A Soul's Repose

By: Catherine Olaso

Her landlord made the funeral arrangements and wrote her obituary, such as it was, because as far as anyone knew, Muriel Stodgeholm was a woman without family, property or friends.

~ Ms. Muriel Stodgeholm, 1402 Partridge Street, died of a heart attack inside her residence at the age of seventy-two.  She lived a quiet, simple life; kept to herself and always paid her rent on time.  No living relations known. ~

Given Muriel’s lack of acquaintance, it wasn’t surprising that she’d ended up an insignificant corpse inside a dull casket waiting for a solitary funeral … that is, until the shoes showed up.

“Who on earth mails something like these?”  Kelly gaped inside the box she’d opened at her reception desk seconds after the Fed Ex guy left.

“Read the card.”  Stuart pointed out, mesmerized by the extravagant heels tucked between folds of soft tissue paper.  He’d dressed a lot of deceased in his twelve years at Amhurst Funeral Home, but never had any of the patrons owned a single article so breathtakingly exquisite.

“How much do you think they’re worth?”  Kelly considered an enormous emerald glittering between two equally sized diamonds embedded across the shoe’s white satin toe line.

“For Muriel.”  Stuart frowned in frustration and confusion when the silver card hinted at nothing else.  He turned it over, eager for answers.  “Strange.  What’s the return address?”

“Blank,” Kelly said, sliding the box closer to her.  “It doesn’t say.”  As an afterthought she added, “Maybe they’re from a distant relation … or a secret lottery … oh, or maybe an old lover.”  She smiled romantically.   

“Unfathomable waste.”  Hot greed darkened Stuart’s eyes as he counted the rubies edging the back of the shoes.  “What’s an old lady about to go six feet under gonna do with these?”

“Stuart!”  Kelly scolded, “It’s important to somebody that she has them.” 

“Yeah, well, somebody hasn’t even shown up to pay their respect.”

Kelly logged the shoes into the register and took them out of the box.  “Make sure these show from inside the casket, and get a security guard at the door – just in case.”  She sighed as she handed them over.  “They’re beautiful.” 

Stuart peeled off Muriel’s house slippers, replacing them with the ornate heels; which molded to her feet as if they’d always belonged to her.  “Ridiculous,” he sulked at the squander – a rare treasure, futile to a dead woman.  His annoyance deepened as he smoothed Muriel’s shabby, cotton dress over her veined legs, the garment faded and worn from years of wear and washing.  His jealousy blinded him to the transformation an anonymous gift had wrought – an added grace and elegance Muriel had been lacking.  Even the interior of the casket took on a brighter gleam as the jewels sparkled inside the tiny chapel.

Mr. Winston, the funeral director, did not fail to notice the improvement.  “Stunning.  See how her color has improved?”  He bent closer to the casket for a better look.  “She has a queenly air.”

And you’re full of air, Stuart thought at the absurdity.  Couldn’t they see the waste?

Mrs.  Franelli began a soft tune on the organ, signaling the start of the service.  A lone attendant entered the chapel and sat on the front row – Muriel’s landlord.  He stroked his beard and looked uncomfortable in his gray-striped suit.  Mr. Winston shook his hand while Stuart took position at the back of the hall.  Kelly peeked in, disappointed that she hadn’t yet discovered Muriel’s generous benefactor.

The funeral home’s Pastor traipsed to the pulpit, did a double take at Muriel’s shoes, opened his Bible and offered a solemn discourse on the rewards of a pious life.  As he prepared to close with prayer, an aged woman dressed in a blue satin dress, strands of pearls and a silk stole, slipped quietly into the room.  She slid onto the bench in front of a gawking Stuart.

“May I have a word, please?”  She raised her hand after the prayer. 

“By all means.”  Mr. Winston gestured her to the front.  “Are you related to the deceased?”

The woman’s blue eyes, the same color eyes as her dress, lit with fire.  “Aren’t we all related in some way or another on this planet?”

“Er …” Winston swallowed and backed up with the Pastor, giving the woman center stage.

She gazed at Muriel and smiled before touching her fondly on the hand.  “I am not personally acquainted with Ms. Stodgeholm, no.  From what I understand of her obituary, Muriel had very little in this life.”  She sighed.  “I have much to give, but like Muriel, no one to give it to.  Yes, charities and universities receive the bulk of my wealth, but …” she glanced back at Muriel, “it isn’t enough.” 

The shoes reflected the light above the casket, turning the precious stones adorning them into twinkling stars as radiant as the heavens.

“T’was my wish to give an obscure woman something dignified and beautiful to acknowledge her presence and purpose in the world.”  She stared straight at Stuart.  “Some might consider this an exorbitant waste – negligence at its worst.  But see how she shines!”  The woman caught a tear and straightened.  “I too, have served my purpose.”

She left as mysteriously as she’d entered, narrowly avoiding a horde of news cameras and reporters.

“What was Mrs. Gervaine’s connection to the deceased?”  A brassy newspaper columnist belted her question through the brigade of inquiries firing at Mr. Winston.  “What did the richest woman in the world want with Muriel Stodgeholm?”

Mr. Winston sputtered, groping for answers amid camera flashes and microphones – telling the events as he knew them.

And in that moment, a once uncelebrated woman earned the respect of the world.