The Minstrel

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The singing had started again. A public nuisance, it was. The guy had such a loud voice. No one could sleep around here anymore. It would be good when something was done about it. Soon it would.

Construction was already underway for the Bronxville Rockefeller Community. The decor promised to be beautiful, complete with marble busts of all the presidents every hundred feet and a carved etching enacting the battle of Yorktown all along the outside perimeter. Already, an American flag had been hoisted at the gateway. Up until two days earlier, it had been proudly flapping in the breeze, proudly displaying the show of freedom and the patriotism of the small community inside. But now, it hung sadly at half mast, every so often limply floundering like a dying fish. Mark Timothy Haines, Jr., the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Timothy Haines, Sr., was going to be buried today.

It had been their wish to have only a one day viewing. The strain was too much for the missus, who seemed to be more prone to fainting attacks then usual at this time. Her psychiatrist had to be called in from his vacation in Barbados to prescribe her an emergency dose of Zannex and Valium combined, the only mixture out of the vast array of medication that ever seemed to work for her. Dr. Finley had been notified when Mark Timothy Haines Sr. noticed the bottles were empty when they shouldn’t have been until next moth. Something had to be done to get his wife back under control.

Presently, Mrs. Haines was resting comfortable, or rather, conked out comfortably, on a bed in the home of the Haines’ longtime friends and family lawyer, the Frawleys. Mr. and Mrs. Frawley, who, unbeknownst to the Haineses, slept together in the same bed for the first time in two months, woke to the noisy singing of the Spic, while Mark Timothy sitting in a rocking chair, babbled on and on by his snoring wife. She was snoring so loud she almost drowned out the Spic singing, which in its own way would have been a blessed relief. No one knew what he was singing because most of them took French. His voice and presence were intrusions upon their lives that they hadn’t asked for. Now he was a murderer of the son of their best friends, and he still was free. They couldn’t believe as they watched their friends go crazy with grief, that massive crowd allowed an animal like that managed to escape. But God forbid a white man killed a black man. They would have the kid in a minute and the NAACP would march up and down the streets at all hours of the night. You would hear nothing else on the TV. They city would be burned down. But a Spic homeless man killing a promising white boy, no one batted an eye for that. The Haines were crying over nothing. They had too much money to complain. No one believed a white professional family had problems, even when their child was murdered in cold blood. White professionals, they were such racist assholes and snobs, who wanted to listen to their woes? Shit, the coloreds and the welfare bums had real problems, like where could I buy crack without the crackers busting them and violating their civil rights by arresting them. Not a dead, drug-free college boy of nineteen.

Russell Frawley sat on the chemise sofa of his living room, his feet rightfully propped on his coffee table while reading the New York Times, his arm studiously propped on one arm of the furniture. His wife appeared from the kitchen, with a silver tray laden with a golden teapot, warm biscuits, jams, and scrambled eggs with bacon balances on her arm. With finesse, the tray was daintily deposited before him. He looked up from the paper and smiled. She returned the gesture. A united front for all to see. The perfect couple. The epitome of the upper-middle class American Dream.

After serving him and then herself, she joined him on the couch, looking over his shoulder at the paper. Then he caught the article, and from the sense of her stiffening beside him, she had as well.

Addie was there, alive and well in the paper, except her name wasn’t Addie. It was Cindy Diesposito Hughes. And she wasn’t any vagabond tramp, either. She was the wife of the heir to the Hughes Oil Incorporates. Widow, actually. Her husband had committed suicide. Frawley was pretty surprised that the Hughes family had said something like their son killed himself. He only knew them by name, but big families like that with prominent name would keep a shocking death quiet, say it was an accident or something. They were begging for the tabloids this way. They loved this shit.

“Didn’t look like she was kidnapped the last time I saw her,” Frawley could hear the smell in the undertones of his wife’s sweet voice. Frawley refused to be riled, to play her game.

“Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes a victim sympathizes with her kidnapper and befriends him just to survive.” She was looking straight through him. She didn’t buy that. Frankly, neither did he.

“What did you see in her? Was it the money?”

“I swear I didn’t know who she was.” Wrong answer. Now Joan thought she was dumped for a vagabond tramp. He could taste her anger through his closed mouth. So much for calling a truce. “I mean, when I got involved with her, it wasn’t for money. I have plenty of my own.”

“So why did you, then?” Frawley had no answer to the direct, probing question, and many answers. Because you are a hag. You are a fishwife. You are a drunk. You are a waste. But then he looked at his sober, attractively coifed wife who for the last two months had fought for their community while he was busy chasing a homeless heiress and getting laid in the back streets. What had been his excuse then? So, in the long run, he had no answer.

“I think we should separate,” his wife suddenly announced. “I’ve spoken to my lawyer about it. He could draw papers by the end of this week.”

Alarm shot through Frawley at the prospect that his personal habits and marital dealings were being spread amongst his colleagues. “Who’s your lawyer?”

“Rabinowich. Alan Rabinowich.” Fuck, what else could go wrong with his life? Of all things that could happen, his wife was seeking a divorce, and from his favorite friend Liebowitz’s senior partner. He could imagine the discussion and victory Liebowitz must have felt sitting at the table with all the big partners hearing how his wife was dumping him. Christ Almighty. “Did you retain him yet?” He asked hopefully.

Joan sighed. “Not yet. I just went for the initial consultation.”

“I know a couple of lawyers that probably would be better. Rabinowich is such a slime. We could use the same lawyer. That is, if you’re really sure that you want to go through this.”

“I’m sure. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t totally sure until today.” She hesitated, probably in order to drive him crazy or make him beg for mercy. No wonder he drank. “I have lived through a lot of things with you. Russell. When I first met you, you were the only man for me.” The only one who was stupid enough to have you, Frawley thought with a sneer. “you were smart, sexy, handsome, funny. But I quickly learned the other side of you. Under that smart, sexy shell there was nothing more than arrogance. You were not strong, you were selfish. The whole world had to revolve around you.” Frawley was just about ready to slam down his coffee cup and stomp out at this point. “But then, Quentin came along. I thought having him would bring us together.” Frawley immediately squirmed in irritation, annoyed that he was going to be blamed for the irrational baby fantasy not working out the way she wanted. “I found out soon afterwards how silly it was for me to expect you to change just because I had your baby. But at least raising Quentin gave me joy. I felt like a whole person once again.”

Yeah, yeah. Get to the point. “So what does all this have to do with the big decision you’ve come up with? Quentin’s been dead for quite a long time now.”

She flinched. Frawley enjoyed her pain. She could take that martyred expression and shove it for all he cared. “Because I’m looking at things from a totally new perspective. Look at Mark with Martha. Ever since Timmy died, he hasn’t left her side.”

“That you know of. Martha is a mental case. She drives everyone nuts. Even you. Now all of the sudden you want to model our marriage after them?”

She ignored the jibe. “When Quentin died, you never were with me. I had to plan the whole funeral by myself because you were out drunk. During the viewing, you stumbled out with a twenty year old, both of you with were disgusting to be around. I didn’t see you again all night.”

“Well, considering that I was so disgusting to be around, I would venture it that it was a good thing that I was gone all night,” Frawley quipped.

“Your mother was the one who filled in for you.”

“Look, I told you many times, Sheila and I had business to discuss. She was a law student in my office. And she was twenty-five, not twenty.” Why was he saying anything at all? The one time he really was innocent and truthful, that was the time she disbelieved. The fact had been that Sheila could drink like a man and talk like a man, so he’d gone with her to the local bar to drown his sorrows with her. Plus some business on the side, like what next week’s calendar was and such. Joan was so self-centered that she hadn’t considered what a shame it was the he couldn’t confide in her on bit about their son’s death. She was indifferent to his feelings. To her, they shouldn’t exist. He should just be strong and carry an adult woman on his shoulders his whole life, with no complaints. Her world was so small, it was like she was the only one in it. “Besides, the hostess stuff is more for ladies, anyway, and that’s what these things turn into.” He gestured to the funeral in their home.

It had been the wrong answer. A grim determined Joan Frawley stared in his face. “I know. All these years, because I am a woman, I have been expected to take up slack where you failed. And on top of it, have a big smile about the whole thing. Well, I’m sick of it. It’s time that you took care of your life and grew up. In the last couple of months, I’ve proved to myself that I don’t need you.”

“How?” Frawley barked. He was ignored. How convenient, he though as Joan restarted her soliloquy.

“I have become strong”

“Joan.” Frawley said loudly enough for the venerable Dr. Finley and Mark Timothy Haines Sr. to snap their heads around, and, more importantly, to put a startled damper on his soon to be ex-wife’s lecture. “Shut up. Get the separation. In fact, get a divorce. I don’t care. And I don’t care what kind of half-assed feminism you’ve incorporated into your measly brain. You still sound like a fishwife and you’re a waste of my time.” He slapped his knees. “And now, since I’m such a cad, and besides that, we’re going out separate ways, I’m going out and letting you stay with our guests. I wouldn’t want you to become out of touch with entertaining, now with your high-flying divorcee days ahead of you, hmmm?”

And he left. He could hear Joan howl as he slammed the door. He turned to see Finley and Haines desert their post by Mrs. Haines to attend to the new victim. Mercifully, her voice abated as the distance increased; slowly he made the journey away from his old life as he slipped into the new one.

The singing never stopped.

So the grand funeral was conducted without the presence of Russell Frawley. Once again, the pitying eyes were upon his measly wife, who, oddly enough, no longer seemed so measly. She stood straighter, her head was higher. She looked elegant, not the usual frumpy hausfrau who tried to throw on a makeover look. She almost looked noble, regal.

A private gathering circled the graveside where Mark Timothy Haines, Jr. was laid to rest next to his paternal grandparents. Death had skipped a generation and stolen the young. Among the guests, the young girls who found and fawned and pawned and pined over the privilege to sleep with and maybe belong to this handsome young man, now that the trophy of their war had been vaporized, gathered together in what resembled a female football huddle, united by their grief. Years welled in a puddle right in their midst. One tear was incorporated into another, and another, until each had lost their own entity. Grief was like that, Joan Taylor thought, looking at the girls. It sapped life right out of the living as well as the dead. It turned the survivors into walking tombs.

She would grieve no longer. Once again, she would take up her life and be her own soul. She’d tried once in vain as a young college freshman. Now, at forty-three, she would try again. So much time had been wasted. She would never get it back. It was time to make up for lost time.

She would go back to school in January. It had been so many years and lives had changed so much that most of her credits were useless. A whole year of her life had been deemed null and void. In January, she would begin again as a second semester freshman. She was twenty-five years behind schedule. Russell Frawley was a waste of her time which she didn’t miss. Let him run around with that two-bit fake neuvo-riche whore. Let him go for trash.

Self-centered as Russell was, he probably still thought that the whole reason why she was divorcing him was because of the whore. That would imply in some way she still cared, that he had the power to hurt her feelings. Two months ago, that might have been true. She hadn’t known better. Now she did. She needed him to make her whole then. Now she didn’t.

There was the singing again. It hadn’t stopped for the whole time the service was going on. The melody was beautiful, which angered her, scared her. How could something so beautiful come from someone so evil. The killer of Mark Timothy Haines Jr. was singing funeral hymns for his victim, hymns so perfect that they nearly moved someone as stoic as she to tears. An evil man with an evil effect. She had head that Lucifer used to sing beautiful songs that had enchanted all. Yet he had the heart of the devil. He had incarnated into human form. It was like he was here.

Such things she would not allow to exist.

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