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Scattering Simon


Harry Buschman

When Beverly Mendel broke the news to Rabbi Engel, he was very upset.

"Look, Mrs. Mendel," he said, shaking a finger. "It's your funeral. I am not personally against it -- but I'm not personally for it either. However! .... and it's a big however already .... is it asking too much to put your husband in a patch of dirt?" The Rabbi was dead set against cremation. "For five thousand years we Jews have been on the run. Isn't it about time in this day and age that a Jew can put his bones in a patch of dirt?"

Beverly took this as a qualified approval. "My mind is made up, Reb Engel, after the service, Schachter is driving Simon to the crematory, I will have him with me always."

Beverly had no intention of cherishing the ashes of Simon Mendel any longer than she had to. Instead, she wanted to eradicate his earthly remains as quickly as possible. She wanted no trace of him left behind. He was a most ingenious  man, and even if he were interred in a remote corner of the Jewish Cemetery in the borough of Queens, she could not be sure he would stay there. For the past twelve years, she and Simon had exchanged no more than a dozen words -- almost all of them heated, and if it had been she, instead of Simon who had the  massive coronary, she knew he would feel the same.

Even when they were on speaking terms, it was always "Simon says this," and "Simon says that." They would go where Simon wanted to go and eat what Simon wanted to eat. He was the same way down at the business. Sheila, his secretary, would raise her eyes to the ceiling and shout, "D'yukst aros de kishkas!" Which, in choice Yiddish means, "You're rushing my guts out!" The outburst would have no effect on Simon, who would continue to stride back and forth in his tiny office at the back of the shop waving his arms and dictating while Sheila tried to finish the letter he had just dictated. He went from crisis to crisis, and it's not surprising that he met his sudden end at the age of fifty-six.

It happened during the busy season at Big Boy Jeans -- early summer when the stores are stocking up for the fall. Simon was berating Paulo Santos, the cutter (and the only gentile on the premises).

"Meshuggah! Dumb Filipino! Ve can get six extra pairs of pants if ve cut on the bias!"

"We can't cut on the bias -- you know that, Mr. Mendel. The pants won't hang right -- besides I am Puerto Rican -- you know that too!" Santos later said that Senor Mendel had given him a "funny" look and began walking backwards. He  thought it was strange that he had gotten the last word. "It wasn't like Senor  Mendel to let me have the last word." Simon stumbled backward all the way across the shop and through the door of his office, "As though he had eyes in the back of his head," Santos said. Then he collapsed in a heap in front of Sheila, whose only response was, "Oy, gevald."

Big Boy Jeans carried on however. Most clothing manufacturers are owned by two or more people for reasons of solvency; but at the same time, to have someone to blame when things go wrong. Wayne Shatner was Simon's partner. (or as Simon called him, "Mine potna.") Wayne, who sported a mustache similar to that worn by Ronald Coleman, spent no time in the shop. He was a road man. Every successful clothing company partnership consists of a shop man and a road man. Wayne, a bachelor, was a born road man, every bit as much as Simon was a born shop man.

Now, with Wayne Shatner and Beverly Mendel as 'potnas', the shop man's  responsibilities fell on the narrow shoulders of Paulo Santos. He was elevated to foreman status even before Simon Mendel made the trip to the crematory, and Simon's former secretary, Sheila, was now an office honcho with greater responsibilities and a secretary of her own. She had to handle all the correspondence and day to day office duties that had been one of the causes of Simon Mendel's coronary. Everyone had something to be thankful for it seemed -- if you discount Simon Mendel.

The only fly in Beverly Mendel's ointment, so to speak, was the urn containing the ashes of her husband now sitting on her fireplace mantel. His living  presence had been such a stifling influence on her that she was determined to  eliminate all traces of him.

The Mendel's fourteen room residence in Oyster Bay Cove was located in the center of a six acre lot, the northern end of which sloped gently down to the  Cove's private sandy beach on Long Island Sound. Simon had often sunned himself there on weekends while working on his shipping schedules and raw material purchasing records. How simple it would be, thought Beverly, to walk down there some evening and empty his urn into the outgoing tide, his remains would certainly be thoroughly diluted in the turbid waters of the Sound.

It was very tempting ...

But could she do it in broad daylight? All the residents of Oyster Bay Cove had access to the beach, all their patios, sun rooms and cabanas overlooked the  beach and the broad expanse of Long Island Sound. Nothing passed unnoticed during the daylight hours -- binoculars would be quickly trained on a lone figure emptying a suspicious container. The people of Oyster Bay Cove were ecologically vigilant as well -- they were concerned with the dwindling ozone layer and the fate of the spotted owl. The pollution of their precious shoreline would be a subject of grave concern to them.

Could she do it in the dead of night? Hardly. It was early summer, and for the next few months the singles of Oyster Bay Cove would be partying 'til all hours. The things that went on down there! From what she'd heard, there was drinking and bon fires and all sorts of monkeyshines going on in the dunes.  It was much too risky to wander down there in the evening with the ashes of Simon Mendel.

But there had to be a way. The northern shore of Long Island is an unending  series of indented bays and inlets. Beverly decided to reconnoiter. She got out  the BMW one lovely early summer afternoon and headed east from Oyster Bay  Cove. Threading her way along the winding back roads of the north shore, she eventually discovered the quaint little town of Old Field. At the very end of Old  Field Road she pulled up to a sandy beach surrounding the abandoned Old Field  Lighthouse. "This is it!" she exclaimed. To the north, the only land she could see was the distant Connecticut shore. The nearest human beings were too small to be seen in their sailboats out on the vast blue expanse of Long Island Sound.

On the beach a curious gull or two were her only companions. She noticed  the tide was ebbing, "Tomorrow," she said to herself, "tomorrow it is -- same time, same place!" Yes, by this time tomorrow, it would be 'bon voyage' for Simon.

She turned the BMW around and hurried home. She wasn't hungry. She was much too edgy to watch television and too preoccupied to read. Early that evening, with nothing to do, she looked through the hall closet and found a  Bloomingdales shopping bag and carefully put Simon's urn inside. "How small it is," she thought, remembering Simon's considerable bulk. "A miracle they squeezed all of him in there." She brought it out to the car and put it in the trunk.

"There," she said, "nothing to do now but wait." -- later, she was restless and slept fitfully. "Will the morning ever come?" She asked herself again and again as the dark night dragged on. Again and again she would turn to check on the slow passage of time on the radio alarm clock.

At the first light of morning, Beverly dragged herself out of bed and into a long hot shower. She dressed casually in a sweater and slacks; then, realizing she hadn't eaten a thing for dinner, decided to make herself a decent breakfast. She was determined not to start off for Old Field until ten o'clock, because at noon the tide would turn and the waters off the sandy shore of Old Field  Lighthouse would ebb with the confluence of the sun and the moon and Simon would become one with the infinite.

She set the kitchen timer and sat down to wait. A thump at the front door startled her. Only the paper boy! -- something to pass the time. She checked the weather, the tide tables and the local news. Everything was going according to  plan. The weather would be cooler today than yesterday with a freshening breeze from the south, and the tide indeed would turn to the ebb in the vicinity  of Old Field at twelve noon. The combination of the wind and the tide would be  the impetus to drive the remains of Simon Mendel across Long Island Sound.  There was no local news, but there were sales! Sales everywhere! Summer sales that she couldn't wait to get back to -- the scattering of Simon had taken so much of her time! She hadn't been to the mall in weeks.

After what seemed an eternity, the kitchen timer buzzed. "Thank God," Beverly  muttered to herself. Her purse was by her side -- keys? Yes, there they were. She took a quick look around her and left by the kitchen door to the garage. Although she knew he would be there, she checked on Simon in the trunk. She started the BMW and pushed the button for the garage door opener -- a momentary flash of panic when the door wouldn't open, then she realized she had pushed the wrong button. She backed out ever so carefully into the almost deserted street.

Beverly had always been a careful driver. Simon would not agree; he would ride shotgun at her side and tell her to, "Watch out for this guy!" or "You can turn right on red, so vy y'vaitin'?!" Simon, of course had never driven a car or operated anything of a mechanical nature in his life. This morning Beverly was particularly careful, and the trip out to Old Field went slowly. At every stop sign and every red light, she would look in the rear view mirror to see if the trunk lid was closed .... she couldn't help it. The BMW was as trouble free as an automobile can be -- the trunk lid had never popped open on its own, but .... she couldn't help it.

If anything, the little town of Old Field was more deserted than it had been yesterday, and the empty beach front by the lighthouse showed no sign of people. Beverly stopped the car and got out -- it was indeed cooler than yesterday.  The distant Connecticut shore could not be seen and there were no pleasure boats sailing on the restless waters of the Sound. She was alone with the fretful gulls that circled tirelessly above her -- their harsh and caustic voices reminded her to get on with it.

She rolled the cuffs of her slacks up to her knees and took off her shoes, then she walked to the rear of the BMW and opened the trunk. There he was, nestled comfortably in the Bloomingdales shopping bag. This was it -- "So, how y'doin' Simon?" The ornate light oak plastic laminate urn seemed more fitting  perhaps, for a younger man -- a rock-and-roller cut down in the flower of his  creativity perhaps. The contradiction flitted across Beverly's mind for the briefest of moments, but she quickly returned to the job at hand.

She pulled the urn out of the bag and hefted its weight. How light it was! She felt a surge of power within her; as though she were a pitcher on the mound with a count of two strikes on the batter. "I'm sure I could heave this thing half way across the Sound," she muttered. But instead, she unscrewed the top and waded out into the receding tide.

As a cook might sprinkle flour on a batter board or powdered sugar on a hot  cross bun, Beverly sprinkled Simon on the restless waters of the Sound. They floated off to the north in the general direction of Connecticut. The gulls came down to investigate but quickly lost interest as the mortal remains slowly settled to the bottom. Beverly upended the urn and rapped it smartly with the cover to assure herself there was nothing left inside, then she threw the urn and its lid as far out as she could. They fell with a tiny splash, and they, too, quickly sank to the bottom. She dusted her hands and rinsed them in the chilly water. Then she quickly waded back to shore.

How simple it had been! How quickly a living thing can change its form and disappear! Like the miracle of water which can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas depending on the temperature in which it is found. These thoughts crowded her mind as she dried her feet by the side of the BMW. A final look and she was convinced that not a sign of Simon remained. It was as though he had never existed -- and in a way, she thought .... "Did he ever?" The BMW started immediately, erasing a momentary fear that it might strand her here alone on this remote and lonely stretch of sand.

The drive home was pleasant. The stress was gone now and Beverly was acutely aware of her surroundings. Early summer greens, colorful banks of flowers and the smell of new mown grass -- the sights and smells, the sounds along the road home were vivid and full of promise. She felt as though she had just walked out of the dentist's office, and when she finally pulled into her driveway she couldn't wait to make herself a Martini.

It was in the middle of the making of her Martini that the telephone rang. She let it ring until the answering machine took over. Oops! That was something she had forgotten to do!

"This is 894-3749, the home of Big Boy Jeans. Simon Mendel speaking. Ve are  not home at the moment, please leaf a message after the blip."

S**T! She thought, why didn't I take care of that a week ago? "Well -- get on  with the message, already -- maybe the caller was distracted hearing a dead man answering the phone. "Er, Mrs. Mendel? .... this is Herman Schachter? You  know, Schachter's Funeral Parlor?" Every word out of the man's mouth was a  question .... "Would you please call me? The number is 620-6390?"

"In my own good time." She replied confidently. She finished stirring her pitcher of Martinis and pulled the funeral party tray of last week's leftovers out of the refrigerator -- some nice emmenthaler, a little herring, and the kielbasa that Simon was so fond of.

She walked into the living room and put the pitcher of Martinis and the leftovers on the coffee table, then picked up the portable phone. She sat down, and  dialed 620-6390.


"Beverly Mendel, is this Mr. Schachter?"

The answer seemed to emerge from a man in pain. "Mrs. Mendel, thank you for  returning the call -- yes by all means, this is Herman Schachter. Do you have a  moment Mrs. Mendel, there is something I must tell you." A chill, a flutter of restless wings, and a coolness like that which precedes the coming of a summer storm passed through the Mendel's living room. Beverly took a quick sip of her Martini and put the glass down.

"Mrs. Mendel, this has never -- I repeat -- NEVER -- happened at Schachter's before. The remains of your husband -- Mr. Mendel -- were inadvertently delivered to the Levy's." Herman paused to collect himself. "It is really very embarrassing, Mrs. Mendel, you see, you ordered the light oak plastic laminate urn. By the oddest of coincidences the Levy's ordered the same thing for their grandmother, Belinda." Beverly reached quickly for her Martini, and drained the glass. "If you look at the silver plaque on the bottom of your urn, you will see that we .... inadvertently .... as I said before, Mrs. Mendel -- delivered Belinda Levy to you."

Beverly put the empty Martini glass down and picked up the pitcher. "We'll be over immediately, Mrs. Mendel -- with the loving remains of Mr. Mendel. I'm sure the Levy's are as anxious to get Belinda back as you are to get Mr. Mendel."

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