Abigail’s minister delivered fifteen minutes of sorrow tinged with some confused warnings against wasting one’s life that raised more than my eyebrows. A slight murmur rolled among the dozens of heads inclining left and right, as if those of us in the middle and back rows were asking, “Did she commit suicide?” Now, that’s an idea that never occurred to me. How on earth could she have thrown herself against the precise edge of her dining room table? Susan was not visible from where I sat, but Kevin’s profile was in view and it looked quite frozen, as if in shock. Once, he opened his mouth as if to object, but shut it again and slumped back in his seat.
“Does he think she killed herself?” I hissed in Michael’s ear.
He shook his head. “Lifestyle,” he mouthed.
Ah, yes. If there’s one word that epitomizes the generational divide peaking in the mid-1970s, it was lifestyle. Meaningless and therefore useful for all. Abigail’s family minister had appropriated it and charged it with a code that was to mean excess.
She was divorced; she was in debt; she was flying about; and she had been drinking and, in that state, had killed herself. Got it.
“They still keep insisting she was drunk, but she couldn’t have been.”
“That’s what I hear but that’s not what her family believes.”
After the minister came a hymn led by Susan’s husband. People were asked to speak if they wanted to but after five painful minutes of silence, the Patterson’s man stepped forward and invited us all, on Kevin’s behalf, to a reception at the house on 5th Street.
It was here that I realized Kevin and Michael were more than friends. Judith’s husband took over the kitchen as if he owned it, marshaling a trio of Peasant waiters in crisp blue Oxford shirts and black slacks. A traditional spread of ham and sausage biscuits, salads and desserts had been set out in the dining room on an antique table covered in lace. The waiters swam among guests with trays of bite-sized quiches and champagne. I drank one glass and left. There was nothing more to learn and nothing more I could do. The realization made me feel like a fool. Judith, I reflected, had been right about me. Perhaps I could have helped Abigail had I been in the office, but I had not been there and that was not my fault. Now I was just being nosy and intrusive, occupying space belonging to someone who really did care about her. I should go back to Arborgate and do my job while I still had it.
I left without saying goodbye to Kevin but Susan was smoking a cigarette too close to my car to ignore her.
“I’ll call you later this week,” she said. “I still need your help.”
“Really? Judith said you wanted to handle it yourself.”
She blew smoke down the front of her navy wool coat and shook her head. “Not at all. I can’t stand the idea of going through everything. If you could do the kitchen and bathrooms in particular, I’d appreciate it. I’ll pay you.”
All the way up Peachtree Street, I wondered why Judith had told me otherwise.
Was there something beyond Abigail’s involvement with Ken she didn’t want me knowing? What was it and what could I do about it, anyway?
Suddenly, I was sadder than I’d ever been and, with it, a sense of defeat crept through me. In this mood, I turned left on Biscayne and descended to the complex.