Insomnia has always plagued me. I know there isn't much I can do when three a.m. rolls around on my clock and again I find myself still staring at my ceiling planning the how to eradicate all life forms within a half mile radius. But it is what I have been dealt. My mom also had insomnia from what I recall. I recognized early on in life that one of us would be pacing the living room at those dark times while the other would be smoking and trying to find anything to help us sleep. Late night movies were what normally called us from our beds when sleep was truly being elusive. Once I was a teen and finally allowed to smoke in the house we would put the large clear glass ashtray between us on the couch and stare through the haze at the black and white visions offered at the bizarre hours we were awake. It was the time when most of humanity is safely tucked snug in their beds. Cable hadn't been commonplace and there were stations that actually went to snow or a distinctive black and white pattern after certain hours.
The old movies from the thirties and forties would travel through the air from some station far away where there was a city or at least some semblance of population beyond the four thousand or so souls that haunted my dead end town. Dawn would begin to approach and by then most of the stations were off air. Without a word one of us would slowly wander off to their bedroom and try to find some bit of slumber to edge off the exhaustion that summed up our days. Whoever stayed behind would put the ashtray up on the kitchen counter and take the afghan blanket off the rocking chair and try grabbing some winks on the well-worn blue couch. That was the patchwork that made up my childhood well through my teen years. Hell, I would probably still be living that life if it hadn't been for the mayor dying the year I turned twenty-one.
Mayor Hunter was not some amazingly dynamic and charismatic man that ran our little town. He was in his late sixties, a round figure with a fringe of dyed brown hair. I knew it was dyed because Selena's was the only beauty shop in town. Both haircuts and perms were done under Margie's firm hands. She also did the hair coloring and any other beauty shop need, with a certain level of discretion. Nobody remembered who named the shop Selena's because Margie had run it for the twenty years I had been kicking around the earth.
Margie's daughter, Cinda, was my best friend growing up and she told me who had hair dyes, cuts and perms. She always swore me to absolute secrecy, as she herself had probably been sworn, while detailing whatever beauty treatment or bizarre tidbit. She passed these carefully held secrets in her whispered voice all the while making sure we weren't over heard. We didn't have too much to talk about other than hair and the beauty shop customers. Cinda kind of had that soft edge to her that made me know she wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed but she wasn't going to do much damage. She loved passing on all the gossip she heard. Since she lived in the apartment over the shop she pretty much heard everything that happened around town either from the customer or someone who knew someone. Always amusingly told and never something I really needed to know.
Cinda didn't actually talk to many people on account of her one eye. She had one eye that was pure brown, honey brown. The other was a fuzzy green. Her mom wanted to save up enough to get Cinda some contacts that matched each eye color but back then it was not something anyone just went out and bought. Plus Cinda liked the attention she got when she took off her sunglasses and met somebody's gaze. When we were little she told everyone she had gypsy soul and the green eye what she used to look into the after world. Thinking about that now it seems like she wasn't wrong.
Well, Mayor Hunter didn't exactly die peacefully in his sleep. He was in bed, that's a fact. He was in Louella Morton's bed to be precise. Louella had the misfortune to try some complicated gymnastic move that involved a feather and an ice cube. Don't know which one, but one of the two extras, pushed the poor man up over the edge. We all had a good idea of what she had been using on him because he promptly turned some incorrect shade of maroon and gargled out a sound before flopping down on the pillow face first. Louella's immediate reaction was to run outside in all her glory with a nicely upswept black beehive, lovely bright coral lipstick and frost blue eye shadow and the aforementioned feather, which was not covering much of anything, in her haste to depart from the mayor's side. The ice cube was something Cinda told me about later during the funeral. Louella was the counter help over at the town's only diner and was supposedly home with a really bad cold that day. She certainly appeared pretty cold in the middle of the day wearing nothing but a panicked look when she ran out wailing about the mayor. Frank Darnell from the hardware store snatched up a horse blanket and wrapped her up while trying to get her to tell him what was wrong. After much sobbing and mumbling the facts tumbled out in time for the rest of the hardware store boys to dash over to her place and find the man was definitely gone from this world.
The mayor's wife, Ginny, was less than bereaved by the man's unexpected death. In fact, she took off a little early for her annual trip down to Florida. She left the week just following the funeral. Usually the mayor and his wife vacationed in Florida for about two weeks in February, the coldest part of winter. Well that fall she just made the trip by herself and never did come back. Nobody said much at first, we all had other things to deal with than figuring out what Ginny Hunter was up to on her trip. Add in the fact that she wasn't very popular from the comments Cinda passed on to me at the funeral in her soft voice.
The mayor's funeral was a full house and most folks just thought she was reciting prayers with the lack of inflection in her tones. My mom could hear Cinda but since she didn't much care for Cinda's steady stream of gossip she thought if she ignored Cinda that she would eventually shut up. Cinda rarely was quiet so I didn't know how my mom thought her strategy would work at the funeral when it hadn't worked any other time. Didn't much matter, since it kept me amused.
The Bartell Brothers Mortuary was built at the turn of the century and sat smack dab in the middle of what was the center of town back then. The light colored brick structure was noticeable amidst the darker red and rust bricked buildings that lined our main thoroughfare. They pretty much had the market on all the business since the only other final arrangements had to be made out of town and it was considered poor form go outside the town proper for much of anything. So the viewing of the mayor was two nights of nearly everyone turning out to see if they could determine what exactly twenty five year old Louella saw in the mayor. Nobody asked Cinda or me what we thought.
Hell, we knew what Louella saw in the mayor. She got expensive gifts she showed off to the coffee shop girls claiming they were from her beau down south that nobody ever saw. She went away on trips about twice a year and looking back folks started remembering that most of those trips were around the same time the Mayor was supposedly in Florida and another week mid fall when the Mayor was down at the Governor's mansion sucking up for more money. He never brought back much money come to think about it. Nobody ever put them together because she never went away on the exact same day as he did and he never came back on the precise same day that she wandered back into town. Besides he was old enough to be her father and upon a glance around the funeral also old enough to be her grandfather. His two grown grandchildren were inconsolable and his middle-aged daughter had not spoken a single word to anyone that we could see. Her husband was understandably unable to attend do to business matters. Cinda revealed the business was drinking as much Jack Daniels as possible. They lived just outside town. That seemed to allow for such social faux pas.
Which brings us to the funeral.
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