A Catered Affair
ronically, the entrance bells sounded the same no matter who came through the door, but as she passed that day they seemed to chime more subtlely. As I looked up from the counter and my eyes touched hers, I felt a dormant rush of love even as I put on a professional appearance. Virginia was a woman I had loved briefly one summer many years ago, a love I should have probably forgotten about but could not.
"John," she said smiling. "It's good to see you."
"And I you," I said, an understatement. "How can I help?"
"I am planning an affair..."
"What's the function?" I asked.
"It's my funeral," Virginia O'Connell said. "You see I have pancreatic cancer and will die within a few months. I would like to plan a reception after the funeral."
I wondered if it could possibly be a prank. But I knew her too well, and it couldn't be.
"You see," Virginia said. "If I plan my funeral reception, it gives me some control over the illness. Cancer may kill me, but I can still control the circumstances of my death... I knew I could depend on you to help."
I took her order, and she left. When the approximate date grew closer, I became inattentive to anything but her affair. Newspapers pooled under the mailboxes, supplies were not reordered. But on the day of the event, in early December, her instructions were carried out precisely and with tender elegance.
First published: October 1997