A bonus story of the occurred-to-me-in-a-flash sort. Warning: a bit of morbid humor here.
“Miss Hemlock, you have been on Bereavement Leave seven times this year. Nobody has that many—” The HR manager clearly changed what she was going to say “–grandfathers.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Harris, but I do.” Juniper chose to answer what the woman had meant instead of what she’d said. “Dead relatives, that is, not grandfathers. I had six of those in living memory… No, I’m afraid it was something of a chain reaction.”
“…Chain… reaction?” Mrs. Harris had heard a lot of things in thirty years in HR. From the look on her face, this was not one of the things she’d heard.
“So, it all started with my grandmother’s second husband, my Grandpa Rich. You know about that one. He lived a long life and passed away easily, may the spirits take his soul.”
We commend his soul to any god who can find it. The funeral had been quiet, a little snarky, and full of tension.
“My Aunt Abby — my grandmother’s sister Abby — has always been a bit of a drama queen, if you’ll forgive the term, and she threw herself on the grave. But her timing has always been off — why she never really made it on Broadway — and she did it after everyone’s back was turned. And broke her hip.”
Juniper shook her head. “By the time we found her — that is, my uncle Thomas and his son Tommy — she’d caught a bad fever. She wasn’t exactly young herself, and it didn’t take her long.”
“But…” Mrs. Harris was caught up despite herself. “Why would she…?”
“Oh, it turns out my grandmother and Aunt Abby were fighting over my Grandpa Rich back in the day, and my grandmother won — got pregnant — first. It was a big scandal in our little town. THeir little town, I should say. But Uncle Thomas, my grandmother’s brother — also Thomas, we call him Big Tom — and little Tommy got in a big fight in the parking lot at Aunt Abby’s funeral, and there was some showing , and the funeral house is on a busy road. Aunt Abby the younger — my father’s sister — tried to break them up, and…” She trailed off.
“Oh. Oh no. And is that why you went to your Aunt Abby’s funeral twice?”
“My family is not all that creative with names,” Juniper admitted. “It gets worse. At Abby-younger — Abseil, or Abba — well, at her will reading, there was, ah. There was a mixup with the refreshments served.” That was still in litigation. It would probably be in litigation when the time came for Juniper’s funeral. “I suppose it might have had something to do with the will, which people had been talking about for years. Abba was a collector. Some of the stuff was just junk — I’ll get to that — but some of it had real solid value.”
“A hoarder?” Mrs. Harris guessed. She had leaned forward, intrigued despite herself.
“Some people would definitely call her that. Sadly, although my great-uncle Dale was a structural engineer, he didn’t apply that to Aunt Abby’s house… and he was looking for some lithographs our great-grandmother — his mother — Huldah had left to Aunt Abby…”
“Oh no.” Mrs. Harris leaned back. “I apologize, Miss Hemlock. It appears you really do have reason for all of those funerals.”
Juniper was only through five of the seven, but she understood the urge to pull back, lest the mess suck you in. “I quite understand. Frankly, coming a year after the mess with my mother’s family, I was expecting this meeting somewhere around Aunt Abba’s funeral.”
“Ahem. Well. I’ve been a bit busy… Tell me, do you think—” She trailed off, frowning.
Juniper took pity on her. “Uncle Tom — Big Tom — isn’t in that good of health. And my mother’s youngest uncle has pneumonia. But I do think we’re nipped the chain reaction in the bud, as it were, with Uncle Dale’s funeral. And either way, I’ll try to limit future time off.”
“Ahem. Well, of course, if you need the time, you need it. But we do appreciate it. And, Miss Hemlock… I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” Juniper nodded politely at the woman. Perhaps she wouldn’t need to invite her to a will reading or a wake, after all.