Mrs. Dane

The clergyman’s voice was swept up into the trees. Everyone surrounding the pit of six feet strained to hear him, but eventually, one by one, they gave up and just thought about the man who was about to be laid in that pit for the rest of eternity.

The only one of the small group who could actually hear the pastor stood next to him, but Penelope Dane had no desire to listen to the regimental words of Pastor Kay. Instead she stared down into that pit and ignored him.

Mrs.Dane’s thoughts went to her husband, and how he would like to have been buried on a day like today; the sun so bright that no matter where you looked you had to shield your eyes, and the wind rustling the trees. He would have commented on how bright blue the lake looked that day, or how dreadfully windy it was. This was a sure sign of the impending fall.

Finally, after many more thoughts, Pastor Kay closed his Bible, and everyone said the requisite prayer. As the gravedigger and the cemetery caretaker began to fill in the pit. The dirt landed on the lacquered wood casket with a hollow thump during the first few shovelfuls, but soon became muffled. The funeral goers began to make their way back home.

“No, it’s quite alright.” Mrs. Dane said as the pastor offered her his arm. “I would like to stay with my husband for a while longer.” The pastor nodded and left her alone at the edge of the now-filled in pit.

The caretaker and his wife watched the woman from the fence line. They were fixated on her slight smile and gentle swaying as she hummed some indiscernible tune. Henry Llewellyn glanced at his wife, who had her lips pressed together and her eyes narrowed in thought. He leaned in and, with a glance at the old woman, whispered to Inez.

“Did she seem somewhat … whacky when you talked to her?” Inez glanced up at him and gave him a sharp look. After a few more moments Henry poked Inez in the arm and, without a word, pointed at the widow.

What?” Inez whispered. She talked as low as possible so that the woman would not hear her, though it was completely unnecessary with the wind rustling the trees.

“Go see if she needs … consoling, or something like that.”

“She doesn’t look like she needs consoling.” Inez said.

“Then invite her in for tea.” Henry suggested. Inez sighed, but walked off toward the widow. Just a short distance away from Henry she looked over her shoulder and threw him a cold look.

Mrs. Dane didn’t notice – or at the very least, didn’t acknowledge – Inez for a few moments. The younger woman had to gently clear her throat twice before the old woman looked up.

“Hello dear,” she said. Mrs. Dane smiled at Inez, and fiddled with the papier-mache fruit on her hat. Inez smiled back, but found herself tongue tied, something that didn’t happen much for her. Mrs. Dane looked back at the grave and continued humming to herself as Inez found the words.

“Mrs. Dane –“

“Penelope, dear. All my closest friends call me Penelope. And you must too.”  Inez had heard no one call Mrs. Dane “Penelope” at the funeral.

Penelope, would you like to come into the house for some tea? And a … chat?” Was chat the right word to use with a woman whose husband had just died? Inez wasn’t entirely sure – she was new to the business of consoling grieving widows.

“Tea …” Mrs. Dane clapped her hands together and looked up the sky in thought. “Tea … yes, dear, that does sound quite wonderful.”

 

Mrs. Dane had looked at every photograph in the cramped front room of the Llewellyn’s cottage as she waited for Inez to bring in the pot of tea. The younger woman came in, tea cups balanced on top of the tea pot. She came into the room silently, as she seldom wore shoes inside the house (a habit from her overly neat mother), and caught Mrs. Dane studying a candid snapshot from the Llewellyn’s wedding.

Inez set the tea pot and cups on the coffee table. The clattered together dangerously and Inez winced, hoping nothing was chipped. Mrs. Dane turned around, and smiled dreamily.

“Would you like something to eat with your tea?” Inez asked. Mrs. Dane took a seat at the edge of the worn velvet couch.

“Oh, no … The tea is just fine alone.” She said. Inez poured the tea and sat in the arm chair across from Mrs. Dane.

“You keep a much nicer … a much cozier house than the Mikhails did when they were her.” Mrs. Dane broke the silence. “Mr. Mikhail had been the caretaker before you husband … but you know that. He was somewhat of a sour sort of fellow … and she wasn’t so friendly either … and a downright awful housekeeper.”

“I’m not quite sure I’m the best, either.”

“Oh, a little dust here and there. But you have a cozy sort of ambience to your home. The Mikhails were dirty and their house had the same air they had: cold.”

“So, what made them leave?”

“Who knows?” Mrs. Dane answered with a wave of her hand. “One day Pastor Kay came down here to talk to the husband and the cottage was all boarded up … no note as to where they had gone … all very odd. But, I can’t say anyone misses them much.” She paused for a moment to take a swig of her tea. “But now you and your husband are here, and that’s much better.”

Inez filled the time it took to get through a couple more cups of tea with polite questions. It was less out of curiosity than it was to lessen the awkwardness of sitting with a woman whose husband had just been buried.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Mrs. Dane, but –”

“Penelope, dear.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, Penelope, but usually new widows are supposed to not be so … pleasant.”

“They’re not supposed to be? Is that so? Well, I don’t suppose that I’m much like other widows. You see, dear, I know that I’ll talk to Pierce once more – and sooner rather than later. And that makes me much different than other widows.” Inez paused and looked over her tea cup, eyebrows raised, an d the other woman. Mrs. Dane noticed the look.

“That all sound very crazy, I know. But I have found a woman who can help me contact Pierce.” Mrs. Dane clarified. Inez nodded. She couldn’t get any other words out at that moment.

Mrs. Dane leaned across the coffee table, and in a collaborative whisper said: “Dearest, would you like to accompany me to this little … séance? I feel it would do both of us good.”

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