A single pink rose rested on the table.
This piece was written for a writing contest that required having a little black book and $20,000 incorporated into the story.
Ben and Nan sat at the side of their uncle’s casket, Uncle Zack’s casket. They had arrived early for the visitation and now were the only ones remaining. The room was silent, dead silent. Nearby, a candle on a small table burned with a steady flame and a single pink rose rested on the table. There were no other flowers.
“A rose,” Nan whispered. “Of course, he would have asked to have a pink rose at his funeral.”
“For Mom,” Ben replied.
“He thought of everything, no flowers. Donations to be sent to Smile Train. Only a candle and a pink rose.”
“Mom would have approved. It feels like she’s here. They were real friends.”
“She has come to journey home with him,” Nan agreed.
“What flower do you want at my funeral?” Ben asked jokingly.
“A daisy. Just a single daisy,” Nan replied with a smile.
“I’ll remember that.”
“The candle. The flame,” Nan whispered.
“I know, I was thinking the same thing.”
“I’m glad the undertaker didn’t put concealer on his skin. He wouldn’t have liked that.”
They moved close to the coffin and leaned in to look closely in their uncle’s terribly disfigured face.
I think he looks noble. The candlelight makes him look like he’s glowing,” Nan observed.
“It’s the taught skin. Remember, it always looked like his face was shining. No wrinkles. No worry lines, just skin pulled tight across his cheek and jaw bones.”
“And no lips, no eyebrows or lashes,” Nan added.
“If you don’t like the way I look, look the other way,” Ben repeated his uncle’s words.
“God doesn’t look on a man’s outward appearance. God looks on the heart,” Nan finished their uncle’s oft spoken dictum.
“It must have been awful. Imagine the pain. He was only eleven. He didn’t know the difference between kerosene and gasoline.”
“He just wanted to get a fire burning quickly. He and Mom were cold. If it hadn’t been for her winter coat, she would have been burned worse than she was.”
“Her hands were terribly scarred,” Ben murmured. “I wonder if some of his face skin grafted onto them.”
“Rose petals. Mom always said the scar on her left hand looked like pink rose petals, “ Nan added.
The funeral parlor director busied himself arranging chairs and dimming lights. “I plan to leave in fifteen minutes,” he said quietly.
“We don’t mean to keep you,” Ben replied. “It’s just that Zack’s estate executor asked us to meet him here this evening. He said he would arrive no later than seven.”
“It’s seven twenty now. I planned to be home by eight,” the director replied after checking his watch.
Just then a short bald man hurried in. “Hi, Nan. Hi, Ben,” he greeted while shaking rain from his coat. “Miserable night. Rain’s turning to sleet.”
Nan and Ben looked questioningly at the parlor director.
“Fine. Fine. Take as much time as you need,” he consented.
Matt Downer joined the brother and sister at Zack’s coffin.
“Thanks for coming, Matt. Is the estate pretty well settled?” Nan asked.
“Yes. Your uncle was very organized. He started working on his will four years ago. Didn’t expect to make it to ninety-eight.”
“He was a master of order,” Ben agreed.
“However, even though his estate is huge – – stocks, bonds, property, settling it will be simple. All proceeds are to be divided equally between six charities and all donations anonymous.”
“That’s the way he was,” Nan affirmed.
“He was a very private man. Kept to himself. It was because of his face. He hated pity, and when someone appeared revulsed, he became angry. He didn’t like being angry,” Ben explained.
“It doesn’t bother you that he left everything, I mean everything, to charities?” Matt asked.
“Oh no,” Ben and Nan answered at once.
“He did so much for us. He paid for our schooling, even our children’s college,” Nan volunteered.
“He paid for our mom’s care after her stroke. He kept her at his home with a private nurse,” Ben added.
“If you don’t mind my asking, how did he make his money? You don’t have to tell me. Apparently, he wanted it kept a secret because nobody seems to know. There are stories about him bootlegging,” Matt looked at Zack’s scarred face when asking this question. “Accident at the still?”
“No. He wasn’t a bootlegger,” Nan answered. “It was oil. He left home after Mom married. He was sixteen. She had always been his go-between, but he didn’t want to go-between Mom and Dad, so he left.”
“He went to Texas and got a job as a wild-cater. Signed on with one of the Spindletop companies and became an expert at capping gushers,” Ben explained.
“He said he didn’t mind getting covered with oil because it covered his face. He also took risks other men refused to take. It’s not difficult guessing why,” Nan added.
One of the oil moguls recognized his skill, respected his work ethic, and long story short, Zack inherited the mogul’s wealth,” Ben explained.
The conversation ended when the director stepped into the room and cleared his throat.
“We’re sorry. Didn’t mean to take this much time,” Ben apologized.
“Sorry,” Matt agreed as he handed Ben a manilla envelope. “Your uncle asked me to give this to both of you. He said you’d understand.
Ben undid the envelope clasp and looked inside. A smile spread across his face. Turning to Nan, he said, “You take it out.”
When Nan extracted a small black notebook, a smile also beamed across her face. “Oh my. Oh my,” she whispered.
“Your uncle said you would know what to do with it,” Matt commented.
“Yes, we know,” Nan said softly.
“That’s all,” Matt added. “Like I said, he left his entire fortune to charities.”
“This is enough. It’s a game we used to play when we visited Zack as kids. He wrote clues in a little black book, and we scavenged while he and our mother visited. Over the years, he filled several books. We enjoyed many treasure hunts,” Ben explained.
“The key to his house is in there too. I’m arranging an estate sale sale, so you better do your scavenging soon. I wouldn’t want his clues disturbed,” Matt suggested.
“We’ll go after the funeral,” Nan replied. “What a beautiful way to celebrate his passing.”
Zack’s funeral was sparsely attended. By avoiding people, Zacchaeus Lindon made few friends. The estate caretaker, cook, and house keeper attended, as did Matt and two brokers. Pastor Tyson, Zack’s only close non-family friend, officiated. Ben and Nan’s spouses, children and grandchildren also attended. When the small group gathered at the gravesite, sunbeams shown through cumulus clouds and warmed rain-soaked grass. The air was moist and refreshing.
“Today we lay to rest one of the finest men to walk the earth,” Pastor Tyson said. “Few know the goodness of this man’s heart. Few know the fact that he lived to give. Matthew 6:21 was his guiding text, Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also, and I Samuel 6:7 was his consolation, For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
While driving to Zack’s estate, a perfect rainbow arched in the sky. Tears streamed down Nan’s cheeks as she whispered, “He has crossed over, and his face will be beautiful.”
The key rattled in the keyhole of the stately door, and it swung inward freely as though opened by a welcoming friend. Nan and Ben, sensing a sacred presence, stepped respectfully inside.
“Here we are,” Ben spoke softly.
“Yes, here we are,” repeated Nan.
Just at that moment, the deep gong of a grandfather clock reverberated through the room accompanied by a cacophony of chiming clocks: cuckoo clocks, musical clocks, a rooster clock that crowed, bird song clocks. Nan and Ben looked at each other and laughed. “He loved his clocks,” they said simultaneously.
“Okay, the book,” Nan directed. “What is the first clue?”
Ben opened the book and read, “I will wash away all sins. Hebrews 10: 10.”
“It’s got to be in the bathroom,” Nan surmised.
“Which one?” Ben asked.
“The one we used when we were kids.”
Sure enough, an envelope was tucked beneath a soap dish on the sink.
Nan opened the envelope and together they read, “Full turn right 3 times. Stop on 0. Turn left. Stop on 68.”
“Only four more to go,” Ben said before reading the second clue, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap. Galatians 6:7.”
“I remember that one,” Nan said. “It’s in the solarium where he started his seeds.”
Nan was right. A hand trowel rested on an envelope in the center of the potting table.
Nan opened it and read, “Full turn right 2 times. Stop on 95.”
Next Ben read, “Look at the birds of the air. Your Heavenly Father feeds them. Matthew 6:26.”
“The taxidermy display,” Nan said. “He’s used the same ones he used when we were kids.”
“Well, he knew we’re getting up there in age and probably didn’t want to make it too difficult.’
“Or he enjoyed going down memory lane.”
The third envelope was taped to the glass dome covering a display of stuffed songbirds.
After opening the envelope, Nan read, “Turn left. Stop on 55.”
Ben read the fourth clue, “Hast thou entered into the treasure of the snow? Job 38:22.”
“The snow globe,” Nan stated confidently.
Beneath an unusually large snow globe was the fourth envelope. The scene in the globe was serene: a spiraled church, a horse drawn sleigh, and pine trees. Ben turned the globe over and then righted it creating a snow storm. “He loved the snow. Do you remember?”
Nan opened the envelope and read, “Turn right. Stop on 7.”
“And now the last clue,” Ben announced dramatically. Once again, he read from the little black book. “Be ye kind one to another. Ephesians 4:32.”
“The kindness jar,” Nan said confidently.
They walked to the front entry and found the final envelope tucked under a large glass jar placed in the center of a side table. A notepad and pencil were also on the table. The jar was filled with yellowing slips of paper.
“You know, we were blessed. Zack was amazing. Before anyone entered his home, he asked them to write down a good deed that they had done or seen someone do,” Nan reminisced. She pulled a strip of paper from the jar and read aloud, “I saw Maxine give a pencil to Billy.”
“Sure brings back memories,” Ben mused.
After opening the envelope, Nan read, “Full turn left 2 times. Stop on 10.”
“And now to the vault,” Ben commanded with dramatic authority. “You read the combination, and I’ll turn the dial.
Inside Zack’s office, Ben slid a familiar bookcase aside to access the vault. After turning the dial clockwise several times, he directed, “Okay, start.”
“Full turn right 3 times. Stop on 0. Turn left. Stop on 68.
Full turn right 2 times. Stop on 95.
Turn left. Stop on 55.
Turn right. Stop on 7.
Full turn left 2 times. Stop on 10.”
Gears clicked and the vault handle turned easily in Ben’s hand.
The vault was empty except for one envelope.
“You do the honor,” Ben directed.
Nan carried the envelope to Zack’s desk, snipped it open with a thin pair of scissors, and
slowly withdrew two $10,000 bills and a note written in Zack’s barely legible script.
“Those bills were discontinued many years ago,” Ben said. “They’re worth much more today.” Then he added, “Let’s read it together.”
And so, together they read, “I ask that you each donate $10,000 to those in need, for the best gift that I can give you is the gift of giving. Love, Uncle Zack.”