It's Genevieve Sher's funeral day. Soft music is playing in the chapel. People are milling about, then settling into chairs. Simona stands nearby, greeting people as they arrive. The mood is quiet and somber. Malinda comes rushing over to Simona in a panic.
MALINDA Oh my god Simona!
SIMONA (Startled.) What is it? What’s going on?
MALINDA The pastor just called! He’s been in an accident!
SIMONA Oh no! Is he ok?
MALINDA Yes, he's ok. But he is going to miss the funeral! I can't believe this!
SIMONA (Realizes the impact of the situation.) Ok... what the hell are we going to do now...
(Everyone on stage freezes, except Simona. Genevieve Sher comes to life and sits up in her coffin. She is out of breath, heaving, waving her arms wildly at Simona to get her attention.)
GENEVIEVE Hey! Girl over there! Do you work here?
SIMONA (Agape.) Me?
GENEVIEVE Yes, you! I need your help!
SIMONA My… help?
GENEVIEVE Yes! Hurry! There isn’t much time. You have to do something for me!
(Under breath, questioning.) Am I talking to a dead person?
GENEVIEVE (Breathless.) My girl Malinda. I'm afraid she won't survive! It's my fault! I gave her this idea... that everything comes to you... I don't think she understands that it's up to her! It's up to her! She didn't learn! And now I'm afraid she won't survive without this lesson that you have to teach her! For me! Please!
SIMONA Um... I’m only going to be with her for, like two hours.
GENEVIEVE Do your best! Just… make sure she learns!
SIMONA (Yells.) Ok, ok! Learns what!?
GENEVIEVE (Roars back.) CONFIDENCE IS GOD!!!
SIMONA (Puzzled.) Confidence? Is God?
GENEVIEVE (Yelling.) Yes, dammit! (Points at Simona.) You remember it too!
(Breathless, pauses.) Ok?
(Whispers.) I have to go now.
(Genevieve returns to repose and the room of people comes back to life.)
MALINDA (Nearly in tears.) What are we going to do?
SIMONA (Coming back to the real world.) We have to lead the service, Malinda. Me and you.
MALINDA Me? No! I've never led a funeral! SIMONA (Firm.) Well we can’t cancel the funeral. I mean, everyone is already here. Your mom needs us. We have to get through this.
(Looks at watch.) We don't have much time. The funeral is in less than 10 minutes.
MALINDA I can't believe this is happening! This is supposed to be my mom’s day! I planned everything down to the minute. I just… I can’t believe it!
SIMONA (Calm. Tries to calm Malinda.) It’s ok. Malinda? We're going to be ok. I’ll say a few words and then turn it over to you. When you run out of stuff to say, just give me a sign and I’ll ask people to come up and remember your mom. It’ll be really nice. You’ll see. I've done this a million times.
MALINDA (Skeptical.) You have?
SIMONA Well, no. But we can do this Malinda.
(Hesitates. Then, feeling Simona's enthusiasm and optimism, perks up a bit.) Ok. We're going to do this.
SIMONA (Presses some boutonnieres into Malinda’s hands.) Go find six guys to be pallbearers. Gather them up and… do you know how to put boutonnieres on?
MALINDA I think so…
SIMONA Good. Get your pallbearers all bouted-up. I'm going to go get the directions to the cemetery. Let's meet back in 5 minutes.
(Malinda wanders off in search of pallbearers. She spots a a good looking guy, SHAUN DELLING who is unfamiliar to her at the back of the chapel and walks over to him. He stands when he sees her approaching.)
SHAUN (Extends his hand to shake hers.) Hi Malinda, I'm Shaun Delling. I used to work with your mom over and Seed Corp.
MALINDA Oh my gosh, that was like... 20 years ago...
SHAUN Yeah, it was a long time ago... I was her assistant for a few years and... well, I just really loved your mom. She was a very special person...
(Pause) I'm so sorry, Malinda.
MALINDA Oh thank you. (Short laugh) I'm holding it together the best I can... Thank you so much for being here.
(Searching for words.) She would be... so happy to know you are here.
SHAUN Well thank you. I wasn't sure if I should come today... I wasn't sure if it was just going to be family... but...
MALINDA All are welcome, Shaun.
SHAUN (Looks down at the baggy of boutonnieres in Malinda's hands.) You need pallbearers?
MALINDA Um... yeah... I guess I do! You've done this before?
SHAUN Yes. I'll be one if you'd like, and I can get a few people together. Do you want to be a pallbearer too?
MALINDA Me? I've only seen men do that...
SHAUN (Smiles at Malinda.) All are welcome... Will you put on my boutonniere?
(Malinda and Shaun put on each other's boutonnieres and Simona returns to the room with directions and funeral stickers in hand. Jill beelines over to her.)
JILL Simona. Where's the pastor? We're cutting this very close.
SIMONA Yeah... he's not coming . He has been in an accident.
JILL Oh my God. Is he ok?
SIMONA (Rushed) Yeah, he's fine, but he can't be here.
JILL Well, who do you have officiating?
SIMONA Malinda and I are going to lead the service.
JILL (Scoffs) What? You? And that spazz? Go get a pastor from church. Now. Just run over there and get someone. Anyone.
SIMONA The service is starting now. I already talked to Malinda…
MALINDA (Approaches Simona and Jill -- she looks energized.) Ok, I'm ready. Now what?
SIMONA (Sees Malinda's boutonniere.) You're going to be a pallbearer?
MALINDA Yes. An old friend... suggested I help carry Mom.
JILL (Firm.) I’ve asked Simona to run over to...
SIMONA (Interrupts Jill.) Excuse me, Jill. We’ve got to get started. Need to be on time with the service to get to the cemetery on time. So… Malinda, join me at the front?
(The two of them walk past Jill, who is open-mouthed and fuming.)
(Simona speaks to Malinda.) Let’s not stand at the podium. Let’s talk to people like they're family.
MALINDA (Brightens a bit. Smiling slightly.) Well, I guess they are family…
SIMONA (Address the group.) Good morning everyone. Thank you all for coming to this special day to remember Genevieve Sher. I'm Simona Salco, and I'm a funeral director here. Pastor Eric was in a car accident... (Audience gasps.)
SIMONA He's ok. He isn't hurt, but he's not going to be able to be here with us today. But we have a really nice service planned for Ms. Genevieve and…
(Hears Genevieve's voice... CONFIDENCE IS GOD!)
(Clears throat.) Let’s get started.
Um… Just so you know… When we close the service here, you are all invited to join us as we lay Genevieve to rest at Holy Memories Cemetery. Following the burial, the family is hosting a reception at Boswell’s Restaurant where you can have a bite to eat and take some time to remember Genevieve together. We have directions for you on the table near the exit… you can take one as you leave today. And now, I would like to introduce Malinda Sher. Malinda?
(Turns floor over to Malinda, who steps up cautiously. Simona turns to leave the podium, but Malinda touches her, signaling for her to stay.)
MALINDA (Deep breath, turns to Simona.) Thank you, Simona. And thank you all for being here for me and for mom. It seems strange to learn from someone in such a short time... and under these circumstances... but I feel like I have changed in these last few days since Mom died.
(Turns to the group. Freezes for a moment. Long awkward pause.)
Um… The last year, and really the last few months have been… impossible. Some of you called me, wanting to know how Mom was doing. Some of you stopped by to help me clean the yard... Thank you, Patricia and Joe. Or to help me clean the house, or to feed me… The unbelievable generosity my mom and I experienced over these last few months… I'll never forget it. There were so many days when I wanted to just lie down next to my mom and call it a day. Your support kept me going. Thanks…
I want to talk about my Mom for a minute… (Opens her notes.)
Mom was born in Shawnee, Kansas in 1931. Her parents were Jacob Morris and Francis Dwight. She was the third child… it was a big family… six kids in all. She had a difficult birth - she was premature and sickly at a time when there wasn't a lot of medical care for this kind of thing - her mom had to nurse her to health on her own with little help, and two other kids to care for. It was a difficult life - the family was very poor. My mom's parents worked hard for every scrap they put on the table. But… You would never have known the struggles my mom lived through in her early life by the pictures you see out in the foyer. There are just a few from when she was a kid. She was poor, yes, and also completely glamorous.
(Pauses. Looks down and begins to cry.)
SIMONA (Puts arm around Malinda's shoulder.) Malinda? Do you want to take a break?
MALINDA (Quietly.) Yes.
(Simona guides her to her seat. Resumes the floor. Jill starts to walk up to the front.)
SIMONA (Takes control. Kind and sincere.) As you can imagine, I go to a lot of funerals.
(Audience chuckles.) And I always find myself wanting to know more. What were people like? How did their lives weave in and out with the people around them? Obituaries barely skim the surface. But that's ok, right? That's all an obit is meant to do. It's here, at the funeral, that the stories about who a person was can truly be appreciated.
(Curious.) How many of you agree with me?
(Several audience members cautiously raise their hands.) Yeah? You all see what I mean? Great! We have a few minutes before we have to leave for the cemetery. Let's share some memories of Genevieve, ok? I would really like to know more about who she was.
DOUGLAS (Stands, clears throat.) Thank you, miss.
(Pauses, rubs hands together.) I'm Douglas Dwight, Genevieve's first cousin. We grew up together… in Kansas. She was one of those fun people, could always be counted on for a laugh. She was adventurous... we used to get into all sorts of trouble when we were kids. We'd hitchhike into town and… I remember one time, we heard about this sewing show happening in town and she said... "Come on Dougie, let's go!" So we went, coupla kids... we blended into the crowds, looking at all the buttons and material and things… And right next to it, there were all these people eating… it was a banquet. We were hungry, so we said, why don't we go get some food, too? We grabbed a plate and went through the banquet taking eggs and bacon and toast and jam and we found a place to sit on the grass and we just laid into that plate of food. I will never forget those eggs… they were the best things I think I’d ever tasted at that time. I still remember them. We were about half way done when a man in a suit came over to us and said, “Say you kids, what do you think you’re doing?” We looked up and said… “Eating.” He told us, “that foods not for you! It’s for our guests. Give me that plate.” And he grabbed the plate and threw it away. It was sorta heartbreaking, with those good eggs going to the trash and all, but we were so pleased with ourselves that we got that far! (Laughs) Oh, Genevieve. You were a character.
(Pauses, digs in suit pocket.) ) I brought a picture of us, the only one that we ever took together. I want to give it to Genevieve.
MALINDA Uncle Doug. Thank you, I know Mom would love that.
(Douglas walks up slowly. He stops to show Malinda the picture, and then slowly walks up to the casket and puts it inside. Returns to his seat.)
MALINDA (Feeling more comfortable, addresses Simona.) Um, I don’t know the best time to do this… but, my mom wanted her cat’s urn to be in her casket. Should I do that now?
SIMONA (Rolling with it.) Sure! That would be very nice. What was the cat’s name?
MALINDA Byron. He was always with mom. They were the best of friends.
ELDERLY FRIEND MARY I remember sweet little Byron!
MALINDA (Pleased by the interaction.) You do, Mary? Oh how nice… Um, would you like to come up and help me?
ELDERLY FRIEND MARY Of course I would. (Mary walks up slowly with her cane to the front and meets Malinda. The pair approach the casket together cautiously and pause to look in at Genevieve resting in her casket. They silently place Byron’s urn in the casket. Mary hugs Malinda and then returns to her seat.)
MALINDA (Faces the group.) There's one more thing I want to say... A few people have called me since Mom died, and I have to admit... though I have been happy to hear from them, I haven't always accepted the words graciously once I hang up the phone and I'm alone again. I think the thing that sets me off is when they say, WOW, you had your mom for a really long time. She had such a long life -- you're so lucky to have have had her for so long!
It’s true, but…
When the space between you and the person you love is INFINITE, it can be difficult to count your blessings. But these words, as much as they've hurt me in the moment, have helped me too. They've helped me reflect on who my Mom was. Mom always counted her blessings and she taught me to do that, too. When I take a step back from my sadness, I can see so clearly that I was so lucky. She was always there. And she'll always be with me. She wasn't someone to hold back wisdom... but maybe I wasn't always listening because I knew she was always there. Does that make sense? Now that she's gone, I'm seeing the world so differently. I'm terrified. But I'm grateful too. And I love you all. Thank you.
(Slowly, applause builds. And then there is more and more, until everyone is applauding Malinda, embracing her in a cacophony of praise and love. Malinda is overcome by the applause. She stands at the front of the room, her gratitude is evident. She walks over to Simona and touches her arm.)
I'm not sure what to do next.
(Audience laughs gently.)
SIMONA (Moved by Malinda's words, she addresses the group.) Thank you all for being here today. You all made this such a special service. It's time for us to go to the cemetery and lay Ms. Genevieve to rest. If you want to join us at the grave, you can line up on the left side up the building and follow the hearse in procession. There are directions and FUNERAL stickers for your car windshield on the table at the exit. Malinda will be hosting a reception at Boswell's Restaurant right after...
(Pause.) Thank you. This concludes our services here.
(Attendees begin to stand, gather their things and slowly move out of the chapel.)
MALINDA Simona, that was incredible!
(Jill marches in and approaches Simona and Malinda.)
JILL (Terse.) Simona, may I speak to you please?
SIMONA Um, sure. Malinda, I'll meet you out front in a few minutes, ok?
MALINDA Ok. (Walks off and is greeted by an attendee)
SIMONA (To Jill.) What’s up? I gotta get going.
JILL That was an absolute cluster fuck! Totally disorganized and unprofessional! You had no business stepping in like that!
SIMONA Are you kidding? Did you just hear the customer say it was incredible? Did you hear everyone clapping?
JILL We are less than a block away from a church. Why didn't you go over and see if one of the ministers there could help? Or let me take over!? I am the one who's been in this business since I was four. Not you.
SIMONA (Incredulous, confident.) Malinda just said “that was incredible.” It was so real! Don't you see that?
JILL I’ve had enough of you, Salco. You step in and play healer to someone who needs the support of a real minister - not some newbie funeral director who's just gonna... throw something together! This is not “Evening at the Improv.” This is a professional funeral organization!
SIMONA (Pauses, then calmly unravels.) Jill, when was the last time you cared about a family?
JILL (Shocked.) Excuse me?
SIMONA Go ahead, try to remember. When was the last time you sat with someone who just lost a loved one and really cared about them, not just the goddamn casket they were buying or how they were going to affect your bottom line?
JILL (Snide.) Oh my god, I have been waiting for this moment.
(Emphatic.) You are fired.
SIMONA (Long pause. Looks down, silently. Shakes head, and then throws her arms up in the air in defeat.) Ok…
JILL You waste company money, waste other employees’ time talking about death and the afterlife and all this depressing crap, and then, then you take charge when you have absolutely no business doing so. Put your things in a box and get the hell out of my mortuary. You are fired!
SIMONA (Holding back emotion.) As soon as I get back from laying Genevieve to rest, I will be on my way.
JILL (Incredulous.) You're not driving my hearse! Joe will take the body out.
SIMONA (Smirks, hands on hips.) Joe can't take "the body" out because he's at lunch. And he’s in a back brace anyway. Dan’s running a death certificate and Rick’s making an arrangement. And you aren’t really wearing your cemetery shoes today, are you?
(Pauses.) Don’t you think you should stay here and answer the phone?
JILL (Seething.) Fine. Take the body out. I don’t give a shit. When you get back, your final paycheck will be on your desk. I want you out of here.
FADE TO BLACK. Scene reopens in the mortuary where Joe is waiting, smoking a cigar, looking concerned. SIMONA walks in, dragging a bit.
JOE What the hell happened?
SIMONA I’ve been let go.
JOE What the hell for?
SIMONA What can I say? I thought I was doing the right thing. I just… did what I thought Malinda needed. You were right. Jill had her eye on me.
JOE You been crying?
JOE Why? About this fuck’n place? SIMONA She couldn’t even wait until after the burial to scream at me! I was so furious when she told me to “put my stuff in a box” and get out. I could’ve just flipped her off and walked out, but where would that have left poor Malinda? And Genevieve? It was so hard not to tell Malinda when we were driving to the cemetery because literally, I was boiling inside. But I kept thinking “this woman has enough to deal with right now. She'll feel even worse if she knows you lost your job because her preacher didn't show up.”
JOE Aw, kid…
SIMONA And then we got to the cemetery, and… you know how I like it when it's all overcast and cloudy and those first moments when you step onto the cemetery lawn and everyone is getting out of their cars and walking to the grave? How it’s all solemn and quiet…
JOE (Annoyed.) Yeah, yeah, you’ve gone on and on about that before…
SIMONA It was like that. So perfect. And the burial was so beautiful. Malinda asked one of her mom’s friends to say a few words, and the poor lady almost lost it. She did good, though; everyone was crying. She put this little bouquet of irises and button mums on top of the casket and then they lowered it. And that's… that’s when I started crying, too.
JOE Yeah. It happens. (Long pause. The two look at each other without looking away.)
SIMONA I’m really going to miss you.
JOE You did good, kid. I know what Jill says, but she has another agenda. Trust me. You did good.
SIMONA Thanks for everything. I guess I should get out of here.
JOE (Abrupt) Here. A little something to remember... I don't know... the good days here. (Hands her a small, sparkly hair clip.)
SIMONA (Studies the hair clip, questioning tone.) Is this the hair clip from that indigent lady that came through awhile back?
SIMONA (Fighting tears, laughter at the same time.) Thank you, Joe.
(Reaches out and quickly hugs Joe.) Bye.
JOE Bye, kid.
FADE TO BLACK. Scene reopens in Malinda's home, where she sits in her robe and slippers at her desk, writing a letter to Simona. Her voice is amplified.
MALINDA Dear Simona, It's been a day like no other. I'm exhausted. But, as tired as I am, I just had to sit down and write you a note, while the thoughts are still fresh in my mind. I want to say thank you. Thank you for being there for me and for giving me the strength and confidence to get up and be a real part of my mom's funeral, not just the one behind the scenes.
It may seem strange for a funeral to be this cathartic for a person, but I feel like I opened myself up to possibilities today. To listening and being more alive. It was like the sadness and the joy - all that incredible emotion of life - became one thing and I felt it lifting me and pushing me. My mom was there, Simona. I could feel her. I never wanted her to leave! At the cemetery, I felt her slipping away, and that terrified me, and there you were again, holding my hand.
(Pause.) I think you're right: Grief, and all that's happening right now, is a process. It started the day my mom died. I know there will be moments when I'll be in agony, unable to move or speak - I can predict that now.
(Pause.) Enough of the gloom and doom. It's late and I don't have more than one ounce of energy left. Thank you again for your gentleness and poise, and most of all, for getting me up there. You saw me through a difficult time and I will never forget that. Sincerely, Malinda
(Folds the letter and starts to place it in the envelope. Pauses, then removes it and starts writing again.)
P.S. Feel free to give me a call sometime? I know I'm much older than you, but you're wise beyond your years.You bring out the good in me. I can see us being friends. Can you?