My house has been in my family for three generations. My grandfather, who passed it down to my father, who passed it down to me. He wanted a son, but I was his daughter and only child. But we will come back to that. Right now, we are talking about my house.
My house is not typical. It’s a funeral home. My grandfather was a mortician, my father was a mortician, and now I am one too.
The house is Victorian, but the colors are muted, tasteful and appropriate for the type of business that is run out of it. The landscaping is not vibrant beds of flowers- it’s nicely trimmed and shaped hedges.
The basement is where I do the embalming. I’ve always known bodies in refrigerators and various stages of the process of being sent off for their final resting place. The front of the house main floor where the funerals are held. Many days, mourners coming and going. Behind that front room area is the kitchen and dining room. Up the stairs are my living quarters. Everything about the house is simple, elegant, muted.
It’s odd to many, but it’s what I know. What I’ve always known.
I was not well liked as a kid. People thought I was weird because I lived amongst the dead. You would think I would have grown up resenting it. But I didn’t. I was fascinated by it. Fascinated by the process, and the different cultures and how they grieved. I liked that we got to be a part of this crossing over.
It was a natural fit that I would take over for my father when he passed. And I did. And I’ve maintained the business and our stellar reputation for compassion and class.
When I came out to my dad, he gave zero reaction, aside from, “I don’t understand why you felt the need to say anything. Just bring a bring someone home that you love and who loves you. As long as you are happy, it doesn’t matter.”
But I have never been inclined for relationships anyway. It’s never been my thing. I am more about the one night stands, or brief flings. I spent my entire life watching people mourn those they built connections with. I just didn’t want to deal with that grief personally.
I live a simple, uncomplicated life. After work, I will shed my simple, classic understated black suit, and don something more casual (usually all black still. I don’t have much in my wardrobe that isn’t black. Okay, it’s all black. Let’s be honest). At the club or bar, I will find a pretty girl, go back to her house (“Hey, come to my funeral home,” doesn’t typically go over well with most girls), leave in the morning and go back to life as normal.
It’s not that I’m cold or unemotional, it’s more a protection mechanism. Like I said, I’ve spent my life watching people grieve the loss of loved ones. I just don’t want to feel that way, or leave someone feeling that way
I walked into the florist shop that I partnered with- and she was there behind the counter. Surrounded by large pink peony blooms. Wild curling hair, with streaks of blue and pink pulled through. Bright blooms of flowers sleeved on her arms. She was an explosion of color, and I felt something in my chest I’ve never before felt. She looked at me, and I felt her actually see me. Most people don’t actually see me.
I forgot my name. I forgot why I was there. She was the only thing on earth I could see or think about at that moment.
“Can I help you?”
“Um… I was looking for Theo.”
“I’m Kore, his daughter. He took today off, he’s not been feeling well. Can I help you?” Her smile and her voice had my head spinning. She dazzled. There are no other words for it.
“No. I just wanted to drop off some… It’s not important. I can come back.”
“What’s your name? I can tell him you came by.”
“Cal. Calliope. I own Angelo’s Funeral Home.”
“You are Cal Angelos?”
She licked her lips and arched her eyebrow. “I just imagined Cal Angelos would be a stodgy old man. Not a -”
My cheeks were burning. I could feel it. “I will just come back another day. Tell Theo I hope he’s feeling better.”
It was two nights later, as I was sitting in my bed, watching a pointless true crime show when there was a pounding on my door. It’s not uncommon for neighborhood kids to dare each other to knock on the door and run off in the middle of the night, so I ignored it at first.
Another knock, more urgent this time. “Cal?” A silvery voice called.
I throw back my blanket and go to the window. Kore is pacing my porch, overwrought and tense.
I throw on a hoodie and go to the door.
As soon as I open it, she flings herself into my arms. “My dad,” She is sobbing. “My dad is dead. He died tonight. He didn’t want people to know he was sick. He had been in the hospital when you came by. And now, he’s gone.”
I steer her into the sitting room and turn on a lamp. Even in her grief she is breathtaking, and stands out with her bright colors against the muted surroundings of my world and dim lighting. A breath of spring in my wintery life.
“It’s okay. I will help you. I got you.” I smooth her hair.
“I didn’t know where else to go. I just came here. I had a feeling you would be able to.”
She didn’t leave that night. She wound up in my bed. And then, the next day, she was there, too. And the day after that. I didn’t mind. She fit in some bizarre way. For the first time in my life I looked forward to having someone near me.
I handled her father’s arrangements. On the day of his wake, I stood back and escorted people in and out. I expected after the funeral and her father was interred that she would leave and go back to her home and her life. My purpose in her life would be over.
Everyone had left the wake except Kore and her grieving mother. “Will you be coming home?” Her mother asked.
I hung back, eavesdropping to hear her answer. A strange part of me wanted her to stay, such a foreign feeling for me.
“I am home.”
“Yes. I like it here. I think I am falling in love with Cal.”
“After a week? That’s absurd. You don’t think that’s weird, Kore?”
“No. I can’t explain it. But it’s not weird. It’s magical. She’s magical.”
Magical? Who is this woman? Despite her whimsy, or maybe because of it, I found myself smiling.
“I think she’s brainwashing you.”
“I like it here.”
“Are you quitting the shop now? That shop is your father’s legacy, you know.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
She’s having a whole conversation about a life with me without having talked about it with me. She was assuming for the both of us that we would be together. Grief makes you do and say things out of character. I know that much.
I slide away and make myself busy near the door.
I shook her mother’s hand as she left, pausing to look back at Kore one more time. “Please, come back home?”
Kore stood next to me, clinging to my arm. “I told you mom, I’m home.”
Her mother turned and made her way down the walk, alone.
I turned to make my way up to my room, Kore behind me. Still holding my arm.
The day after the funeral, I woke up and she was not there beside me as she had been every morning for a week. I kind of figured that was it. She must have slipped out in the night and gone back to her life.
I felt a bit of heaviness in my chest as I made my way down the stairs. But there she was sitting on the porch, with a half of a pomegranate glittering ruby red in the early morning sun, and a cup of coffee sitting on the porch swing listening to the birds, her skin glowing golden with the rising sun.
“I know you heard me last night talking to my mother. I could sense you were there, listening.”
“You know I’m right. We belong together. I’ve never felt so in love with someone. It’s strange. But it’s true.”
“I would love to tell you that you are wrong. It’s not what I pictured for myself. Or my life, for that matter.”
That was all years ago. Now, Kore is my wife.
She still helps her mother with the shop occasionally. But since, she has planted gardens around the home. A greenhouse in the backyard. It’s a strange balance. The life and livelihood she has created in a house that really only knew death and mourning.
The life that she brought to me.
My wardrobe, and my life have color where it didn’t previously. She was what I needed all along.
Now, I’m standing in front of a room full of people. Not mourners for a funeral. A party to celebrate our anniversary and all eyes are on me, as she stands next to me. Holding on to me, as she has done from the beginning.
“Kore inserted herself in my life.” A chuckle from those that knew. “She was my splash of color. I had no idea that I was not living. That I wasn’t alive. But I have her to thank for showing me what love is. And because of her, I feel alive. Happy anniversary, Kore, my love, my heart, my breath of spring, my life.”
Her lips are on mine, and glasses clink together.