The coffin was smooth, buttery and brown. When Edie touched it earlier in the parlor, she made a mental note to remember the way the wood felt on her palm, how well it had been sanded. She wondered if it had been sanded by hand or produced in some factory. When I get home, she thought, I’ll look it up on the Internet. Coffin production.
And if in fact, her research should suggest that most coffins are produced by factory workers overseas, Edie would insist that night, while lying next to her husband in bed, that if she died before he died, that she should be buried in a hand-sanded coffin.
Likely, he would say, “Edie, baby. Why are you so morose?”
And likely, she would reply, “I don’t want you to have to worry about picking one out.”
And likely, he would say, “That would be the least of my worries.”
And likely, she’d respond, “But if you’re standing in the coffin aisle at Home Depot and you have a choice between a coffin made on some assembly line or a coffin painstakingly sanded by a man for days–“
He would interrupt, “You want the one sanded for days?”
And she would reply, “Yes.”
No one had recognized her. Not under the umbrella-shaped black hat she bought at a Goodwill store. Not with the black veil shrouding her big, wide unmistakable Edie eyes. Not with the way she slid into the parlor as if to leave no footprint, as if she were just air and space seeping between shoulder blades, rising up among knobby knees in a cold funeral parlor that smelled like a cheap air freshener and damp clothes. Not with the way she pursed her lips and never opened them, not even to breathe the word hello, how are you, or sorry for your loss.
It had been the three little white girls at her side that gave her away. Timid and clinging to their mother’s stockings, they were the only little white girls in a sea of black faces, and Edie knew that if she brought them, that no amount of black netting, nor big-brimmed hat would take away from the fact that she was Edith Armor.
Standing under an oak tree, at the top of a wet hill, she hoisted her youngest daughter onto her hip, pushed the child’s dark hair away from her eyes and kissed the brown birthmark that was shaped like a bird. Her two youngest daughters, blonde twins in black tap shoes, grabbed each others hands and stared at their feet.
It was the first time Edie had been to a funeral in the rain, and other than that one extraordinary detail, there was nothing else extraordinary about the day.
PS. Illustration is Reincarnation by Hisss.