Chapter 3 Ward of the State

Chapter 3

In the morning after breakfast Clara asked Tom if he had any dress clothes.

Tom did not want to take the extra time to change into other clothing. “Not anything better than this,” he said, indicating the clothes he wore. “Why?”

Clara shrugged. “If that’s all you got to wear, I guess next post there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Well, we got to go to Ed’s mom’s funeral,” Clara said. “We need you to come with.”

“I don’t want to go to a funeral, Clara. I didn’t know Ed’s mom and besides my aunt just died and it’s a real sad situation.”

“Well, we can’t leave you kids here alone.”

“I could baby sit with Mary and Robert.”

“No, you can’t do that,” Clara said quickly. “You’re not permanent here, and if Miss Whittaker found out or if something happened … like an accident … or something like that … when we’re gone, we’d get in trouble. Ed’n’me could even go to jail. So you got to come with.”

Tom shrugged. “Okay.”

“Thanks for being such a good kid about it. And do me a favor. Tell Mary and Robert to get a move on. We’re late.”

When they arrived at the church, Clara said, “See, Ed? I told you we’d be late. Everybody else is here already. We should have been the first to arrive. And you already got a load on. I wish you’d lay off the bottle.”

“I got to be drunk to stand these people,” Edward said.

“You’re gonna foul up the whole deal.”

“I’m not gonna foul up anything.”

They got out of the car and went into the church and, because the rows of benches at the front of the church were occupied, they sat in the very last row.

The body of the matriarch, Roberta Edmonds was lying in a green coffin that rested upon two carpenter’s sawhorses that were partly covered with purple drapery. The church pews were filled with people, and the organist was playing some unidentifiable church-like music.

The minister came in from some inner room and walked up the few steps onto the platform and stood behind the podium. He looked down over the congregation noticing Earl Edmonds and his wife Serena and their three sons Anthony, Arthur, and Allen sitting in the front row.

Sitting beside them was Sarah, Roberta Edmonds youngest.

The minister searched the faces of the congregation and finally located Edward Edmonds. He cringed at the thought of Edward Edmonds sitting in his congregation and he hoped that Edward Edmonds would behave himself so that everything would go along without incident.

The minister cleared his throat and the congregation became quiet and the organist stopped playing. “I want to thank you all,” he began, “for taking time from your busy schedules to come to day to say your farewells to the dearly departed Roberta Edmonds, who died in her sleep at the age of 92. And I am sure that her family is grateful for your support also. Let us pray.”

The minister looked up at the ceiling and held out his arms so that his body formed a human cross. “Dearly Beloved,” he began. “We are gathered here in your divine love and eternal presence, to witness our love and devotion for the dearly departed, Roberta Edmonds. Let us pray. Our Father which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will visit site be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

In unison, the members of the congregation muttered, “Amen.”

The minister paused to wipe his mouth with his handkerchief. “Now I’d like to give some time to any members of the congregation who wish to say any words about the dearly departed.”

The minister left his position at the podium and walked to the side of the platform.

Earl Edmonds rose from his place in the front row and walked up the steps onto the platform and stood behind the podium. “I’m Earl Edmonds and I’m the oldest son,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’d like to thank you all for coming, and I want to tell you what a great woman my mom was. Mom never said a cross word or a bad word to anybody or about anybody, and she was very talented. She painted pictures. She was a good singer and dancer, and she was good to us kids. She encouraged us when it appeared that we might fail, and she had a good sense of humor, too.

“After dad died mom lived alone for years, but after awhile we were afraid to have her live alone because of her age, so we convinced her to come and live with us. She lived with us for the last ten years of her life because, like I said, we were so afraid that she would fall if she was left alone, and no one would be around to help her get up.”

“Yeah, right,” Edward said with a tone of disgust in his voice.

“Shhhhhhsh!” someone said.

“Shhhhhhsh, yourself, lady,” Edward said.

“Stop it,” Clara whispered.

Earl Edmonds left the platform, and one unidentified member of the congregation stood and told what a good person Roberta Edmonds was and that Roberta always had something good to say about everyone and that Roberta would be terribly missed.

Serena, Earl’s wife, got up and stepped up onto the platform and stood behind the podium.

“I’m Serena, Earl’s wife,” she said. “And Regina was my mom-in-law. What Earl said is true, and what that lady said about her being missed is true. She was a great person. She was living with us at the time of her death. She was always happy with us and if you needed a baby sitter she was always ready to help, and what a talent she had. She painted quite a lot before she came to live with us, but after she came she couldn’t find the time to do her painting for a couple of years because she was so busy with other things. I’m gonna miss her. I think that we all will miss her like the lady said.”

Edward snorted. “What a load of crap.”

Clara struck Edward on the arm. “Shut up.”

Serena sat down and Sarah Proctor, twice married, twice divorced youngest daughter of Roberta Edmonds stood up and stepped up onto the platform and stood behind the podium.

“I’m Sarah, and I’m … and I’m the youngest of the family. I don’t want to repeat what Earl and Serena has said … and the other lady … because you heard it all before, but momma did have a good sense of humor like Earl said. For instance, momma was always saying ‘my parents ruined the first part of my life and my children ruined the last part of my life.’” Sarah stopped talking, expecting laughter. No one laughed. “Well … it sounded pretty funny at the time,” she concluded and left the podium and took her seat.

Edward rose from where he sat and Clara whispered, “Ed, you come back here.”

Edward kept walking, every once in a while staggering to the left or to the right.

The minister saw him coming and rushed behind the podium and said, “Thank you for your kind words, and now we’ll pray for …”

“Wait a minute, you little twirp,” Edward said very loudly. “I got somethin’ to say.”

“But we don’t have time,” the minister said.

“My ass,” Edward said. “Get away from there.” Edward was climbing up onto the raised stage to approach the podium. “I said I got somethin’ to say, and I’m gonna say it.”

Edward brushed the minister aside and turned to face the congregation. He stood weaving for a few moments, and then he looked down at his brother, Earl.

“She was a good woman all right, Earl, and she would’ve lived probably ten years longer if you and your bunch of morons hadn’t treated her so lousy. And Serena, Sooroona, or Sarongwrap, or what’s your name, her name’s Roberta not Regina. When will you ever get that through your moronic head? And, yes, she was talented but couldn’t paint because she was always babysitting and wipin’ your kids’ asses and feeding them so they could shit some more so she could wipe their asses some more. And the littlest kid slept in the same room with mom, and that room was filled with the stench of urine because the kid was always pissing the bed, and she paid rent on that lousy room and bought the groceries and would’ve lived much longer.” Edward stopped and looked out across a sea of startled faces. “Hear that people? She would’ve lived much longer if she didn’t have to take care of my brother’s jackin’ off kids.”

“How long do you want her to live?” Earl Edmonds said. “She was ninety two for Christ’s sake.”

“She could’ve lived longer you son-of-a-bitch.”

“I must ask you not to use offensive language in my church amongst my flock,” the minister said.

“So it’s your church and it’s your flock is it?” Edward said looking menacingly at the minister. “Like these people are your slaves? They belong to you? You gonna let your people go one of these days?”

“You know I didn’t mean it that way,” the minister said.

“Oh you meant it that way all right,” Edward said. “You bible thumping phony.” Then he turned and looked at Earl and Serena again. “And you say that mom couldn’t paint because she was so busy. That’s no lie, Serena, mom couldn’t do her painting because your jackin’ off kids were always getting into her paints and painting over her paintings. Your moronic jackin’ off kids got no sense.”

“That’s not true,” Serena said. “And stop saying that word.”

“That’s not true at all,” Earl said.

“She told me,” Edward said. “What do you think we talked about when we were cooped up in that urine stenched room? What in hell do you think we talked about when I came to visit all those times?”

“She was half out of her mind,” Earl said. “She didn’t know what she was talking about half the time.”

“Oh she knew what she was talking about all right,” Edward said. “And, Sarah, you think it was so funny when she said all that about her parents and her children ruining her life and all that? Well she was speaking the truth. Grandpa and grandma did ruin the first part of her life with their pissing and moaning and manipulating her into marrying dad, who turned out to be a real loser and who drank hisself to death. And us kids? We ruined her life by pissing and moaning and manipulating her, too. She didn’t have to live with you and she didn’t want to. She could’ve lived alone like she wanted to, with her two cats and her dog. And she could’ve done all the painting she wanted to do, but no, you had to have a babysitter and you needed extra money, so you connived and conspired and tricked her into coming to live with you so she could pay you rent for that stinking little room where your jackin’ off kid also slept.”

“Stop saying that word!” Serena screamed.

“She could have gone to live with you!” Earl shouted.

“She could’ve,” Edward said, “and I wouldn’t’ve charged her no six hundred dollars for rent neither.”

“It was only four hundred,” Serena said.

The room filled with whispers.

“She told me it was six hundred,” Edward said.

More whispers went through the congregation.

“I told you she was out of her mind,” Earl shouted.

More whispers occurred in the congregation.

“But she wanted to live alone,” Edward said. “Earl, you ignorant knucklehead. You knew she wanted to live alone, but you just had to be your moronic, greedy, knuckle-headed, self.”

“We didn’t want her to be alone,” Serena said.

“Yeah. I know,” Edward said. “You were so afraid she would fall and not be able to get up. But she was alone at your home anyway because you went off and left her with your jackin’ off …”

“Stop saying that word!” Serena screamed.

“Jackin’ off, Jackin’ off, Jackin’ off,” Edward taunted. “The reason you wanted her to live with you was to baby sit your jackin’ off kids. Christ! You left her alone for weeks at a time with your jackin’ off kids so’s you could go gallivanting off … to Albaturkey, New Mexico … to Florida … to … all over the place.” With the last phrase, Edward made a sweeping movement with his right arm, accidentally brushing the bible from the podium onto the floor.

The minister quickly rushed around the podium to retrieve the bible. He picked it up and clutched it tenderly to his breast.

“So … you see? You people did ruin the last half of her life,” Edward said. “And then you went to Florida and left her all alone, which was the reason you wanted her to live with you, to not be alone, and when you came back from Florida you found her laying on the floor, dead. She probably had fallen and laid there for days before she died. And now at the time of her death you can’t even give her a good funeral.”

Earl stood up and clenched his hands into white knuckled fists. “Just what the hell’s wrong with this funeral?”

“Gentlemen! Please!” the minister pleaded.

“Just look around you, Earl,” Edward said. “You got this ugly green coffin for her. You got these gladiolas. You got her dressed in her nightgown, which she sewed for herself about twenty years ago. And, Earl, she ain’t smilin’. For God’s sake, Earl, she ain’t smilin’.”

“I don’t see what’s so wrong,” Earl said.

“You don’t get it, Earl? What’s so wrong? She hated the color green, for God’s sake; and she hated gladiolas. And the undertakers have ways of makin’ ‘em smile. And the dress? For Christ’s sake! The dress! Couldn’t you tight assed morons jar loose with a couple of bucks for a new dress? That’s what’s wrong.”

Earl turned towards Serena and Sarah. He opened his arms and rolled his eyes with a gesture of hopelessness.

“I must ask you to leave now,” the minister said.

“I got more to say,” Edward said. “Haven’t you people no sensitivity at all? Mom use to listen to that song … how’s it go … ‘my long tailed coat that I loved so well gonna wear it on the chariot in the mornin’.’ Mom use to tell me that she would like to go out in style. Wearing a nice dress and a smile … so no one would think she regretted anything while she was here on earth. And you morons screwed it up!” Edward’s last phrase was a shout.

“I must insist that you leave,” the minister said.

Edward made a threatening gesture towards the minister. “Listen, you little weasel,” he said. “I whipped your ass in grade school, and I whipped your ass in high school, and I sure’s hell can whip your ass here today, so shut up and sit down.”

“You son-of-a-bitch!” the minister shouted. “I’ll throw your ass out of my church.”

The minister put down his bible and approached the podium.

“By golly, I’ll help you,” Earl said as he rushed forward.

As the minister reached for Edward with both arms, Edward poked him in the nose with a sturdy left jab and then, without hesitation, hit Earl on the jaw with a right cross and Earl stumbled from the stage, and the minister staggered backwards from the blow.

The minister, whose nose was gushing blood, backed into the coffin and the weight of his body moved the coffin and tipped it off its support. The coffin went crashing to the floor on its side and the body of Roberta Edmonds rolled out of the coffin and came to rest on its back.

“Momma!” Edward cried out. He came from behind the podium, left the stage and pushed Earl aside, and rushed around the coffin and knelt down by the body of Roberta Edmonds and began to sob. “Momma! Why did you have to leave me?”

Serena stood up and kicked Edward in the side and raised her foot to stab him with her high-heeled right foot.

Clara, who had left her seat and had rushed down the aisle, saw Serena’s actions and swung her purse at Serena’s head, and something heavy in Clara’s purse knocked Serena to the floor unconscious. Then Sarah stood up suddenly as though she was going to retaliate, and Clara hit Sarah with a left hook. Sarah staggered back-wards against the pew and toppled over onto the people sitting in the next row.

“Come on, Ed,” Clara said, taking Edward by his arm.

Edward continued to sob.

“Come on,” Clara said again, pulling steadily on Edward’s arm.

Edward looked up at Clara with the tears working their way down his cheeks.

Clara pulled steadily on Edward’s arm. “Come on, Ed,” she said softly.

Edward stood up very slowly and followed Clara up the aisle as Clara pulled steadily on his arm. When she and Edward passed the last row of pews, Clara looked over at Tom, Mary, and Robert. “Come on, kids. Let’s go.”

Tom, Mary, and Robert stood up, filed out, and followed Clara and Edward to the automobile. Clara got Edward into the passenger side of the front seat, and Mary, Robert, and Tom got into the back seat of the automobile.

Clara got into the front seat behind the steering wheel and started the motor. “You really fouled it up this time, Ed,” she said, shaking her head as she released the brake and drove the automobile into the street.

Monday, Miss Whittaker came and took Tom, Mary, and Robert from the home of Edward and Clara Edmonds.