The Widow's Tale by King Cheetah

These characters are from the sweat-beetled brow of Craig Bartlett... lucky stiff.
Rated PG-13 cause I felt like it, and some characters might end up nude later. We'll see...

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Somber and silent, the assembled mourners shuffled listlessly into Helga's tiny apartment. It had been a small funeral, but all things considered well attended, mostly her friends and a handful of his coworkers. Few of Helga's friends owned black formal clothes so it was black ties and armbands for the boys, veils for the ladies. She didn't cry, her tears having long ago been spent on him in matters other than loss. While not the merry widow, she was... okay with her new marital status. Makeup covered the small scar on her left cheek, a parting gift to her, and only x-rays would reveal his other little presents.
Ashes to ashes...

Be it a party or a wake, Rhonda Wellington-Lloyde was in control. As Sid tended bar (for booze was always plentiful in the household), Rhonda steeped forward to try and raise some spirits as they raised a glass of spirits. With no small amount of effort, she soon had the crowd in a more jovial mood and began a sing-along. Watching from the back of the living room, Helga started as she felt a hand softly touch the small of her back. Turning she look straight up into the face and inscrutable gaze of Arnold. She'd not had the nerve to look at him during the funeral, but now found herself trapped. With an almost imperceptible gesture, he motioned for her to step back into the bedroom.

Dust to dust...

She'd married in his absence. Three years gone, she gave up all hope and dignity for a facsimile of wedded bliss. When he returned from South America, she was speechless... Now rock hard and missing his left eye, he'd come back to Hillwood with the bleached bones of his parents and an entirely new outlook on life. Shamed, she faced him on his return but he seemed to have little to say about her new union. Was she happy? She lied repeatedly to him to reassure him that this was all for the best, but she never forgave herself for giving up on him.

Let all things return to the earth from which they came...

Phoebe had skipped the funeral in part to watch over little Connie, but mostly over her loathing of the casket filler. As they entered the bedroom, she gave Helga a little smile, then joined the party up front. Though none would admit it, even to themselves, this was a joyous occasion for all concerned.

Arnold looked down into the crib at Connie, the only innocence in this home. She was the spitting image of her father though not of the deceased husband. Apparent to all, this matter was never openly discussed by anyone, but privately smiled about by all. As he gently stroked the tiny girl, Helga moved close to squeeze his arm, and look again into his face. Without warning he spun around and scooped her into a loving embrace.

It is the way of all things. Amen.

Finally he spoke, he voice like the low purr of a panther, "I'll stay over tonight. Tomorrow, we can start getting you two ready to move..." She pushed back from him, look of shock on her face.

"A-Arnold? I just buried him! What will people think if..." she whispered.

He was brusk and to the point, "Everyone you care about hated him, and your marriage. No one will say a thing." and he offered a little smile as he drew her back to him. She made no move to resist him and said, "I-I still should mourn him... for appearance sake..."

Arnold's anger roared into the open as he threw her back onto the bed. Speaking in a low whisper he growled, "God dammit Helga, How long are you going to keep sleepwalking through this little drama of yours! You have NO job OR job skills and a daughter to feed. What do you think you're going to do now? This isn't the time for this sort of nonsense..."

It had proven to be more painful having him back than not. He was the very model of a best friend and for the sake of appearances, even got a kinda sorta girlfriend to hang around with them so it seemed less like the tawdry affair that it was. Leave him Helga. Leave him and marry your true love. But she couldn't, or wouldn't or just plain didn't, but all the same refused to give up her lover, much to Arnold's annoyance.

"I'm not your big dumb stud, Helga. If I'm worth being with, I'm worth being married to... Just leave him and get it over with." But for reasons even she couldn't explain, her loveless marriage continued with a dull Sisyphean pace, highs and lows, but no product for all the toil. At some point Helga's mate began to resent, well just about everything, and used Helga as a living dairy to chronicle his feelings. Every setback, failure or feeling of inadequacy was dutifully noted in her flesh and bone with the fury that comes from the likes of him. At her frantic insistence, Arnold bore her suffering in silence... for the moment.

"Helga, he was always a useless piece of shit, and everyone you know tolerated him for your sake. Why do you even pretend to continue to believe differently?" She said nothing, just looking downward. To admit to his flaws was to admit her own in choosing him. He wasn't kind, or loving, or attentive, but he was here, and her love was only for Arnold, who wasn't.

Softening his tone, he lifted her off the bed, "Baby, I blame myself for all this. It was a fool's errand to go looking for my parents. I should have been here for you. I'm sorry. But I'm here now, and it's time for the life we both put on hold. You need a husband who loves you more than life itself, and I need you to make me whole again. And... Connie needs us both."

He drew her forward for a kiss, like the many before it that had made her marriage tolerable. No tears, as he deserved only smiles. Looking up into his face, her hand moved to slide away his eyepatch, for she loved him completely in any condition. Another kiss, and again until she became aware of the time.

They returned to the front room, greeted by smiles and a few knowing glances from their friends. As they say, funerals are for the benefit of the living, and this one had managed to achieve a balance of respect and joy for the widow. Sid sauntered up to Arnold and easily handed him a rather large Black Russian, and said,"Hey guys, Phoebe and I have to get going. Helga, you need anything, just call, and I fuckin' MEAN IT. We're here for you." He smiled at Arnold as he helped Phoebe with her coat and said with his eyes what all believed; mourn the dead, but the proper order of things had finally been set right again.

Helga was gracious and soft to all as the wake began to break up, until all were gone but Arnold who signaled his intentions by removing his shoes and disappearing into the bedroom. Her curiosity piqued, she stepped the the door of the bedroom and peered in just as he was exiting, Connie in his arms. A rare little smile on his face, he gingerly sat with their daughter in his arms. Helga looked on, smiling... but deep within her burned a single question that even her conscious mind could not bare to ask.

The night her husband died... where were you, Arnold?

Almost sensing her hidden query, he smiled.

A man who deserved to die was dead, a woman who deserved life now had it.

We'll sort out the details on Judgment Day...

THE END