Central Coast Writers 2nd Place Winner, Fiction

Charlotta’s Wake
By J.D. Blair

Francois dressed Charlotta in a mid-thigh length crimson dress with a deep neckline. Even in death her cleavage was impressive. He stood her open casket in a corner of the dining room where she could easily be viewed as visitors made their way along the buffet table spread with luncheon meats, cheeses and various condiments. Mutterings rippled through the small gathering of mourners about whether the arrangement was, or was not in good taste but Francois would have none of it. “She wanted to be part of it,” he said as he refilled a bowl of potato chips.

“She left a beautiful note,” said Briana Sutcliff, a college roommate of Charlotta’s when they were students at Stanford. “So empathetic and selfless.”

Francois posted Charlotta's suicide note on the Internet asking for responses and RSVPs from friends and members of her Tuesday afternoon reading group. They all gave the note positive marks for composition and craft. Only Marilyn Cleese was put off by it, remarking that it was a little too self-serving, never mind that the “self” was now deceased. “Whiney” was the word she used to describe the closing line of the note which read, “I just wish I could have published.” The note was the only thing Charlotta ever finished. She never had a real job and was content to be taken care of by anyone who showed an interest. She used up three husbands before she was twenty-five. Francois was her fourth and final caretaker. Though they never married he thrived in the role of provider and didn't care that
she treated him like dirt. Oddly he met her at the funeral of her third husband, Wes Belli. Francois recalled the encounter.

“The first time I saw Charlotta she was laying flowers on Wes's casket. She wore black on black...a velveteen or velour black jumpsuit over a black t-shirt. She had long black hair back then and wore dark glasses that set everything off. She was very striking.” As Francois recounted their first meeting he straightened the hem of Charlotta’s red dress. “She has such great legs, doesn't she?”

Muriel Speese complained that the chips were stale then went into a rant about Charlotta's constant need for anonymity. “From what,” said Muriel? “She never did anything of note, never wrote a published word. Who needs anonymity from that? It’s easy being anonymous when you don’t do anything.”

Francois countered, “If you want to be anonymous, you can be anonymous. It's a personal choice and doesn't need validation from anyone.” Francois moved on down the line making small talk with mourners.

Muriel didn't relent. “Validation? Lord knows she didn't need validation. She had her ticket punched often enough, if you get my drift. Francois just doesn’t get it.”

It was true enough, Charlotta did sleep around but everybody considered that part of her charm. As for Francois it wasn't his role to fulfill Charlotta's sexual needs. He understood his place and put up with whatever excursions she made outside their apartment. Charlotta was Francois’ Holly Golightly and pushed that image on her whether Charlotta wanted it or not.
Charlotta's mother, Grace, sat solemnly by the fireplace and received condolences from visitors, some of whom brought her slices of salami and French bread from the buffet. As the afternoon progressed she balanced a full plate of deli meats on her lap. Every so often she would sip from a wine glass parked on the hearth and nibble on slices of the salami. She really didn't function well in environments like this but felt obligated to be there seeing that it was her daughter propped up in the corner. Since she was there Francois took the opportunity to hit her up for part of the expenses for the cost of the wake.

“This might cost 300-dollars Grace,” he whispered, “ maybe you can put in half?”

“Half for this”, she screamed? “ Why should I give half for a wake that doesn't even offer dessert? No cake, no ice cream, nothing.” Francois moved on quickly to escape her tirade,

“She's just distraught,” he whispered to a nearby mourner. “She's right,” said the mourner.

“What do you suppose will happen to Chyld,” asked Briana?

Chyld was Charlotta's son, out of the Belli marriage. When Chyld Belli was twelve Wes enrolled him in an upstate prep school to free him of any influences from the free wheeling lifestyle that swirled around Charlotta. Since then Chyld had been doing a little freewheeling of his own and now, three years later, was thriving in an ashram in Ashland Oregon, three thousand miles away. In Charlotta's present condition it didn't matter but even if she weren't the person of honor she wouldn't have objected. Chyld's headstrong freewheeling lifestyle matched her own.

“Who names their kid 'Chyld', said Muriel? “It's like naming your dog, 'dog'“, she added.
Francois piped up, “Chyld, I'll have you know, is a name with some teeth. It comes from Charlotta's great uncle, Chyld Smythson, Earl of Surry. That was in 1870. So, there is great lineage there.”

Muriel snorted, “Chyld. Lineage my ass.”

Francois had taken enough of Muriel's disrespect and in a true challenging stroke took up half a loaf of sourdough bread and pasted her across the cheek. The sound of baked bread against flesh caught everyone's attention and the sudden silence in the room was wake-like.

After the shock wore off, Muriel shrieked, “You French bastard,” and scooped up a hand full of German potato salad and pushed it into Francois' face forcing him to stumble back into Grace's lap and the plate of salami. Grace threw wine in Francois’ face and at this point several of the mourners got caught up in the action and started bombarding each other with bagels and rolls. One mourner in his grief sobbed quietly in a corner of the parlor, out of the line of fire. Francois finally escaped to the kitchen to salvage what was left of his dignity.

The funereal food fight eventually died down and Francois gingerly poked his head out of the kitchen. The battle-scarred room was a mélange of potato salad mosaics and salami rendered sculptures on every wall. The punch bowl was overturned and served as a centerpiece of destruction in the middle of the floor. The crowd had dispersed except for the old griever in the corner. He was still grieving but his grief centered on the fact that there was no dessert. He kept mumbling, “no cake, no cake”.

Charlotta came through completely unscathed. There was not a smudge on the bright red dress, not a strand of her dyed and blue streaked hair was out of place and a smile creased her heavily lacquered lips.