Sweet William by Diana Rosen

Buffy walks among the mourners, oblivious to the Brooks Brothers men, women in patent leather Ferragamo flats determinedly correct yet gossiping about the funeral, second-guessing about The Will. They had grown old together. Buffy, always an enigma, still energetic, plain, insecure yet blessed with wit to crack jokes about everything and everyone at any time, has no need for mindless chatter today. The news of William’s death had ripped Buffy’s heart away for a second time. Surprised to be invited to his funeral, she felt honored Mildred had asked for her specifically to be there.

Mildred looked so frail at the church, clutching her children’s arms for support as she walked to the front pew with its view of the substantial mahogany casket, glossy enough to reflect the candles on the altar; its heavy brass handles like upended hands of resignation. The single red rose resting on the curved lid of the casket looked lonely, she muses, or was she  projecting?

William and Mildred had been Arnie and Buffy’s best friends through the early years of their marriages, building their substantial careers, having children, spending every Thanksgiving together plus skiing at Arnie and Buffy’s Lake Tahoe cabin or swimming in the ocean at William and Mildred’s Malibu digs.

Divorce from Arnie divided up their friends, something Buffy readily accepted but for William and Mildred. Seeing Mildred when shopping or at an event was always wonderful, yet they never socialized, a loss that, like the divorce, still smarted.

Arnie gave her a nice lump sum, helped the kids when he was available, but he pretty much left her to cope with all the everyday decisions on her own.

The divorce severely subtracted from her financial health and she desperately needed to work. Working before her marriage had been fun yet after the divorce, it meant juggling carpools, charity work, everything she’d done before but without even the half-hearted fatherhood of her still-drinking ex-husband. She missed the days when mom-and-wife were her only obligations. 

Buffy fell into real estate when the broker who sold their home during the settlement suggested that this would be a great job opportunity. It turned out to be her dream career even though the struggle to pass the test was so difficult. Her failures to pass were the stories of legend, yet her finally passing the onerous test was indeed an example of her tenacity.

Real estate was not always easy yet it absolutely afforded her the right times during the day to chauffeur the kids to school, music lessons, soccer, be home with them when nothing was planned. She sold homes of friends to other friends. Clients understood her lack of guile and education made her forthright and direct in the days before full disclosure was the law. What she sold is what they bought (plus an introduction into this club or that.)

Real estate also brought William back into Buffy’s life, if only for a short while. Walking through William and Mildred’s home for the funeral reception, Buffy allows herself to remember that wonderful year she and William had their affair. What fun it was to talk on the phone like teenagers, tell outrageous jokes, plot how to punch holes into the insufferable bores they knew. She loved riding in William’s lumbering beige Cadillac up to Griffith Park where they picnicked on incredibly expensive food he had ordered from the finest restaurants of the day. They were two old farts flirting, loving with abandon, pursuing fading youth.

Being in this home today with its unchanging warmth Buffy is filled with deep loss. The crowd, mostly parishioners of All Saints (or All Sins as her ex, Arnie, called it) quietly mills around the mammoth living room more intent on comparing golf scores and bragging about parties they’ve attended than comforting the bereaved. Arnie holds up a highball of scotch in acknowledgement of Buffy, smiling that smirk of a smile, while still talking to those around him.

She hovers over the buffet, embarrassed that despite her sadness, she is ravenous. The table is laden with polished sterling and sparkling goblets to one side of the discreetly displayed food on tiers of fine porcelain stands. Buffy drops the crackly shrimp tails into a napkin she places carefully onto her now-empty plate before taking a few last sips of coffee. The funeral had been mercifully brief. The priest, unlike so many these days, actually knew the deceased and was full of pointed praise for William, a self-made man who ran his cement business with courtesy to customers and concern for his employees, many of whom had filled the pews with their respect and grief. Oh, dear William, long of life (he was the oldest of their quartet, eight-three when he died,) and forever full of vigor and joy, Buffy thinks, lost in her memory bank again.

A hand brushes her arm. “Buffy? Buffy, is that you? The kids said you were in church today.”

Buffy looks down to see Mildred, small as a child in William’s cracked brown leather chair, her head nodding shoulder to shoulder, a necessary gesture to deal with her wretched, diabetes-induced blindness that had left her with only the ability to see shapes, and fuzzy ones at that.             

“Yes, Mildred, it’s me; is there anything I can do for you?”

“Oh, no, I’m fine. The kids have taken care of everything. This last battle, this cancer, was so hard on him. Oh, I’m going to miss my sweet William.”

Buffy sits down on the ottoman in front of the chair. “The funeral was lovely; William would have been so proud of Mark and Stephanie and how they eulogized their dad.”

Leaning forward, Mildred gropes the air to find and hold Buffy’s hand in hers. “I want to thank you, Buffy, for what you did for William.”

“What I did?” Buffy whispers, her head down, fingers nervously pleating her skirt. 

“That terrible year, when he was so blue.” 

Buffy’s shoulders relax, not really surprised that William and she had ever fooled the one person they both loved so much. She sighs with a relief she had not known she needed. “You knew.”

“Of course,” Mildred’ says, her tinkling laugh shaking her frail body as sinks into the chair. “I was so happy for William. It was a horrible year! The firm was compromised; so many employees’ lives to think about, the money situation was so iffy; his sister Georgina died. Oh, he loved her so. Even after thirty years of marriage, sometimes a wife is not enough, someone else has to step in.” She leans into the space she assumes Buffy is sitting and says, “Know what you did for my William? You made him laugh. He whistled while he shaved in the morning. How could I be upset when you brought be back my man?”

“Oh, Mildred, he did love you so much; he thought he’d failed you. He was ashamed, I think, that he had stumbled in his business dealings and could have jeopardized your comfort.”

Mildred grasps for Buffy’s hand again and says, “If anyone was going to share him, I’m glad it was you.”

“We were both fearful you would be hurt. That people would talk. You know how constipated this crowd can be.”

Mildred squeezes Buffy’s hand like a punctuation mark then releases it quickly. “I’ll always be grateful to you. Now, go disturb the phonies among us,” Mildred says, giggling, quieter this time, waving the air goodbye as she closes her eyes,  leans back again, this time under a mantle of weariness.

Buffy bends down to kiss her old friend’s wrinkled cheek; memories of their sweet William comforting to them both.

Diana Rosen is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet with work forthcoming in  UK, Canada, Australia, and U.S. publications including Wild for Words, Al-Khemia Poetica, The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Existere Art & Literature Journal, and the anthologies BOOK OF SIGHS and FAR VILLAGES. Her collection of flash and poetry, “Love & Irony,” is forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks. Recent publications include poetry and flash in Ariel Chart, Poetry Super Highway, Pif Magazine, As It Ought to be Magazine, and The Jewish Literary Journal. She is a food and beverage content provider living in Los Angeles and welcomes your comments at dianalrosen@gmail.com 

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