“Miss Tinsley was right,” Hiram said. “One of the owners does still live here, but not one of the original owners.”
“Okay,” said Jones. “Can you tell me who it is?”
Hiram poured another glass of whiskey and said, “well, it would be me.” Jones picked up his glass and this time, he did more than touch it to his lips. He watched as Hiram got up and walked over to the little table beside the door. He reached down and picked up the little pink ribbon that Jones had thought seemed so out of place.
“Old man Moody died,” Hiram said. “He owned the local hardware store and had been here for as long as anybody could remember. Everybody in town knew him and respected him. He was a kind man but he was no pushover. He would walk ten miles to settle a debt he owed but he would walk twice as far to collect what was owed to him.”
“My folks had always talked about me taking over the family business but I wanted to travel and see the world. When they died, it just seemed wrong not to honor their wishes, so I did,” he said.
“I had married a little gal named Thelma. She was the cutest little thing I had ever seen. Everybody called her Thessie. Being a funeral directors’ wife didn’t bother her one bit, even though it meant that dead bodies would be resting in the front room.” He looked out the window and in a soft, almost inaudible voice said “oh my. How I loved Thessie.”
Jones was wondering why Hiram jumped from old man Moody to Thessie but he was patient and tried to gently nudge him back to the present. “You were talking about old man Moody,” Jones said.
“Yes,” Hiram said. “Old man Moody died and we took care of all the arrangements. The viewing was on a Friday and it seemed like everybody in town came by to pay their respects. His son, Oscar and his wife Lillian brought their little daughter with them. Why, I’ll never know. A funeral parlor is no place for children. They don’t understand death and dying, and they shouldn’t.”
Hiram took another big swig of whiskey and refilled his glass. He offered Jones another and wasn’t met with refusal.
Hiram sat and wound the little pink ribbon around his finger and then took another sip. His eyes began to water as he continued. “That little girl was running around all over the place. She’d run up the stairs and then slide down the banister. She’d run up the hall and then back down. I knew her folks were grieving but they weren’t paying any attention to her at all and she was annoying me.”
After he took another sip of whiskey, he took a deep breath and almost forcefully said “I told that little girl to go outside and play. I told her that there was a tree house in the back yard and plenty of room for her to run around and play without being under foot.”
Jones was still in a state of shock but not shocked enough to realize that Hirams’ hearing didn’t seem to be as bad as he had pretended earlier. He finally asked, “what was her name?”
Hiram said “her name was Jenny.” He held up the pink ribbon and said “and she wore this ribbon in her hair.”
That liquid courage was doing its job for both of them. Jones held out his glass, Hiram poured him another drink and then Jones asked him what happened.
Hiram sat back in his chair and said “she went outside. A few hours after the viewing was over, it was time for everybody to leave. Old man Moody would be stored in the ice box and then taken to his final resting place the next morning. Oscar and Lillian were the last to leave and they called to Jenny but she didn’t answer.”
“I was too big of a coward to tell them I had sent her outside. They searched the whole house, while I sat there and said nothing. They went outside and began calling her. I joined them, still pretending that I knew nothing. Oscar and Lillian called the sheriff and he and two of his deputies came over. They were worried that maybe somebody had taken her.”
“The word was put out that Jenny was missing and almost the entire neighborhood came to join the search,” Hiram said. “We searched all through the night, calling her name until we almost lost our voices.”
He sat there for almost a full minute. His voice cracked as he said “it was might near dawn when we heard somebody say ‘I found her’.”
To be continued_________________________