Karen put her colorful new Dyson vacuum in the hall closet and went to the kitchen for some water. It had taken a few months after arriving in Waco to finish perfecting the house, just the way she and Kurt wanted it. Paint, some new furniture (though they’d have to wait on those armchairs for the living room), all the odds and ends (new drawer pulls, curtains, closet organizers, lamps) were in place, fresh and lovely. It was bliss to have a home, thought Karen, and a yard, a patio, a husband!
A long afternoon now stretched out in front of her. After calling her mom in Michigan, she’d be free to read Lonesome Dove (which she was embarrassed to admit was kind of boring!). She could weed some in the backyard; she could make a Target run. Kurt was at a meeting in San Antonio until later tonight so she would just graze a bit in the kitchen later. When she was working, how often had she dreamed of just such an afternoon? But now she felt restless and vaguely lonely. Aunt Zinnia had often said, “Be careful what you wish for!” and Karen had to agree somewhat now, though she still felt pretty darn lucky.
She decided on a long walk and set out for the park a couple of miles away. It was one of those fantastic autumn days in Texas with that clear, vivid blue, enormous sky that Karen always thought looked honest and immaculate. And it looked bigger than it had in Indiana, though she didn’t know how that would be possible.
Before she got to the park Karen passed though a small commercial district: the usual nail salon, Seven-Eleven, orthopedic shoe store, insurance office, and a cupcake shop. (How do they stay in business? Who eats a lot of cupcakes? Karen wondered.) A block farther down was a lovely, big old home that had been converted into Milman’s Mortuary. A rather oldish shiny black Cadillac hearse was in the driveway on the side of the house near some double doors. A small crowd of mourners looking in various degrees of grief milled about quietly on the very large front porch. Suddenly someone let out a big guffaw, and they all laughed. Probably a tale of Uncle Fred’s love for his three-legged cat Dixie or the time he lost that big bass that no one else in the boat had seen or even believed in! Or the time Aunt Betty inadvertently dropped that glass of lemonade from a full tray smack onto Uncle Fred’s head. Stories they had all shared a hundred times but still couldn’t help laughing about, those rich eternal family moments. It made Karen, so far from her own family, a little lonely. Life is a parade of stories, she thought, and I really need to get out and make some.
I need a job, she reasoned. She would meet people, make friends, have stories to tell Kurt at dinner. He hadn’t been pushing her at all to work, but of course they could use more dough. What about those chairs? Karen was full of resolve and purpose suddenly. She would be independent Karen, making money and a life of her own as a Texan!
Job hunting on-line that evening was a little less than inspiring, however. She’d always worked in offices; she had those skills and they paid well. However, she wanted something more interesting than her last job at the restaurant chain headquarters. What a bore! Maybe she would like being a waitress (cute or dorky uniform?) or a dog groomer (did you take a class in that somewhere, Karen wondered?) or a sales associate (a lot of standing?). In some confusion, Karen found in her first job search only more questions.
The next day she took the same walk and saw a similar scene at Milman’s, only this time instead of laughter, a deep hush fell over the mourners suddenly, several people grabbing the person next to him for a hug or just a squeeze of forearm, as a beautiful cherrywood coffin was carried by six men down the few steps from the side door to the hearse. Karen happened to be near the scene since the hearse was parked closer to the sidewalk than yesterday, probably to make more room for the larger crowd at the funeral.
Suddenly, the pallbearer nearest Karen at the foot of the coffin, a white-haired gentlemen perhaps in his late seventies, gasped softly and put one hand on his chest. The procession was then abruptly halted as Karen saw him grimace fully and start to crumple to the ground before her! (Holy Moly!) In her running shoes and bright pink sweatshirt she sprinted a few steps to try to keep both the man and the coffin from slamming into the concrete driveway. She caught him with her right arm and lowered him as gently and slowly as she could (which isn’t working, she screamed to herself!) as she held the coffin up with her left hand. She was like a slowly kneeling, reversed Statue of Liberty!
In an instant the other pallbearers recognized the situation and took the weight of the casket from her, and Karen went all the way down with the man (who had lost consciousness), holding him in both arms and then loosening his tie. She was calling out simultaneously to the stunned group for someone to call an ambulance. It was all so fast it seemed an out of body experience to her. She tried to remember that CPR training she’d had several years ago when she worked at a YMCA for a while, trying to assess the situation and recall the order of the procedure, when they all heard the siren whining up the street. A fire station was only three blocks away. (Thank goodness! rejoiced Karen.)
The EMTs were all around her and the victim in a nanosecond, and Karen got up and moved away. Several from the funeral crowd came to pat her on the back and thank her for her quick-thinking. They had all been so stunned! The EMTs took down her name for their records, and said she’d done good work. Karen stayed, in shock herself she guessed, until they put the man in the ambulance. Several of the victim’s family thanked her profusely again before she turned to leave.
Just a few steps later and still a little shaky, she saw a small, tasteful sign on a stick posted near the front door: “Now hiring part-time receptionist for light clerical work. Inquire within or call (555) Milmans.” She read the sign several times and thought, “I can do this. It’s not creepy really. Everyone dies. And it would be no one I know since I don’t know anyone here really. I could help people, and only part-time!” As she stood there a man in an impeccable black suit with perfectly-styled grey hair came over to her and said, “That was a great save, Friend.”
“It was so fast I couldn’t do anything else really! Just lucky I was here at that instant.” Karen looked down at her shorts and extremely broken in shoes.
“I’m Mr. Milman.” He held out his hand for her to shake. “I saw you reading the sign…for a while. Are you looking for a job by any chance?” He smiled at her with what Karen deemed an expression appropriately serious for his business, but also genial at the same time. She smiled back brightly (hoping to distract him from her clothes and unkempt hair, and yet not appear too perky in the circumstances!) and said, “Yes, I am. I’m new here in Waco and am looking for office work. That’s what I’ve always done except for scooping frozen yogurt in high school.” (Why, oh why? did I say that? winced Karen inside her head!)
“Well, anyone who can dash in on a shocking situation like that with such gentleness and obvious experience certainly deserves an interview.” (I’m sure he means my frozen yogurt experience, Karen thought!) “Can you be here tomorrow morning, say at 9:30?”
“Yes, sir. I look forward to it. By the way, my name is Karen.”
When Karen told Kurt over dinner the next night how swimmingly she got along with Mr. Milman, what a lovely place the old home-now-mortuary was, and how interesting the job looked, he just listened and smiled while he chewed. She was to start next Monday at 10 a.m. “I just hope I can do the serious, helpful, quiet thing well enough! It’s not a job where you can bubble!” Karen enthused.
“Well, Darling, anyone who can catch a coffin and a heart attack victim and a job all in one afternoon, can probably do just about anything!”
Karen took a big bite of spaghetti and wondered if she had enough dark clothes.