top of page

Women in Hats by Steve Carr … My story "Women in Hats"out now in Communicators League.

6:29 AM - 30 Oct 2017

Women in Hats by Steve Carr

Sitting on the edge of the cobalt blue satin upholstered chaise lounge, Michelle reached out her hand and with her long slender index finger tapped her cigarette, dropping ashes onto the intricately designed Persian rug. In front of her on a Brazilian teak coffee table, the solitary gold fish in a small bowl floated belly up in the dingy water. Michelle slipped the fingers of her other hand into her faux black pearl necklace that hung to her waist and nervously twisted it.

“I’m no good at planning a funeral,” she said.

“Poor Connie,” Danielle said from the white leather high back chair that she was sitting in on the other side of the coffee table. She had a travel magazine in her lap and was casually flipping through the pages. She slid the tip of her tongue around her fire engine red lipstick covered lips feeling their plastic-like smoothness. “It’s so hard thinking about her being in the dirt. She was obsessive about everything being kept clean.”

“She’ll be in a coffin not in a hole in the ground,” Michelle said. “Which reminds me, ordering a coffin is one of the things I’m supposed to do. What was Connie’s favorite color?”

Danielle adjusted the lemon yellow Panama hat that had sat askew atop her blonde bobbed hair. Leaning forward and tapping the fish with the tip of her high gloss yellow painted, well manicured fingernail, she said, “It was orange, I think.” The fish rolled over then returned to being belly up.

“I can’t really be expected to ask for an orange casket, now can I?” Michelle said. She twisted her pearls tightly around her middle finger, temporarily cutting off the circulation. She took a drag from the cigarette and leaned her head back and blew a smoke ring toward the glass ceiling of the sun room. It went up about a foot, then dissipated. Returning her gaze back to Danielle, she said, “I can’t imagine why Connie had it in her will that I be the one to coordinate her funeral.”

Danielle lifted her legs high enough to separate the skin just below the hem of her yellow shorts from the hot, sticky leather of the chair. “I suppose it’s because you know how to organize great luncheons,” she said.

“Putting out sandwiches on platters is nothing like putting someone in the ground,” Michelle said.

* * *

Standing at the railing of the deck, Michelle spit out what was left of an ice cube into the blue water of the swimming pool. It made a very tiny splash. She poked her fingers of one hand into the tall glass of sun tea she held in the other hand and pushed the remaining ice cubes around along with the lemon wedge. Hearing her mother entering the kitchen on the other side of the open glass sliding doors she removed her fingers from the tea and turned the glass upside down and poured the contents into the pool. The splash was louder. She watched as the light brown tea spread out like an amoeba on the water’s surface.

After coming to the doorway, her mother said, “I thought you had an appointment with the funeral home.”

“I do,” she said. “But unless there’s going to be a rush on burials, I see no reason to hurry.”

Her mother stepped out onto the deck. “They may not like to be kept waiting.”

“It’s selecting a casket and taking a look at where the service can be held we’re talking about, not doing an emergency operation for a brain tumor,” Michelle said.

Her mother stepped up next to her and rested her hand on the sleeve of her white silk blouse. “I understand your procrastination, dear. You haven’t had any time to grieve Connie’s passing,” her mother said.

“I did it in the taxi on the way to the hospital after I got the call she had died.” She watched the lemon wedge as it went in a circle on the pool’s surface. “Death is so anticlimactic,” she said.

A sudden strong breeze whipped the ferns potted in large green vases with Chinese designs along the pool and ruffled the wide brim of Michelle’s light blue felt hat. She rested her hand on the top of the hat’s crown to keep it held down. The fragrance of blooming violet oleanders wafted through the air. Feeling her blue point Siamese cat rubbing against her leg, she reached down and took it in her arms and nuzzled the fur of its neck with her nose.

“The funeral is going to be a fiasco,” she said to her mother. “I’ll be laughed at by everyone for how it will be put together.”

“I think you’re missing the point of a funeral,” her mother said.

“What is the point?” Michelle said as she set the cat down and turned to go into the house. “I don’t understand what I ever did to Connie for her to leave me in charge of hers.”

“She was such a nice young woman,” her mother said. “Thirty-one is much too young to die.”

“I’d remember her more fondly if I wasn’t the one who had to give her eulogy,” Michelle said. “We were friends but I really knew very little about her.”

“Go to her apartment before you go to the florist later,” her mother said. “You can learn a great deal about a woman by going through the drawers where she keeps her underthings.

* * *

Sitting back from the street with a long curved driveway in front of it, the large brick funeral home was surrounded on three sides by lush well-trimmed grass and several weeping willows. Michelle stepped out of her car and stared at the multicolored stained glass windows that lined the facade of the building. They were abstract, like colorful puzzles, but looked religious. She tossed the butt of a cigarette into the grass and walked up to a large wood door and went in.

The air in the foyer was on the edge of being outright cold and Michelle shivered as goosebumps arose on her arms. The walls and plush carpeting were a deep red. Two black leather chairs were against one wall and in front of an archway was an oak podium with a large book opened on it. Michelle giggled nervously, thinking it looked like the entrance to a high priced restaurant she had once been in. Somber instrumental elevator music played softly from small speakers mounted in the corners just below the ceiling.

A woman with a pale complexion made to look more so by the contrasting pink rouge on her cheeks stepped into the archway from an adjoining room. “May I help you?” she asked.

“I’m Michelle Truex. I’ve come to make arrangements for my friend,” she said. “I apologize for being late.”

“We had almost given you up . . .,” the woman started.

Michelle thought the woman was going to say “for dead.”

“ . . . as a no-show,” the woman finished. “I’m Miss Purcell. I’ll be glad to assist you. Please follow me.”

Walking behind Miss Purcell, Michelle was led into a room with a large overstuffed floral design upholstered sofa and two matching chairs and behind the sofa a large walnut desk. Recessed lighting in the ceiling cast a soft glow over the room.

“Please have a seat,” Miss Purcell said as she went behind the desk and picked up a note pad and a three ring binder with laminated sheets of paper sticking out of it. “I have the book here for you to look at different coffins you can choose from.”

Michelle sat in one of the chairs and looked around for an ashtray, and seeing none, stuck her finger into the end of the long string of white pearls hanging from her slender neck and anxiously twisted them.

Miss Purcell sat in the other chair and opened the note pad, took a gold pen from the breast pocket of her two piece gray suit, and gazed sympathetically at Michelle. “This can be a very difficult time when a loved one is lost,” she said. “Before we talk about selecting a casket and use of the viewing room and the chapel for the service, would you like to tell me about the dearly departed?”

At that moment, Michelle’s nerves were so on edge, she did the only thing she could do. She began to sob.

** *

​“It was horrifying,” Michelle said as she unlocked the door to Connie’s apartment. “I couldn’t stop bawling and all the time Miss Purcell thought I was having an attack of grief.”

“What were you having?” Danielle said.

“An extreme case of nerves,” Michelle said. “If you hadn’t agreed to let me pick you up to do the rest of this I’d be back home trying to convince my mother she needs different furniture. Her house is a museum of mismatched furniture.”

“Why do you live there?” Danielle said.

“I haven’t had to pay for a thing or earn a single dollar since I left college six years ago,” Michelle said. “My mother lives to dote on me.”

“I don’t think that’s anything to brag about at your age,” Danielle said.

Going into Connie’s living room, the two women stopped, then slowly turned around scanning the room.

“Is it possible to overdose on color?” Michelle said.

“This is why I can’t watch The Wizard of Oz,” Danielle said. “I’m about to go into cardiac arrest.”

“I haven’t been here in over a year,” Michelle said. “Do you think her brain tumor had anything to do with this?”

“Heaven knows,” Danielle said, “but it’s beautiful in a frightening way.”

From the curtain rod between the open drapes, hundreds of prisms hanging by thread cast shimmering rainbows of color all over the room. Large red Chinese lanterns with gold fringe hung in the corners. The walls had been painted a bright white, but were covered with framed lithographs of sunny pastoral scenes. The sofa and chairs were draped with multicolored Mexican blankets. Different colored objets d’art were on the tables and shelves.

“It’s like a paint factory exploded in here,” Michelle said. “No wonder she was always grouchy.”

“That, I believe, was because of having an inoperable tumor,” Danielle said.

Michelle walked into the bedroom and let out a loud gasp. Hundreds of hats of every variety, style and color were hung on hooks on the walls. In the open closet, hat boxes were stacked on the floor beneath Connie’s clothes and on the shelves above them.

A little bell tinkled as Michelle pushed the glass door of the florist shop open. She looked above her head and seeing the bell was in the shape of some kind of bird she rolled her eyes at Danielle. Going into the shop, the thick, sickeningly sweet combined fragrances of a hundred different kinds of flowers assailed her nostrils. She removed her Versace sunglasses and gazed around the shop.

A teenager wearing a ball cap with her long brunette pony tailed pulled out through the back came from behind the counter. “Can I help you?” she said with forced cheerfulness.

“I’m Michelle Truex. I have an appointment with Mr. Pratt,” she said.

The girl frowned, and as if announcing her boyfriend had just broken up with her, said, “Mr. Pratt thought you weren’t coming so he went to run some errands.”

“Now what am I going to do?” Michelle groaned.

“I know you’re here for funeral arrangements,” the girl said. “You’re welcome to look around the shop and see if there’s anything you like.” Seeing the panicked look on the two womens’ faces, she said, “You can always start with the dear departed’s favorite flower or color.”

Michelle looked at Danielle. “Even after going through her apartment I have no idea what she liked other than hats. How is that I knew Connie since we were all sorority sisters back at Wellesley and know so little about her?”

Danielle adjusted her neon green pillbox hat with a small fake bright yellow canary attached to it and looked around the shop. “We’ll look around for a few minutes. Maybe an idea will come to you,” she said. She took Michelle by the elbow and led her down an aisle of different colored carnations.

“How is it that going to her apartment and looking around didn’t give us any idea what kind of flowers she might like to have at her funeral?” Danielle said.

“What in your apartment says what kind of flowers you want at your funeral?” Michelle said.

“I have a vase of dead roses from that jerk, Michael, if that would help,” Danielle said.

“No, that was the kind of flowers he liked,” Michelle said. “All I really knew about Connie was what she didn’t like. She never had a good word to say about anything,” Michelle said.

Stopping at a table with large clear glass vases filled with long stemmed white lilies sitting on it, Danielle said, “These are very funereal.”

Walking past the viewing room where the lid of Connie’s coffin was raised, Michelle stopped and took a drag of her cigarette. The solid white coffin was covered in notes written in different color magic markers by the forty-six women who had come to say a final goodbye to Connie. She squashed the cigarette in a water fountain and rinsed the mark off the porcelain bowl then tossed it into a waste basket. Going into the chapel adorned with large bouquets of lilies she walked down the middle aisle between rows of pews and went behind the podium.

Looking at the women, each one wearing one of Connie’s hats, she unfolded a piece of paper and began reading. “Connie loved hats,” she said. THE END

bottom of page