On the Matter of Funerals, continued

On the Matter of Funerals, continued

A Chapter by Lexi I.
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A continuation of chapter one

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“Well, that’s a relief,” Marta mutters, as grateful as I am to be inside the cathedral, away from the bevy of curious onlookers and reporters on the other side of the door. I nod in agreement.

“I am going to see if Mario and Luigi are here already. I’ll find you in a bit,” Julio tells us as he directs us away from the door. 

“Okay, we’ll see you inside,” I say, careful to keep a steady voice. Julio disappears into one of the hallways in search of my uncle and his son.

In the lobby, we are among those waiting to be ushered into the church, where an organ is soberly playing a tune.  The organ’s pained notes suddenly bring me back to the present moment; my anxiety assails me anew. I nod in greeting at those who walk past us into the church--some familiar faces, but none of the family’s. They must already be inside. I am still hesitant to join them, despite our delay.

“Ms. Mercanti?” A woman’s uneasy voice calls from behind, and I turn to see a blonde, probably in her mid-forties, striding our way. She is wearing a black skirt and white shirt, and while her appearance is impeccable, she seems nervous. I recognize her anxiety; it’s something that the Mercanti family has unfortunately instilled in the minds of those who have dealt with certain members of the family. I offer the woman my sincerest smile.

“Yes?” I reply, unaware of the woman’s identity.

“I... I am Danielle Somers, and I worked with the Cathedral to organize today’s event. I am deeply sorry for your loss,” she says, edginess tingeing her tone.

“Thank you very much. We all appreciate it,” I add. Beside me, Marta nods and smiles kindly.  

“I hope you’ll let me know if there is anything you need. Until then, I have to escort you to your seats so that we can start the program,” Danielle looks at her watch, and her voice becomes a bit more relaxed. I can see the planner in her peek through her tense exterior.

“Well, by all means, please show us to our seats.” I step aside to allow her to pass before us. She smiles uncomfortably but moves ahead, leading the way. As we approach the entrance into the church, an usher hands us a program. I briefly glance at the pamphlet; my father’s tanned face peers back at me. It’s one of only a few pictures of him, taken at one of his weddings about 15 years ago. His then wife--I think it may have been Alexis--nagged until the man couldn't take it anymore. She didn't last too long, as you can imagine.  I neatly slip the program into my purse, and choose to focus on my surroundings. No need to revisit the past, at least not right now.

The sound of people’s murmuring, the organ playing and feet shuffling fills the expanse of the cathedral. I twine my arm through Marta’s as Ms. Somers leads us down the center aisle. Eyes turn toward us as we pass by the pews. Once again, I am amazed by the amount of people who have shown up for my father’s funeral. I am more surprised that I don’t recognize a good number of them. I try not to look at the faces in the pews and to keep my eyes down, focused on my black pumps.

As we near the pews in the front of St. Peter’s, I glance up, and I see a number of familiar faces. Some of my distant cousins and aunts sit on one side; their fathers and husbands probably closer to the front. Some of my father’s companions--the ones who braved the police forces, of course--are also here, chatting amongst themselves. Some--those who know who I am--nod in greeting; I offer a solemn smile in return. Oh, the pretenses we strive to maintain.

 We approach the front rows of pews. As expected, most of the Mercanti males are crowded in the front, all of them dressed in crisp, black suits, starched for the occasion. And there, nestled in the bevy of blood relatives, close family and friends, I see my father’s wives: all three of them. They are each sitting in their own row, away from one another. Would anyone have expected any less? If anything, their presence at the funeral is an excuse to attend the reading of the will tomorrow. Or to at least be around when it happens.  

In the second row to the left of the altar, Allegra Russo, my father’s first wife--the one he married right before he hooked up with my mother--sits haughtily. She is wearing all black, most likely Chanel, as she broke my father’s account shopping at the designer’s stores. Her dark hair is pulled in a tight chignon at the back of her head; despite our differences--and there are many--she is formidable for her 50 years or so.  She fleetingly looks in my direction, but quickly averts her gaze. I am the other woman’s daughter, and I have never merited more than a few moments of her time.

In the third pew to the right, sitting next to her new husband and two younger children--not my father’s children--is Alexis Johnson, my father’s second wife. He married her when I was ten, and they were probably together for five years, at most. Between her coming and going, it was hard to keep track. Unlike Allegra, Alexis was considerably nicer. She had always tried, maybe a little too hard, to be my mother. It wasn't going to happen. She smiles at me, and I smile back. Even at 43, she is all blonde perfection and beautiful--my father would have not had it any other way.

And finally, in the row where I am to sit, is Lucia Mercanti, my father’s third wife, his widow. She dabs away tears, most likely fake ones, as we approach. Lucia is closer to my age than she was to my father’s. At 33, she hit the jackpot when she married into Don Mercanti’s fortune. Two years later, she’s a rich widow. I guess the CPD aren't the only ones who are celebrating.

Marta proceeds ahead of me, and I take the seat at the end of the pew, away from Lucia. We are not, and never were on good terms. Unlike others, I saw right through her sob story those few years ago, and it’s not worth rehashing…at least, not today.

Today is for my father, and not for his wives. I try to turn my attention on the occasion at hand. And as I glance up, I notice the casket for the first time since entering the church. Surrounded by beautiful flower arrangements on all sides, the dark mahogany casket sits closed in the front. Multitudes of white roses cover the top of the casket.  My father’s portrait--the same one as on the program--is to the left of the casket.  Even in his pictures, he has a smug look. His gleaming eyes and charming smile deceive others as to the person beyond the façade.

There is shuffling on the other side of the church, in Allegra’s pew, but I purposefully choose not to look in that direction. I know that her son, my half brother, has arrived. I am not ready to see him yet, so I keep my eyes to the front of the church, where Father Michael is preparing for the service.

“It seems that Nico has decided to come after all,” Marta whispers from my right, confirming my suspicions.

“It seems that he has,” I add. We were unsure if Nicolo would show up today, especially since the Chicago Police Department has him as one of the prime suspects in one of the largest embezzlement cases in the last decade. But I knew he would come. Nico was my father’s only son, and it was his duty to be here today. Allegra must be beaming.

The voices hush as Father Michael turns to his left and signals for the choir to start the service. As the choir strikes its first notes, Julio rounds the corner into our pew and takes the seat next to Marta. Mario and Luigi slip into the seats behind me.

All extraneous noise ceases, and the choir’s angelic voices initiate the prayer ceremony for a man that’s really going to need them.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The service passes by without a hitch. Tears are shed in all the right places, and silence is observed in all other instances. As the ceremony draws to an end, Father Michael calls on individuals to come and speak. Lucia is the first to take the podium. She sniffles prettily as she talks about Paolo and what a wonderful husband he was. Any husband who pays for so many surgeries is probably quite wonderful. She steps down from the podium, and Dino, my father’s cousin, gives a brief eulogy on growing up as part of the Mercanti family back in Sicily. His anecdotes draw some subdued laughter from the crowd. Julio is next to speak, and he has no problem detailing some of the most memorable--and legal--times he spent with his nephew over the years. It is a lovely speech. Julio would have it no other way. He touches the casket as he passes it on his way back to our bench.

“And now, we would like to ask Valentina Mercanti to come say a few words on behalf of her family,” Father Michael’s deep voice resonates through the microphone. My feet are frozen to the spot.

“Go, cara. It will be fine,” Marta encourages me. Somehow I manage to stand up from my seat and to walk to the stage, my speech in hand. I am nervous as I take my place behind the podium and as I stare into the large crowd. I unfold the speech and take a deep, steadying breath.  I try to focus on the words, anything but the people before me.

“Hi. Thank you for coming,” I start, my voice shaky. The adrenaline is rushing through my veins, and my stomach is aflutter with anxiety and butterflies. Shuffling and a stifled cough in the back of the church fill the silence. I refuse to look up.

“In preparing this speech today, I was ready to praise my father, just like all those who came before me, but that would not do justice for who Paolo Mercanti really was.” The first sentence is out. I keep my gaze to the paper before me. “My father, as those close to him might agree, had many flaws, like we all do. He was a man, and like all men, he made his share--or probably more than a fair share--of mistakes.” At this, a few people chuckle knowingly.

I venture a look up into the crowd; I try to focus on the back of the church, the wall, any non-living object. It is a trick I once learned in a public speaking course.

“But even as he made mistakes, he did a few things right. He raised two children quite well, even if he needed help here and there. He put family first, and that is perhaps the more any father and husband can do.” At this point, I find Nico in the front row, and offer him a sincere smile--the kind siblings share, despite their differences. Nico smiles back from his place next to Allegra. I purposely ignore her gaze.

“Um…Paolo Mercanti had an impact on many people, and if his funeral is a statement on his far-reaching effect, then I guess we can all see how much he influenced those around him and those not so close to him. Even as he may have inspired a certain level of intimidation as a result of his Sicilian upbringing, he was also kind to those who merited it.” Half truth, half lie. His kindness had limits.

“My father was a man of many facets, and those cannot be summed up in a few words. We have all tried our best to do Paolo Mercanti justice, for he was a complex man. I believe that he would be pleased to have his family and friends speak so kindly of him and his life. He would be happy that we are here, remembering the good memories.” I pause momentarily and take a short breath. “Thank you for joining our family today,” I mumble the last words into the microphone and gather my paper, shoving it into the purse. I begin to slowly step away from the podium, and suddenly, from the back of the church, something catches my eye. A pair of green, cold eyes pierce me to the spot on the stairs, and I falter mid-step. I can feel my blood drain from my face; I blink to break the brief trance and quickly look away, focusing on my legs, asking them to take me to my seat as soon as possible.

I slide into my place on the bench next to Marta, keeping my eyes on my hands, which are now shaking.

“What’s wrong?” she whispers just loud enough for me to hear her over Fr. Michael’s voice, who’s begun to talk about life after death, or something of the sort. “You look like you've seen a ghost.”

I feel like I have. My heart is thundering in my ears, and I can barely contain the trembling in my hands. “It’s nothing,” I reply, careful to steady my voice. “It’s just nerves from the speech.” I turn to Marta and force a smile. I hope she can’t see through my guise this time.

“I hope you are right, cara,” she says doubtfully. She turns her attention back to the priest’s sermon. I turn my thoughts back to the emerald eyes, eyes I thought I’d seen the last of three years ago. Oliver Ward had returned, and he was sitting  no more than 10 pews behind me. 



© 2015 Lexi I.


My Review

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Featured Review

Hi No,

I really liked your writing. It flowed so easily. This is the first time on this site but your writing is SO much better than what I have read on other sites.

Your pacing is controlled, your POV is consistent, your plot yet uncovered is unraveling nicely. Will this be a love story with Oliver Ward as the male participant? I am sure there will be some contention within the family and police, maybe with Val's brother? I am excited to read on. Write fast.

What criticism I do have is minimal. Sometimes you use words like shall (i prefer will for Val) which seem too formal for who I think the narrator is; it belies a tone attributable to an older person and not a mafia princess.

Another thing is I want to know what Val looks like? Maybe she can discuss what other people se when she is at the podium? Also I want to know what her brother looks like? Do they look like their father?

Oh my, I just thought of something? Is he really her brother? Is there a love interest there? Is he a b*****d that her father never knew about? That would make sense, maybe he is Julios's son?

And one other thing I would love to see a little more interjection of Italian, you use "cara" once but will names like Paolo, Julio, Marta, and Valentina we need some Italian language maybe even Sicilian slang.

Nicolo? In real Italian should be Nicola, I have many male cousins in Sicily with this name. Endings in A can be either male or female regarding names. I have never heard Nicolo? Just a thought. You know the name is originally greek and means victory? That may be why I think there is interesting things to come for him : ).

Regardless, I cant wait to read more and find out what happens to Val, where her mother is, and what the will say? And who Oliver is to her.

Thanks for a great read. Terry



Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Lexi I.

7 Years Ago

Thanks, Terry, for this wonderful and useful review. I appreciate it, and I will make some of the ch.. read more
terry papp

7 Years Ago

I got that Nico is her half brother but I thought that maybe the first wife had an affair with perha.. read more



Reviews

A very good description of a funeral. I like the interesting people and thoughts of the characters. Funerals can bring out new people unknown and I like the tone of the story. Allowing the reader to feel the dark and sad feel of death. Thank you for the excellent story.
Coyote

Posted 7 Years Ago


Well done. I like the appropriate eulogy within this chapter. I also appreciate the building of what will be an excellent story with the intro of many believable characters. The twist at the end is appropriate and attention maintaining.

Posted 7 Years Ago


Lexi I.

7 Years Ago

Thanks so much for the compliments. I didn't expect to receive such positive feedback as it was just.. read more
soliloquy

7 Years Ago

Yom ar
soliloquy

7 Years Ago

ummm. Please disregard whatever it is I was trying to type above. I tried without success to delet.. read more
Hi No,

I really liked your writing. It flowed so easily. This is the first time on this site but your writing is SO much better than what I have read on other sites.

Your pacing is controlled, your POV is consistent, your plot yet uncovered is unraveling nicely. Will this be a love story with Oliver Ward as the male participant? I am sure there will be some contention within the family and police, maybe with Val's brother? I am excited to read on. Write fast.

What criticism I do have is minimal. Sometimes you use words like shall (i prefer will for Val) which seem too formal for who I think the narrator is; it belies a tone attributable to an older person and not a mafia princess.

Another thing is I want to know what Val looks like? Maybe she can discuss what other people se when she is at the podium? Also I want to know what her brother looks like? Do they look like their father?

Oh my, I just thought of something? Is he really her brother? Is there a love interest there? Is he a b*****d that her father never knew about? That would make sense, maybe he is Julios's son?

And one other thing I would love to see a little more interjection of Italian, you use "cara" once but will names like Paolo, Julio, Marta, and Valentina we need some Italian language maybe even Sicilian slang.

Nicolo? In real Italian should be Nicola, I have many male cousins in Sicily with this name. Endings in A can be either male or female regarding names. I have never heard Nicolo? Just a thought. You know the name is originally greek and means victory? That may be why I think there is interesting things to come for him : ).

Regardless, I cant wait to read more and find out what happens to Val, where her mother is, and what the will say? And who Oliver is to her.

Thanks for a great read. Terry



Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Lexi I.

7 Years Ago

Thanks, Terry, for this wonderful and useful review. I appreciate it, and I will make some of the ch.. read more
terry papp

7 Years Ago

I got that Nico is her half brother but I thought that maybe the first wife had an affair with perha.. read more

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Added on January 5, 2013
Last Updated on February 19, 2015


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Lexi I.
Lexi I.

Somewhere, MI



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