R.L.M. Cooper is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a most precocious Tonkinese cat. Several of her short stories have appeared in issues of Ariel Chart, Tuck Magazine, Literally Stories, and others. Additionally, Ms. Cooper has recently completed a novel in the thriller genre for which she is currently seeking representation.
"Well, I think she should be buried in a Potter's Field. That's what I think." Charlotte plopped her coffee cup with a clunk into its saucer and crossed her arms.
Tiny's mouth dropped open and Bonnie Sue halted her syrupy, pancake-laden fork mid-air.
"Charlotte!" Bonnie Sue and Tiny stared at her, shocked, and then at each other, wide-eyed.
The funeral had taken place just this morning at the Mayfield Baptist Church and everybody was decked out like they were going to the opening day at Ascot or the Kentucky Derby, except in black. The preacher, in unusually fine fettle, had droned on in his best Billy Graham, North Carolina accent for at least a half hour extolling the virtues of the lovely Dixie Lee who had been "so tragically taken from us in the rosebud years of her young life."
Everybody was there, of course. In Mayfield your absence would have been duly noted and--count on it--mentioned to everybody in the whole county, including you. Plus, you could just write it on your calendar that Preacher would show up shortly to find out what on earth was wrong with you and hold a prayer meeting right then and there in front of God and everybody with total disregard for any embarrassment that might cause you. So everybody was there in enough black to cause a total eclipse and absolutely wilting because it was hot enough to blister the hinges of hell and no matter how hard anybody waved those little cardboard fans from Duncan's Funeral Home there was no relief whatever.
You had to feel sorry for the parents, of course. After all, Dixie Lee was the only girl in a family of five children. And, like all parents, they thought the earth turned just for her. The four brothers sat with them on the front row, quietly--probably for the first time in their lives--pulling at their neckties as though a hangman might show up any second to finish the job. Dixie Lee's grandmother sat in the next row wailing at operatic top note while her best friend patted her on the back and held up a hand-embroidered hanky to wipe away her tears.
The Mayfield Junior College football team had shown up right on schedule, too, taking up nearly all of the left rear section of the church and making so much noise that the two rows of mourners in front of them turned around and shushed them with Medusa-like stares. Brave on the football field, this silent reprimand reduced every last one of them by at least a foot as they slid down on the pew and dropped their heads into their shoulders.
The seven girls remaining on the cheerleading squad sat with the rest of Dixie Lee's classmates at the right rear of the church. Black had been considered just too much for these young things so they were all draped in varying shades of deep purple.
The odd woman out was Dixie Lee's great aunt who had flown in for the occasion from Jacksonville. To everyone's shock, she had defiantly worn white with red piping and she gave anyone who dared to ask her about it a look so withering that almost nobody did. She was, the town had long since decided, hopelessly wayward and beyond any kind of decent salvation.
After preacher finally finished (to everyone's relief), Dixie Lee, in her pure white, pink-satin-lined casket, was toted out to the graveyard by six of the football players and lowered into the grave. After that, the mourners edged away in every direction, Charlotte, Tiny, and Bonnie Sue amongst them. The three of them had decided to do brunch at the Green Tomato where they sat now, mouths agape at Charlotte's comment.
"Well, I do!" Charlotte said, in response to their histrionically shocked stare.
Before they could say anything, Mrs. Ledbetter, the cheer-leading coach, rushed over to them with a world-class expression of pained sympathy and draped herself over Charlotte and Tiny. She would have included Bonnie Sue if she had had a third arm. "Oh, my precious girls! I know you must just be devastated! It was just such a terrible, terrible thing! We are all just devastated!"
Before any one of the three could answer, she had flitted away to a table across the room to join her husband and son who were looking around rather impatiently, either for her or for a waiter to come and take their order.
"Yeah. It was terrible." Charlotte looked at the other two who were still staring at her.
"Well, it was, actually," Tiny said. "Imagine getting run over like that."
"True," Bonnie Sue said. "But a Potter's Field? Why, Charlotte?"
Charlotte looked at her like she had lost her mind. "Please, Bonnie Sue. Don't tell me Dixie Lee never did anything to you. And what was she doing behind the bleachers with half the football team at midnight, anyway? Teaching them cheers?"
Tiny suppressed a giggle. Bonnie Sue remained silent at this. Then she said, "You're just still peeved because she stole Johnny Ray from you."
"And if I recall correctly," Charlotte fired back, "she made sure you didn't make the cheerleading squad."
Tiny said, "And there was that time she shamed Margaret for eating a hamburger in the cafeteria because she was overweight. Poor Margaret told me she nearly died when Dixie Lee called her Margaret Mountain in front of everybody."
"Well, I do have to admit that was not very nice." Bonnie Sue had gone back to eating her pancakes, commenting between bites. "But Margaret really was fat. Still, Dixie Lee had no call to announce the obvious to everybody in the building."
"I'm just tired of hearing what an angel Dixie Lee was. Miss Perfect. Miss Mayfield. Miss Butter-Wouldn't-Melt. She had everybody in this whole town bamboozled."
Tiny said, "I heard that Margaret's daddy was in some kind of electronics or something and got transferred over to Atlanta. After they got there Margaret lost a whole bunch of weight and got herself a modeling contract with a really good agency there."
"Is that right? I wonder what Dixie Lee would have thought of that," Bonnie Sue said.
Bobby Jones, the owner of the Green Tomato, came over to the table to offer his condolences. "I know you girls were just the best of friends. We are all going to miss Dixie Lee. I'm just so sorry. She was such a pretty thing. It's just a tragedy, that's what it is," he said, as though it wouldn't have been nearly so tragic if a homely girl had been run over in the "rosebud years of her young life."
"Thank you, Bobby. We are definitely going to miss her. She was an angel." Charlotte said in her most convincing voice and then rolled her eyes as he promptly took his leave and went back into the kitchen.
"Charlotte!" Bonnie Sue was really close to laughter but suppressed it beautifully--although it was hard to cover up the dimples without a hand over her face.
Charlotte's demeanor, all of a sudden, softened a mite and she said, "Well. I do have to admit Johnny Ray wasn't exactly a prize anyway. I heard he got arrested for fighting at a football game down in Baton Rouge after she dumped him."
Bonnie Sue said, "And I promise you I never really wanted to be a cheerleader. I just tried out to please my mama."
"Is that true?" Tiny asked, like this was the revelation of the century.
"Of course it is. Who wants to do all that yelling and jumping around?"
"Dixie Lee was good at it, though, wasn't she?"
"She was good at everything," Charlotte said. "Just ask anybody in town. And while you are at it, ask them why she was drunker'n a skunk and walking all over the road when she got hit."
"Yeah, like we've never been drunk." Bonnie Sue finally laughed. "Remember the time we all got snockered and drove up to Mays Lake and went swimmin' in the buff and old Raymond Whatshisname saw us and threatened to tell?"
Charlotte laughed out loud.
"Shhhhhhh," Tiny shushed her as though no one had ever before in the history of the world laughed after a funeral.
"That was Dixie Lee's idea, wasn't it?"
"It was. Just one of many crazy ones," Bonnie Sue volunteered as she finished the last of her pancakes.
Charlotte said, "Remember when we all decided we would see if we could steal lipsticks from Bennet's Five and Dime?"
"I remember," Tiny said. "I was the only one of us that got caught. Not only did old Mr. Bennet call my parents, but he took away the lipstick, too. I still remember the name: Snow Fire Red. I really wanted that lipstick, too."
"Mine was Catalina Coral," Charlotte told them. Do you remember yours, Bonnie Sue?"
"Nah. That's been too long ago. But I do remember that I hid it for months along with a half-smoked pack of cigarettes so my mother wouldn't know I had it."
The three of them began laughing. The more escapades they remembered, the harder they laughed. And the harder they laughed, the more attention they got.
Bobby stuck his head out of the kitchen to see what the ruckus was and some of the other customers were staring disapprovingly. They looked around and decided it would be in their best interest to pay up and get outside before they shocked the whole town any more than they already had.
"Can I get a ride with you, Bonnie Sue?" Tiny asked.
"What are you gonna do, Charlotte?"
"Well. I'll tell ya. I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. I just now decided. I'm gonna go home and rummage through my old box of junk and see if I can find that damned tube of lipstick. Then I'm gonna drive back to the cemetery and I'm gonna march myself over there and bury it on top of Dixie Lee's grave."
"You still got that thing?" Tiny asked her.
Bonnie Sue said, "She never throws anything away." Then she said to Charlotte, "No more Potter's Field for Dixie Lee?"
"No. I guess not. I guess we were all about as bad as she was." She got quiet for a minute. "Damn it, anyway! We had some really good times, didn't we? I really am gonna miss her."
* * *