“If I Should Die Before My Wake” Rated PG
Martha walked up to the shiny black coffin with her cup of coffee. Martha had been busy since before dawn. The food was made and arranged on tables in the kitchen. All was in readiness for the guests who were due to arrive any minute. Martha found a spot to put down her cup and reached an arm over the lid and gave the coffin a hug. She kissed the lid and said, “I know you can hear me. I know you are listening. I missed having your help getting ready this morning. You have always done so much for me. Forgive me if I ever took you for granted. I love you, Baby. Your friends should be here soon. I know that you don’t like being on display and that you are embarrassed when people say nice things about you, … but today’s your day so I hope you’re ready. It’s our day too -- our day to tell you and everyone who will listen how much we love you and how very proud we are of you. I’d better pull myself together and check on your Dad. It’s almost show time.”
Martha picked up her cup of coffee and walked to the front door to stand by Jon as he kept watch for the guests. Jon said, “What a beautiful day for a party. Fresh air. Birds chirping. It was strange doing chores without her today. We always pause to look at the sunrise together. She always says that the sunshine is her first meal of the day … but that rarely stops her from having a huge breakfast. The sunrise was especially glorious today. She would have loved it … but she was in here … trapped in that box.”
Martha said, “You know our daughter well enough to know that she could see the sunrise even from where she is right now. We have to remember that it was her decision that put her in that box. I am proud of the choice that she made and that she had the guts to follow through with it.”
Jon smiled and said, “So am I, Martha, so am I.”
The Sheriff’s car led a procession of other cars into the Kent driveway. People parked wherever they could and started to walk up the sidewalk to the front door. Lex got out of his car and gave anyone not already wearing black a black arm band to wear. Martha turned to Jon and asked, “Should I peek in on Clara before anyone comes in?”
Jon said, “No, Lex planned this entire thing. You’re letting him do things I don’t necessarily approve of, so we might as well just follow through and do everything the way he intended it.”
People began coming in. They were greeted with handshakes, hugs, and kisses and then directed to the kitchen to fill a plate before returning to the living room to find a seat. In all, thirty people came to visit the Kents that day. There was Pastor Millar and his wife, Sheriff Adams and her adopted daughter, Whitney Fordman and his parents, the Lang family, Pete Ross and his Mother, Chloe Sullivan who was covering the event for “The Torch,” a few of the neighbors that Clara often helped with their farm chores and, of course, Lex Luthor.
While people got their food, Chloe Sullivan was interviewing Jon for her article. Jon said, “Clara has had this powerful burden that has had a drastic impact on her life since she was six years old. That means that this was weighing on her every day for almost two-thirds of her life. She tried to live a normal life, but there were constant reminders that she was different from everyone else she knew and she found that very limiting. Well, she bravely faced the final test without a whimper and now all of that is finally over for her. I can never thank Lex Luthor enough for the difference he made in her life. I’ll try to make it up for him by taking him on fishing trips whenever I go.”
Once everyone had gotten a plate and found a place to sit in the living room, Jon walked up to the casket and said, “Thank you all for coming today to honor my daughter. This will be a very special wake. Clara considered this a personal and private victory. She was never one to enjoy a party much … especially one in her honor. But Martha and I … and Lex, especially Lex, wanted her friends and neighbors here today as a tribute to what she has accomplished. We closed this casket last night at 7:30pm and put Krypto Two on top to guard our daughter all night. Since he hasn’t been moved and there has been no sign of a struggle, we know that Clara hasn’t been disturbed. Krypto Two would never let anyone near her unless he knew that person was a true friend to her. It is 11:30am now. It is the appointed hour. It is time to open the coffin for the viewing. Anyone who wants to come up now and pay their respects to her may do so now. Again, thanks for coming today.” Jon moved Krypto Two aside then opened the coffin. He gently pushed the hair out of Clara’s face. He leaned down and kissed her. He said, “You did it, Honey. You faced your darkest fears. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been. I am the parent and I am supposed to be teaching you … but I have learned so much from you. I am a better person from having known you. I love you so much. I’ve loved you from that first moment I saw you … and I’ll love you until the end of time. I couldn’t be more proud of you!” Pete Ross snapped a picture that caught Jon’s expression and the glisten of the tears in his eyes. Jon stepped back and walked away. Martha took his place by the casket.
Martha gently pushed the hair out of Clara’s face. She said, “You look great! It looks like I’ve had a rougher time of it then you did. I hardly slept at all thinking about you being down here in this box! You’re still my baby girl, you know that? No matter what happens, you’ll always belong to me. Do you have any idea of how proud I am of you? I couldn’t love you any more if you had grown inside of me. I thank God every day and every night that you chose me to be your Mother. You have made me so complete … so happy that I can’t even express it!” Pete snapped another picture then got back in line.
Lana Lang looked down at Clara. She said, “That’s strange. No zits. I always thought that you kept your hair over your face because you had bad acne.” Lana rubbed Clara’s face with her thumb and said, “Nope. No heavy make-up either. You know, with a different attitude, you could have been popular. You certainly have the looks. You really are just one big mystery. I really envy you. You are SO lucky to have a boyfriend like Lex. Whitney would NEVER think to have a party like this for me. Of course, Lex just thinks he owes you for saving his life that time. And, Whitney IS going to marry me the summer after I graduate from high school.” Lana held up her diamond engagement ring in front of Clara’s face. Lana continued, “The chances of Lex Luthor marrying you are NIL! I’d better fix your hair or no one will recognize you.” Lana reached into the casket and pulled Clara’s hair over her face so that only her nose showed before strolling away.
Pete walked up and said, “Hey, stop hiding from me!” He gently pushed the hair back out of Clara’s face. He said, “I will forgive you for not opening your eyes this time. I completely understand. I never know what to say at a time like this. Hey, I understand that they put men into coffins with suits that have no backs in them. Is your dress open in the back? Would you mind rolling over for a second and letting me have a peak? No? Just kidding. I just wanted to see if I could make you smile. I thought I saw the corner of your mouth move just a little, but it was probably just wishful thinking on my part. I really do miss that smile of yours. Well, the line is long and I hear your Mother’s muffins calling me. She really went all out! So, see you later.” Pete headed towards the kitchen and Sheriff Adams stepped up.
Sheriff Adams said, “I really want to thank you for being so much help to me recently. I guess you have been there for me all along, but knowing that I can call on you has been a great comfort to me. I never knew how brave you really were until I heard what you decided to do … and here you are. That took some nerve. I know that I am not easily frightened but I don’t think I could do what you did. People rarely face and conquer their deepest fears and move on. You are one special little lady. I’m going to hold up my daughter so she can get a look at you. I think she wants to give you a kiss as well.”
Sheriff Adams held up her daughter up and her daughter smiled and said, “She’s so beautiful, Mommy!”
Sheriff Adams said, “Yes she is.”
The young girl leaned over and kissed Clara on the cheek, then said, “Could I have a big cookie now?”
The Sheriff said, “Yes, you may” and carried her daughter into the kitchen.
Mrs. Lang stepped up and said, “Clara, you have grown into such a lovely woman. You were such a beautiful young girl, so well behaved. She leaned in and kissed Clara on the cheek. A tear landed on Clara’s face. Mrs. Lang said, “I am so sorry that I spanked you when you were a little girl … and not just because I broke my best hair brush on you. I’m glad I have an opportunity to say this when I don’t have to worry about you saying anything. This is difficult enough to say. I finally found out what happened that day. Emily confessed. I’m sorry I didn’t let you play with my Lana after that. I’m sure that you would have been a good influence on her. I hope you will find a way to forgive me. Thank you for my daughter’s life.” Mrs. Lang leaned in and kissed Clara again, then left to find a bathroom so that she could fix her make-up.
Mr. and Mrs. Fordman stepped up. Mr. Fordman brushed Clara’s face with his hand then leaned in and kissed her. He said, “Josie, I love you. You are one special lady. I don’t think I could have survived my time in the hospital without your friendly visits, your listening ear and your shoulder to cry on.” Thank you for everything!”
Mrs. Fordman leaned over Clara and her eyes opened wide. She took a close look at Clara’s figure. She turned to her husband and said, “This is the friendly young schoolgirl that visited you in the hospital – the one you talk about ALL the time?”
Mr. Fordman said, “Yes.”
Mrs. Fordman gave her husband a sharp elbow to the stomach and said mockingly, “Her listening ear … her shoulder to cry on. And you’re telling me that there weren’t any other body parts that caught your eye. No wonder you found a reason to live!” Mrs. Fordman turned and headed for the front porch and Mr. Fordman followed close behind.
Lex walked up and said, “Good morning Angel. I am so proud of you. Thanks for allowing us to have a party for you.”
Lex turned and said, “Now it is time for a ritual to be performed. It shouldn’t take long because Clara didn’t commit many sins. I have generously volunteered to serve as her “sin eater.” To me it will be a rather light snack. Mr. Kent, please place the coins on your daughter’s eyes that will be my payment for performing this task.” Jonathan placed a nickel on each of Clara’s eyes. Lex said, “Ten cents! What kind of payment is that?!”
Jon said, “Like you said, Clara hasn’t led a sinful life. Isn’t that right Pastor Millar.”
Pastor Millar said, “Her biggest sin is that she refused to join the choir! I could hear her signing in the pews and we needed her up front.”
Jon said, “Very well.” He walked up and replaced the nickels with quarters.
Lex said, “Thank you, Pastor Millar. Fifty cents is a more reasonable amount. Mrs. Kent, Do you have the food I asked for?”
Martha said, “Yes, I do.” She walked forward with a small tray.
Lex began taking the food from the tray. He said, On Clara’s forehead, I place an apple tart … because Clara is the apple of my eye. On Clara’s chest, I will place these muffins …. Martha, these muffins are pretty small. They don’t do justice to Clara’s muffins.”
Martha said, “I’m sorry. I used the biggest muffin tin I had.”
Lex said, “We’ll make due. This is a bit of a balancing act as it is. I almost said “juggling act” but that wouldn’t have been appropriate, would it. And finally, we have a cherry tart for Clara’s waist. Now it is time for me to feast.” Lex turned to his task – starting at her forehead. He made a lot of noise as he ate. After finishing the muffins, he turned to the guests and said, “Now for the piece of resistance!” He turned back and ate the cherry tart. He turned again to the guests and licked his lips. He said, “That was delicious.” Lex made a show of taking the quarters from Clara’s eyes and pocketing the fifty cents before saying, “Right now, I am supposed to try the Prince Charming act and wake this Sleeping Beauty from her night in close quarters. And she is beautiful, isn’t she folks?” The guests applauded and Pete let out a wolf whistle. Lex said, “Like I said, I am supposed to content myself with kissing this fair beauty, but she is far too beautiful for a mere kiss to satisfy me.” Lex smiled his evilest smile then turned once again to the casket. He leaned into the casket and began kissing Clara. The he lifted a leg and swung it into the casket on top of Clara and began to crawl in with her. There was a brief struggle and Lex was thrown to the floor.
Clara sat up and shouted, “Lex, not in front of my parents and Pastor Millar! And what was that sin eater stuff?! You were just supposed to kiss me on the cheek!”
Everyone burst out laughing. Clara looked at all the people and turned beet red. She laid back down in the casket and pulled the lid closed. Jon walked over and helped Lex get up. As Lex brushed himself off, Jon opened the casket and said, Clara, sixteen hours is enough time in there. Have you gone from being claustrophobic to being agoraphobic? Let’s get you out of there.” Jon put an arm under her back and another under her knees, lifted her out of the casket and put her on her feet. Jon said, “Everybody, let’s hear it for my Daughter … who conquered her fear of claustrophobia once and for all … and for her friend, Lex, who helped her do it!” The guests applauded again and got to their feet. Jon turned to Clara and said, “Now, be a good girl and mingle with your guests.” He swatted her on the butt and she timidly went to talk with the people who had come to celebrate her victory.
After everyone else had left, Clara mounded a plate with scalloped potatoes and went out to sit beside Lex on the front porch. Lex said, I hope you aren’t too mad about the sin eater thing or me trying to crawl into the coffin with you. I’m always had a thing for undead females on satin.”
Clara said, “I have to learn to laugh at myself sometime. I know I’m pretty ridiculous in a lot of ways.”
Lex said, “Well, I am deadly serious about you. I don’t think you are ridiculous at all.”
Clara said, “Of course I forgive you for being silly. Thank you for helping me … making me overcome my claustrophobia. Now it feels like there is nothing I can’t do … except maybe cook like my Mom! These potatoes are SO good. It feels like I haven’t eaten in days.” Clara stared into Lex’s eyes for a few moments more then swallowed hard what was in her mouth and kissed Lex.
After a few minutes, Lex said, “Mmmm, those potatoes ARE good … but I like the flavor you add to them.”
Clara said, “I have to admit that it did kind of hurt my feelings that you didn’t trust me to stay in the coffin last night.”
Lex said, “What do you mean? Because I put Krypto Two on top of the casket, you think I didn’t trust you? I put him there so you would have him there … because I couldn’t be.”
Clara said, “I liked having Krypto Two there with me. I thought it was sweet of you to put him there. I wasn’t talking about that. I’m talking about you locking me into the coffin.”
Lex said, “I what? I swear to you, that casket wasn’t locked when I left last night and it wasn’t locked when I came in this morning.”
Clara said, “The lock was on a timer. I heard it latch about midnight … shortly before the oxygen tanks started feeding air into the casket so that I could breathe. Then the lock opened a few hours later. You know I told you I wouldn’t need oxygen as long as you didn’t close the casket lid all the way or seal it.”
Lex said, “I had them drill holes in the casket. There weren’t oxygen tanks in the casket.”
Clara said, “Yes, Lex, there were.”
Lex got up and went inside. He opened the casket and felt around inside. Under the lining on each side of where Clara’s legs had been, he felt a small tank. He pulled the lining back and read the label on one of them. It said, “CO” – carbon monoxide.
Lex suddenly felt ill. The night in the coffin had been his idea. He wanted Clara to know what he already knew -- know that she had finally conquered her fears and was free of them. He wanted an excuse to throw a party in her honor. Someone had used that idea … to try to kill her. And in his heart he knew who had done it … and knew that there would be no proof that his father was involved in any way. He silently thanked God that something had gone wrong with the plan. Not knowing Clara’s true nature, Lex thought that she might have been killed and also realized that her parents, sleeping in the room above, could have died as well. He imagined Clara dying before her wake … and the scene of Jon opening the coffin in front of all those people to find that his daughter was actually dead. He realized that the celebration could have just as easily been a tragedy. He ran back out to the porch and sat down next to Clara. She saw the tears in his eyes as he grabbed hold of her. He held onto her as tightly as he could as the plate of potatoes tumbled to the lawn. Clara said, “Lex, you’re trembling! What’s the matter?” He couldn’t say a word. He just held on to her as if her life depended on it.