The theme: canceling an important event
Joseph Tippett faced the mirror, fixing his tie and slicking back his hair, not the least bit nervous in spite of the big day. He’d envisioned this event since his teenage years growing up in the hollow. At twenty, he’d managed to find a small house for himself a few towns over, in a solid attempt to carve out his own identity; but on this day his life would truly begin. No longer would he just be Delbert Tippett’s Son, also known as Joe the Joke. They wouldn’t be laughing now, because he’d won the ultimate prize. And what a beauty.
Before heading to church, Joseph added the final touch to his outfit: a pair of diamond cufflinks. The links cost more than the car he drove, but he could easily pay them off with the money he was going to get. He considered the cufflinks an “anticipation gift” to himself. This was his big moment, too, and who could blame him for wanting to look good when he walked down the aisle?
The church was empty when Joseph arrived, save for a couple of flower arrangements and his father reclining in a cheap pine box. Joseph stood over him for a moment, taking it in. This was the first he’d seen of the old man since hearing of his father’s death. When the funeral director, Mr. Greely, had first called him, the younger Tippett assumed he was being put on. Not only had Delbert not been sick a day in the past ten years, but Greely’s voice was something out of a Boris Karloff film. Then Joseph arrived to finalize funeral details and pick out a casket, and he’d been met by a man whose ghoulish appearance matched the voice. Seeing his father in the coffin was proof, though. Proof that Joseph Tippett would soon be a wealthy man.
Delbert looked good in that box; a perfect fit, as far as his son was concerned. Maybe a little pale, but no one ever looked their best at such a time. Joseph sat in the first pew and bowed his head so that anyone who came in might assume he was praying or mourning or whatever it is people did when they were sad someone had died. Joseph wouldn’t know. He was glad the old coot was finally gone and the family fortune was his to inherit. Even Momma had the good sense to die some years back and spare herself having to live with a crazy man any longer.
As Joseph sat, a shadow separated from the far wall and approached him. Mr. Greely bowed his near seven-foot frame, his hooked nose slicing through the air. “Mr. Tippett. How good to see you again. But under such…unfortunate circumstances.” Greely’s words stretched and lingered in the stale air. He stared at Tippett through dark, hollowed eyes, waiting for a reply. Joseph couldn’t muster an appropriate lie, so he sighed heavily and cast his eyes to the floor, hoping the ghoul would move on. Greely, having done his part, receded into the shadows.
To Joseph, the funeral director looked exactly like the sort who would remove rings and watches and other valuables from the bodies just before burial, especially when there were too few mourners to notice or even care. Well, he wasn’t going to let that happen in his father’s case. As the son and sole heir, it was his right to have those things. Joseph moved to stand next to the coffin. He scanned the body for jewelry and spied a gold band on one finger. Joseph took his father’s hand in his, as a loving son might, and attempted to slide the ring off in one quick motion. As if in protest, it wedged against skin folds and wouldn’t budge.
Joseph glanced in Greely’s direction, but the funeral director had moved out of sight. Braver now, he grabbed the ring and tugged, but it stuck as if glued on. With a final yank, the ring flew off, and Delbert sat up and howled. Joseph cursed wildly as he jumped back and fell against the pew.
“You ain’t gettin’ nothin’!” Delbert shouted. He fixed his gaze on his son and taunted him: “You couldn’t wait to spend my money, couldja, boy? Look atchoo with them cufflinks. Diamonds, ain’t they? Took out a big old loan to pay for them diamonds, thinkin’ I was as good as dead and you was as good as rich, huh? Well now you can jest sell ’em or be in hock for the rest of yer life, ’cause you ain’t gettin’ nothin’!”
Mr. Greely approached the coffin, bowed down with the solemn reverence reserved for those who had passed into the next life and asked, “Shall we call off the funeral, sir?”
Delbert nodded. “Yep. Cancel it. But keep this box handy. ‘Tween you and me, looks like my boy could use hisself a nice long nap.”