Mrs. Pascal’s first rule, no sweets in the parlor.
My fingers dig into the folds of my gloomy clothes, clawing at the satin that piles under my fingertips. It does not do to indulge yourself in front of the grieving, Genevieve. Her voice scratches against the walls of my head. Not when there is work to be done.
Perhaps not, Mrs. Pascal, but to deny one their sweets in time of such pain does not do as well.
My teeth are set on edge as I stare at the little wretch, clinging to his mother’s skirts, his hands sticky with honey and crumbs. He licks his fingers with only the utmost delicacy, savoring each bite while he taunts me with his eyes, his mouth that mocks without a word. Surely something would be said, surely something would be done. After all, it does not do, not in Mr. Pascal’s Funeral Parlor.
Up comes Mr. Pascal. Mr. Pascal, who politely greets the mother. Mr. Pascal, who under the shield of carefully practiced charm inquires if she might wash his young master’s hands. Mr. Pascal, who assures her that while it may seem trivial, in the presence of certain company can prove most tempting and otherwise put a strain on the proceedings of the funeral and all it might reveal. Mr. Pascal, who reminds her that she chose his services for a reason, and that should she wish to go on she might do as he says, as he is experienced and she is not.
Mr. Pascal, who beckons me with a single gloved finger and a furry mustache that I always suspected hid many crumbs, not unlike the ones on the young master’s hands. I scurry from my seat in the corner, all too happy to oblige. My seat in the corner is not a comfortable seat in the corner, not one bit. It has splinters and spiders and whispers. Pushing past men and women all in their gloomies, dabbing their eyes with cloths and sharing suspicions, I follow Mr. Pascal to the kitchen. The evening is accompanied by a heavy scent of brandy and a fog of cigars. And I, I am escorted from one end of the room to the other by the lingering stares of those I pass, the partly concerned and the slightly disgusted remarks spoken with hushed tones that dance in the air. Many a thing pester my head as my eyes flitting hither and back, looking for all the final touches. The windows are closed, the clocks all stopped, the mirrors are covered, and the Melancholies all sprinkling salt water on the body. Yes, all things are coming together. By the end of the night one would be laid to peace while one burned.
With the swing of a door I am standing in the kitchen with a hand hooked on the back collar of my gloomies, being guided to a stool and implored to sit. On the stool I sit, picking at the loose lace of my gloves. The Mister turns to the Misuses, none too amused. Her back is to the both of us, a steady hand with a knife mutilating some green gifting the room with a steady tick tick tick.
“Do something with it, the clients are complaining.” Mr. Pascal’s mustache orders.
“Yes Darling.” Mrs. Pascal complies.
Mr. Pascal nods, rejoining the Melancholies in the next room over while I wait for Mrs. Pascal to finish with her greens. No doubt there’s something horrible to happen to me in the night, for wanting sweets when there are no sweets in Mr. Pascal’s Funeral Parlor.
“Genevieve…” She starts, still with her back to mine.
“The boy had sweets.” I say. “The boy had sweets and that does not do in Mr. Pascal’s Funeral Parlor.”
“Yes.” She says in a wisp of a voice. “It does not do. Very good. Does it bother you?”
I nod to the back of her head. “It does not do.”
“Indeed deary.” She sets down her knife and rests her hands on the counter. One of them comes to sit next to the belt, her finger tapping it. Something inside me shudders. Her head tilts ever so, settling upon a bowl next to the sink. She picks up the bowl and approaches my stool. My eyes do not flitter now, they plant themselves in the floor. She sets the bowl in my lap, it filled to the brim with grains of rice. Her finger presses against my chin, lifting it. “No more trouble now.” She says. I nod. She smiles. She turns to leave.
I count the grains, picking them up one by one and dropping them on the floor one by one. But the more I count the more appear and I need to finish counting because Mrs. Pascal says no more trouble and trouble is leaving them uncounted. 1, 2, 3…
When Mrs. Pascal returns she finds my feet buried in a pile of rice. I continue to count because she says no more trouble and there is more trouble.
“It’s time dear.” She rests a hand on my shoulder. I shrug it off.
“I’m not done yet.” I say, and another grain drops. 563, 564, 565…
“Now child.” Her grip tightens. I give her a short glare that I pray she doesn’t notice as I place the bowl on the ground next to the 565 grains of rice on the ground.
I reenter the Parlor, Mr. Pascal on one side of me and Mrs. Pascal on the other. And now it’s a different Parlor because it’s colder and everyone is a bit greyer. The only one alive in this Parlor is the one that is dead and all the Melancholies are merely misplaced sounds and smudges in a window. There’s a man who looks rather distraught as he tries to speak to the Melancholies. His teeth are yellow and his skin is pale pale so very very pale, but he is also dark as the dead tend to be. He paces and he asks, he says, he screams but none hear. And then he sees himself, sprawled out on a wooden table in whites and lace. He’s trying to look for proof, it can’t be. But the mirrors are covered and he can’t see himself, the windows are closed and he can’t escape, the clocks are stopped and he can’t tell which way time is moving. He’s looking around frantically but still no one notices because everyone is a smudge.
“Sir.” I say, because he wants someone to notice and I do and I want him to know that. He turns to me, looking as if I’ve just taken the life from him. But I haven’t and that’s why I’m here. “Sir, you can tell me. Tell me who dunnit.”
He says something but I can’t hear because he doesn’t have a voice.
“Sir, speak up.” I say. “Please.” I add because Mrs. Pascal says to be polite to the dead because they are people too and being dead is no excuse to be uncivilized.
He looks rather befuddled, knowing he has no words. He looks around, his sight narrowing in on a lady Melancholy in the middle of the room. He strides toward her in powerful steps and stops abruptly in front of her, towering over her with his hands rising to meet her throat. He turns back to me and with one finger starts to write in the air. That finger cuts through a thin fog and leaves but three words. Mary did it.
I repeat the words out loud. The Melancholies all scramble, grabbing the girl and dragging her out. The man watches it happen. Mrs. Pascal watches it happen. Mr. Pascal watches it happen. Mr. Pascal’s mustache smiles. I watch the man and think of the rice grains yet to be counted and the trouble to come from it. The man turns back to me once more, much at ease. He says two words that don’t need a voice. Thank you. Then he follows the Melancholies out.
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