by Narrelle M Harris
“Good morning, Kitty,” said Marcus Schumaker as she stepped through the front door. He was in his fifties, very buttoned down and respectable, softly spoken and kind-faced. He exuded an air of spreading peace and acceptance around him. Clients liked him, Kitty knew, because he made them feel safe.
“Good morning, Marcus. Beautiful day out.”
“It is indeed. I have Maddie Driscoll’s parents and brother in the sitting room, when you’re ready.”
“I’ll be right in, Marcus. Do you want me to bring tea?”
“That would be lovely, yes. Thank you, Kitty.”
Kitty stowed her bag and went to the kitchen to brew a pot of fresh tea. She took her time with the fine china pot and the matching cups. She poured milk into a jug and made sure the silver sugar bowl was full. A few slices of lemon, for those that preferred it. A little honey in a dish, as well, and the elegant silverwear. A nice array of thin, sweet biscuits that didn’t crumble and were light on the stomach. People’s grief settled in their stomachs sometimes, when it was being held back from the voice and the eyes. Not many people ate the biscuits, but it was good manners to have them available in case. Some swallowed their grief, after all, and it was also true that not everyone mourned.
Kitty carried the tray into the sitting room – named for its faintly formal yet pleasingly cosy atmosphere. A couch that was comfortable but not squishy. It held people up when sometimes people couldn’t help themselves up.
She brought the tray in and Marcus introduced her to the family.
“This is Katherine Carrasco,” he said, in his wonderfully comforting baritone, “She’ll be looking after Maddie’s make-up and clothing for you.”
Maddie’s family were surprised at her youth. Most people were. Kitty didn’t let it bother her, and it certainly didn’t bother Marcus. He’d discovered her worth early on. Kitty just went about, calmly and kindly, greeting them by name, pouring tea, sitting in the slightly less comfortable seat opposite them.
“I’m so sorry for you loss,” she said, genuine sympathy in her tone, “She was a lovely young woman.”
Mrs Driscoll nodded, tears welling up already. “Yes, she was. My Maddie, she was…” And she couldn’t go on. Mr Driscoll patted his wife’s hand, and it was left to Jayden Driscoll, Maddie’s older brother, to speak for the family.
“We’ve brought some of her clothes. And her make-up. And I made up a disk of her favourite music. Like Mr Schumaker asked.” Jayden clumsily shoved an overnight bag towards her, “Oh. And. These.” A folder full of photos, mostly printed out from the internet. They showed a bright teenager with a charming and slightly naughty smile, as though she was planning a prank on the photographer.
“Thank you,” said Kitty, with a warm, reassuring smile. “Anything I don’t use, I can give back to you, if you like, or we can manage it here. There’s no need to decide now.”
Jayden nodded miserably.
Kitty placed her fingers gently over one particularly lovely photograph of Maddie in a vibrant summer dress, vivid blue flowers splashed over a pale yellow background. Mrs Driscoll caught the movement.
“We’ve put that one… in the bag. She loved that dress. She was… She.”
Kitty nodded. “It suited her,” she said, “Would you like me to make her up like she is in this one?”
Mrs Driscoll nodded mutely.
“She looks very happy here,” said Kitty, still in that warm and reassuring voice. Gentle and open. Not expecting anything but leaving space for whatever might happen.
“She was,” said Mr Driscoll, “That was her eighteenth birthday and she’d just been accepted to Monash. That’s her best friend, Nicole, there.” He gestured. “And that’s her boyfriend, Mathias. He’s a good boy.” He blinked rapidly. “He made her laugh. So much. With those. What do they call them? The game with the birds and the pigs.”
Jayden’s laugh was sudden and a little brittle, but also genuine. “He got her those silly slippers, remember, the big red birds with those eyebrows.”
“And Jasper attacked them,” said Mrs Driscoll, with a similar bad-but-good laugh. She gave Kitty a watery smile. “Jasper’s Maddie’s cat. Had him since he was a kitten. He’s so lost without her. Breaks my heart.”
Kitty nodded gently. “Do you think… would you like to put something of Jasper’s with her? And something from Mathias, if you and he would like?”
In the end, Jayden said he’d come back with Jasper’s collar – for Maddie’s wrist – and if Mathias wanted to, the necklace he’d bought for Maddie’s birthday, or perhaps the funny little bird-with-the-cross-eyebrows on a tag she’d hung from her phone. That funny bird that made her laugh, especially when Mathias impersonated its enraged little cartoon face. Beloved things and memories to keep her body company, although her spirit was gone now.
The Driscolls thanked her when they left, and Kitty smiled a circumspect, kind smile and promised she’d look after their girl. Marcus saw them out, soothing them again with his air of gentle authority. After they’d gone, Kitty cleared up the cold, undrunk tea and the untouched biscuits and took the bag downstairs.
Maddie Driscoll was on the metal table still, her body almost ready for Kitty. Marcus’s sister Trudy was tidying up a few last minute things. Very little reconstructive work had been necessary. The blow from the fall off the brick wall had crushed the back of her head, but left the nineteen year old’s face unmarred.
Kitty put the bag of clothes down on her workbench and walked over to the dead girl.
“Hello Maddie,” she said, as softly and as kindly as she had spoken to Maddie’s family, “I met your parents and your brother today. They’re lovely people. Jayden is really looking out for your parents, and for Mathias too. I’ll look after you, now. I’ll help them say goodbye to you.”
Kitty knew that Maddie couldn’t hear her, that she didn’t live in that house of bone and skin any more, but that was hardly important. The dead didn’t scare her, and she liked talking to them. The dead were very good listeners, after all.
(Please feel free to post your responses to the story here: thoughts, speculation, whatever strikes you, good or bad.)