.

 

"Could I use you for a while?"

 

His eyes were so expressive, his smile so disarming, that her earlier feelings of suspicion slipped blessedly away. Please let me wear this dress for you.

 

“I'm Harmony.”

 

"Well, Harmony, will you hold this dress for me? So I can see how it would look on you?"

 

"I don't know," she said, feeling so good he was looking at her.

 

This girl Harmony was a wonder. It was so easy to let her into his imagination. So easy to see her in this dress. So easy to imagine himself holding her. She had good breasts, this Harmony. Nice hair. A complexion, and a youth, he could fall in love with.

 

Nicholas, his attention shared between dress and Harmony, feeling like he hadn't sense Evangeline's funeral, feeling not quite like his former self but close, was delighted with the unfolding of the day's events. The enjoyment of his work was returning, he was in the Dress Shoppe, letting the emotions of a beautiful dress and a beautiful girl take him to places he hadn't been for a while.

 

"Harmony, I'll take this dress."

 

"Where is she?"

 

“Who?”

 

“The one you're buying this dress for.”

 

“Waiting."

 

He watched Harmony packaging the dress for him. Then, satisfied, thinking of satisfactions yet to come, he left the Dress Shoppe. Making sure Harmony saw his smile.

 

 

Epitaph

 

 

At his station on the lower level of the funeral parlor, the mind of Nickolas Pence is swirling with activity, shifting between troubling and mesmerizing things. Harmony is young and captivating. Evangeline – oh, Evangeline – alive for him in so many ways - “I love you, Evangeline.”

 

Harmony and Evangeline vied for a place, maybe the only place, of prominence in the mind of Nickolas. It didn't seem right that either should emerge victorious, this was no contest. Only one thing would ever mean anything to him. He smiled, and his soul felt good. What else was there, really, except feeling good? And his love of two women, and what that love allowed, Evangeline, this is Harmony. I think you're going to like her.

 

 

Story by Frank J. Mueller III fjm

 

 

 


Submitted: October 16, 2013

© Copyright 2022 fjm. All rights reserved.

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