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The Mourners Wore Magenta

By Garrett Socol.

The elderly father of the Mumford sisters had been bravely battling pneumonia as well as angina pectoris and chronic granulomatous disease when he decided to pull the plug, literally, on his life.  The man had just turned ninety-five and felt as though he’d been given more than enough time on Earth.  Ironically, the Mumford patriarch had been on the mend.  His lungs were clearing, and the granulomas were no longer blocking his fragile esophagus.  Plus, the chest pain had vanished, the kidneys weren’t failing as fiercely as they’d been, and the previous month’s hip replacement surgery had gone exceptionally well.

Bartholomew Mumford enjoyed a long, satisfying life in the warm company of women: wives, daughters, girlfriends, granddaughters.  The girlfriends weren’t mistresses; he didn’t start dating until a year after his beloved wife Kathleen fell to her death at 54 when she leaned against a much-too-loose railing on the balcony of their hotel suite in Honolulu.

Bart — a tough, towering, sometimes intimidating man whose charisma was only exceeded by his extravagant wealth — commanded attention by merely entering a room.  Women — single, married, separated, looking for a reason to become separated — flocked to him thanks to his spellbinding looks, deep, soothing voice, and prowess in the bedroom. 
               
Bart’s daughters Lizzy and Cheyenne had always been polar opposites, at odds on every subject under the sun except one: their father.  Unconditional adoration poured out of these two; it seemed as if, in their biased eyes, the man could do no wrong.  

Lizzy, the uptight, controlling one who always followed the rules, handled the funeral arrangements.  Cheyenne, the free spirit who created her own rules as she went along, would’ve preferred a celebration of her father’s life in some cool club instead of the pomp and ceremony of a church service, but she decided not to make a fuss at such a difficult time.  Both women seriously wondered how they could’ve emerged from the same uterus.  
   
More than one hundred forlorn friends and relatives filtered into the small, stuffy church to pay their respects to Bart Mumford.  Because of the great number of women present, the austere place reeked of perfume.  Coupled with the sweltering heat, the sweet citrus scent thickened the air and sickened a few mourners. 
  
 Surrounded by her teenage daughter Tatiana and her close friend Fern, the widowed and now fatherless Lizzy felt as comforted as possible. Cheyenne showed up with her soon-to-be-ex-husband Serge, and sat as far from her sister as possible. Like Lizzie, she was emotionally destroyed, wondering if grief would burn deep inside her every day for the rest of her life.

“When one attends a funeral, isn’t one supposed to dress in black?” Lizzy whispered into Fern’s ear, as a light summer shower began to spatter the roof.
 
“As far as I know,” Fern said.

“Then why are those women in the last pew wearing shades of pink?” A group of ten elegant females between the ages of 34 and 60 were clustered together in the back.  “Pink is a lovely color for a garden party or a summer barbecue, but this is a funeral, for Chrissake.”

The priest spoke eloquently of Bart Mumford, his devotion to family and his solid work ethic.  (The man ran a huge corporation.)  Rain began to slam against the roof as the first mourner stepped up to share a brief memory.
 
Sylvia Blyweiss, a chestnut-haired beauty in a silk magenta dress, gazed at the crowd.  “We’ve heard such wonderful words about Bart Mumford,” she said.  “He certainly had a warm smile.  When we met, at a museum function, he immediately impressed me with his knowledge of marine mammal mating rituals.” An expression of surprise swept across Lizzy’s face. “Not only did I learn about the sex habits of spotted sea trout, I learned how one man can take advantage of one woman in ways I can’t begin to describe in a place of worship.” 

Sylvia left the podium, allowing Lana Peacock, a sultry blonde in a beaded salmon-colored suit, to speak in a rich voice that seemed trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  “Bart and I met in Barbados where he wined me, dined me, and taught me that the female swordtail fish matures faster sexually when she encounters a male with a larger than average tail.  I doubt most of you were aware of that.” Cheyenne listened with absolute bafflement.  “We had a splendid, magical time.  Then he dumped me on the beach at sunset.  Just threw me away like last week’s TV Guide.  The man had the conscience of smoked sturgeon.”

By this time, the rain had thankfully stopped.  Lana strolled off, and the only sound in the room was the clacking of her plum stilettos.  Raven-haired Rona Gipple made a graceful entrance in a long sleeve, hot pink prairie dress complete with magenta boots, and seemed perfectly attired for a pig scramble.  “I met Bart on the beach at sunset, right after he dumped Lana. Of course I didn’t know that at the time.  One Sunday, we drove up the coast.  He pulled into a service station to fill up on fuel so I went to the loo, and when I came out, he was gone.  Just left me there like an unwanted bag of potatoes.  Or a dead piranha.  I don’t know if there’s a name for someone who takes pleasure in abandoning women in out-of-the-way places, but there should be.”

This parade of garishly-dressed ex-girlfriends shared their bizarre memories of Bart, as Lizzie and Cheyenne listened in stunned disbelief.  Following Fiona Dunlap’s diatribe about Bart’s barbaric treatment of her at a Barcelona bus station, all eyes fell upon Clarissa Slate, a statuesque Swede in a magenta pants suit, swathed in pale pink scarves.  “Bart Mumford had a habit of degrading me,” she explained in a pained voice, “insulting me, belittling me.  He’d slap me hard and order me to make a face like a blowfish.”  She paused, and a tense, pulsating silence filled the small church.  “In the privacy of my bedroom I had no problem with this, but he began taking our relationship public.  At my sister Ro’s wedding reception, he shoved me into the four-tiered white wedding cake and told me I didn’t deserve to be served dessert.  I had to restrain my grandmother from attacking him in her motorized wheelchair.”  Dozens of jaws dropped and stayed that way.  “They say the spirit of the deceased is often present at the funeral, but I would bet big money that Bart is busy right now, trying to find a way into heaven and not having much luck.”   

Unable to restrain herself another second, Lizzy bolted up from her front row pew.  “Enough!” she shouted.  “This is a funeral, for God sake!  Not only do all of you  look like Pepto-Bismol, your memories of my father are in ghastly taste.  The man is not here to defend himself, so we’re only getting one side of your tawdry tales.  Please leave!”

“Are you in denial about his actions?” Clarissa asked.               

“I can stand here with confidence and deny being in denial,” Lizzy stated. “Now please honor the family and get the hell out of this sacred house of worship.”

The women in various shades of pink vacated the premises and at that point, clusters of people began ambling out of the crowded church too, wondering if they ever knew the real Bartholomew Mumford.

Lizzy and Cheyenne, in a fog of bewilderment and humiliation, gradually came together.  “Do you think they were telling the truth?” Lizzy quietly asked.

“I don’t think ten women would make up a story,” Cheyenne said.

“How could we not have known?  He was always so concerned, so caring.”

“Our father had two very different faces.”

“Did you have any idea he loved marine biology?” Lizzy asked.

“Not the slightest.”

“Why did they have to go up there and speak?  Why couldn’t they have kept it to themselves?  I wish I’d never heard those horrible words!”

“I know,” Cheyenne said. 
 
Both women wondered if they owed it to their father to spend some time in an aquarium, but neither said the words out loud.  

“I’m going to forget about those women, just forget I ever heard what they said.”

“Oh God,” Cheyenne muttered, wondering how she would incorporate this into the picture of her father she carried in her heart.

Lizzy knew.  The two of them, nobody else, felt the same piercing, heartbreaking loss and confounding confusion.  This, they shared.  This, brought them together.  Cheyenne gently put her arms around her trembling older sibling.  Lizzy hugged back and didn’t let go. 

This was the first time the sisters embraced in 28 years. 

They didn’t know, at the time, that Cheyenne would meet her future husband standing in front of the living kelp forest at the Atlantic Aquarium or that she’d conceive her daughter in the dark hallway around the corner from the seahorse kingdom.  They didn’t know, at the time, that Lizzy would meet the man she’d grow old with by the giant octopus exhibit in the Deep Reefs Gallery or that they’d hold their wedding reception in the aquarium itself.  They had no idea the Southern sea otter would be the only witness to Lizzy’s heart attack and death at the age of 78, and that Cheyenne would pass away peacefully (at nearly 90) while gazing at the juvenile rockfish in the Puget Sound Fish display.

They had no idea about any of this.  All they felt, embracing in the chapel after their father’s fiasco of a funeral, was an oddly compelling connection to all things crustacean.

# # # # #

GS: I recently attended a funeral service and noticed that everyone was wearing black (Strange, huh?).  I began to wonder what people would have thought if someone appeared in a garish color.  I also wondered WHY someone might appear in a garish color.  That’s how this story was born. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Garrett Socol
has been a playwright (Berkshire Theatre Festival, Pasadena Playhouse), journalist (Cosmopolitan, Movieline), and television producer (recipient of a Gracie Award and a Prism Award).  He began writing prose at the start of 2007.  His fiction has been (or will be) published in Ghoti Magazine, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Brilliant Quarterly and the Oregon Literary Review.  

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, May 31st, 2007.