In Baltimore (are you kidding me it might snow tomorrow) City
“Where do people go when they die?” I asked my Pop-Pop (grandfather) on the walk home from school.
“Everyone around here goes to McCully’s,” he said.
I’d been to McCully’s Funeral Home nearly everyday after school since I was in the first grade. An entire year later I’d never seen one dead person there. Mrs. McCully sat at her desk each afternoon munching on pretzels and chatting with me while Pop-Pop used the little boy’s room. She must have had the dead stashed away behind the large white double doors.
I was very concerned about the dead on that particular day. In the morning I’d found a gold-framed photograph wrapped in a tablecloth at the bottom of our dining room hutch. I can’t remember now why I’d been in there, but I was always snooping around our house. I was convinced it held secrets and I wanted to discover clues like Dad did.
I pulled off the cloth, thrilled at first, thinking I’d found a wedding photo of my parents. I soon discovered it wasn’t my mom wearing the white dress, but some other woman. My joy turned to shock. Had Dad been married to someone else?
“Be careful what you wish for,” Nana had drilled in my head. I always hoped to find some mystery I could cleverly solve like Emma Peel in The Avengers. But now I couldn’t shove that gold-framed picture back in the drawer quick enough. Her smiling face was burned onto my brain. Who was she?
A few weeks ago I’d been the flower girl in my godmother’s wedding. I knew all about wedding attire. This woman in the photo wore a white gown and only brides wore white gowns.
Sister Angela Marie, my second grade teacher, explained to me at recess if one person died, the other could remarry in the church. You could not remarry in church if you were divorced. I knew my parents had married in Holy Cross Church, so that meant Dad’s first wife must have died. Why had I never been told about her?
I took a small notebook off the kitchen counter. Everyone knows a detective needs a notebook. I drew a rough sketch of our dining room with arrows pointing to the drawer where the evidence was found. I asked Pop-Pop to take a picture of the hutch, which he did and never even asked why. I also knew to get answers, you needed to ask questions. Dad did this every night, he was full of questions. “Why isn’t dinner ready?” “Where’s the paper?” “Who’s on the phone?” ” Why do we have Spaghetti-O’s every night?”
Tonight I would be asking the questions.
“Who lived here before you did?” I asked Mom.
“Your father and Nana and Pop-Pop.”
“And who else?” I wanted to know.
“I think Aunt Betty and Aunt Shirley when they were little. Is this something you need for school?” She opened a can of Spaghetti-O’s. This can had sliced hotdogs in it. Dad would be thrilled. I tried to write everything down.
When Dad sat down at the table, before he could ask about dinner, I pulled out my pad.
“What was the name of your other wife?” I watched him closely. Dad said people sweat and have shifty eyes when they lie.
“My other wife?” He looked at Mom. She shrugged. No one was sweating.
“In the picture.” I said. “That woman in the white fluffy dress. The bride.”
“Show me this picture,” dad said. He followed me to the dining room. I opened the drawer and took the photograph from its hiding place. I started to cry, realizing too late that I didn’t want to know about her.
Couldn’t we go back in the kitchen and eat our orange spaghetti and canned green beans? Dad took the photo from my hands.
“This is your mystery wife, is it?” Mom stood in the doorway trying to see what he was holding.
“She’s not wearing a bridal gown. That was her prom dress. Her name is Sharon and we went to high school together. I took her to our senior prom.” Mom laughed, but Dad didn’t. He put the framed photo on the buffet. I thought I might be in trouble for snooping, but Dad only asked to see my notes.
Years later I met Sharon at the A&P. She asked me if I was Charlie’s daughter.
“I could’ve been your mother.” Sharon said and laughed.