Sean Donovan stared into Katie O’Sweeney’s coffin and caught his breath. There was that smile; that teasing, enigmatic, coy little turn of her lips. A swelling of longing and grief rose in his chest and threatened to pour out his eyes. Holding his emotions in check as best he could, he wheeled in a soldierly fashion on one heel and made his way back to his companions, pausing only to adjust his grip on his cane.
As he sat down stiffly, Mike Shea nudged him. “Did you see, Sean? The smile? That lovely smile on her face?”
“I did,” Sean replied. “Sweet Mother Mary, but don’t she look like she were 18 again?”
“She does that,” intoned Bernard “Bunny” Faelon, sitting next to Mike. “You have to admire the undertaker’s art.”
“T’was a fine job that Connors did,” Mike concurred. “But did you see her smile? Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising, seeing as Jack Connors was acquainted with Katie’s charms as well as any of us.”
Sean turned and fixed his friend with a stern glare. “Now, what is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, come along with you, Sean. You know. That’s exactly the way Katie smiled after she got through sucking the elixir of life out of your manly tool.”
Sean’s face turned crimson and he looked as if his head would burst like a balloon.
“What? I – she – can’t believe …”
“Whoa, there, Sean.” Mike studied his friend. “Dear oh dear, boyo, did you think you were the only one?”
Mike laughed out loud and Bunny joined in, attracting admonishing stares from the other mourners.
“Sean, me friend,” Mike slapped his back. “Katie was kind to all the boys. It’s what gave her the greatest pleasure in her life.”
“You mean to tell me she – well, you know, with you, and Faelon? And Connors? And who the hell else?”
“Kelly, Moriarty, all the Foleys. Sean, you’re not telling me you weren’t aware …”
Sean shook his head sharply and stared at the coffin. “Well, I’ll be. The little whore.”
“Now hold on there, Sean Donovan,” Mike scolded. “That’s a mighty harsh word you’re tossing at a sweet, gentle soul like Katie O’Sweeney.”
Mike cuffed his friend gently on the shoulder. “How old were you at your last birthday, Sean? Seventy-three was it? Well, it’s high time you grew up a little bit.”
Sean glared at Mike, then past him toward Faelon, who was nodding his head in a serious fashion.
“Katie was always there, for all us boys, whenever we needed her. And, God bless her soul, she loved being there for us,” Mike began. “There’s no shame in needing a warm, welcoming body, and a sweet smile, a soft shoulder to cry on, or just a tender heart to pay heed to your troubles.”
“When my little Maureen was sick, and I was out of work,” Bunny added. “She lent me money. I swear my girl might never had the chance to grow up if it weren’t for Katie helping me over that hard piece of road.”
“Is that so?” Sean replied. “But it seems her soft shoulder wasn’t her chief anatomical prize.”
“You’re right there, Sean,” Mike grinned. “Her mouth was – miraculous. I swear, when she had me manhood in her mouth, working her tongue all up and down – well, I could hear the angels singing. She was an artist, I tell you.”
“She was, she was,” Bunny agreed. “Why, I’m thinking she milked buckets out of me.”
“Ahhh, and when you’d poured yourself down her throat, she’d lick her lips and swallow like she were enjoying her morning coffee,” Mike recalled. “And then she’d show you that teasing girl’s smile and say, ‘Is that all you’ve got for me today, bucko?'”
Mike and Bunny sighed together.
“T’is true then,” Sean nodded. “She did the same for me. Some months after my Charlotte died.”
“Rest her soul,” Mike and Bunny said in unison.
“Thank you, thank you,” Sean nodded. “I’d been a bit lonely, you see. I hadn’t been alone for 30-odd years, you know.”
His companions nodded with sympathy.
“I knew Katie since school days, when we were – well, you know how we were.” Sean continued. “I was talking to her one day at the diner, after Charlotte had passed on. She listened, God love her. Before you knew it, Susannah had closed up and left us by ourselves. I never expected – I mean, she was an older woman then. Well, we were both old then. Still, she took me in hand, just the same, and …”
“Tell me Sean,” Mike leaned toward him conspiratorially, as Bunny cocked his ear. “Did she take out her teeth first?”
The expression on Sean’s face was all the answer Mike needed. “She did, didn’t she? Sweet Jesus, whoever would have thought a woman losing her teeth was a good thing?”
A wry smile crept over Sean’s face. “It was glorious. My old peter hadn’t been in a hurry to rise to the occasion. But when she worked it between her gums, well, I hadn’t gotten that hard since I was 16.”
The three friends sighed, blissfully unaware of the whispers and tittering they had generated amongst the other mourners.
“You’re right, boys,” Sean nodded. “She was a good woman.”
“She was that,” Mike agreed. “A saint in her own right, more than any of those set in stained glass or plaster inside the cardinal’s cathedral.”
“I suppose the diner will close now,” Sean said.
“Not at all,” Bunny answered. “She’s leaving it to her daughter.”
“Huh? Her daughter? But, she never married; she wouldn’t. I mean, she told me she wouldn’t,” said Sean.
“T’is true, she never did,” Mike nodded. “So it’s Susannah’s now.”
“Susannah?” Sean blurted. “But, I thought she was just a hired girl. Anyway, she’s, you know …”
“Well, who’s her father?”
“Hmm,” Mike rested his head in his hand a moment. “I guess you had gone away to the Army at the time. But, you still must remember Joe Jones.”
“The truck driver,” Sean said.
“The same,” Mike smiled. “Now there was a funny bucko. And a fine poker player, he was.”
“An artist,” Bunny agreed. “I lost many a hand to him, but you had to admire his finesse.”
“But – but …” Sean shook his head.
“But, what, Sean?” Mike took his friend’s arm.
“But, he was a colored fella.”
“Aye, he was. See, I knew you’d remember him,” Mike patted his friend’s shoulder. “Too bad. The poor lad died on the highway, you know. Katie brought the girl up all by herself.”
“And, still she had a buck or two to lend to them that needed it,” Bunny stated, a mix of admiration and solemnity in his voice.
Sean sat back and looked toward the coffin. Then he sighed heavily and bowed his head. There was so much he never knew about this woman. How could he have been unaware?
The priest led the mourners in reciting a decade of the rosary before announcing the hour for the funeral Mass the next day. The mourners began to file out of the parlor.
Sean raised himself up with the aid of his cane and made his way in small painful steps to Katie’s coffin. As his companions waited, he bowed and kissed her forehead. This time he let the tears have their way and course down his cheeks.
“Come along, Sean,” Mike gestured. “If we leave now, we’ll make last call at Grady’s, then we can lift a glass to Katie’s memory.”
Sean nodded and followed.
© 2002 by R.E. Buckley. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.
Available now at BookSurge: A Bite of the Apple: A Collection of Romantic Erotica, by R.E. Buckley