Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral: A Novel

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9780553382648: Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral: A Novel
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For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”

From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them....

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About the Author:

Kris Radish is the bestselling author of four novels, The Elegant Gathering of White Snows, Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral, and The Sunday List of Dreams. She lives in Wisconsin, where she writes two nationally syndicated columns each week and is at work on her sixth novel, The Poetry of Emma’s Salvation.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One


There is a hole the size of a golf ball in the right side of Katherine Givins’s black Bali bra.

This is the one article of clothing that has made her feel sexy for the past 3.6 years in a row, and even though the straps lie at half-mast on her fine shoulders, the elastic exploded last summer and the hooks have been pulled so many times she has actually used a needle-nose pliers on them, Katherine cannot bear to throw the bra away.

“Shit,” she says, turning into the mirror and then leaning so her nose practically touches the glass to make certain there really is a hole. It’s there, and getting wider every second, as she puts her finger in the middle and realizes that one wrong move could explode all of the seams and send her breasts into orbit.

Just as she grabs them and begins laughing hysterically at the long-held notion that the bra, like her lost marriage and her fabulous mother and the man she thought she loved two men ago or even the one she loves now, would last forever, the doorbell rings and makes her scream herself back into reality.

Her scream, the kind you might make when something normal—like a doorbell—flushes you from a very far-away place—reaches the UPS woman on the front step who is glad as hell that someone is home so she doesn’t have to leave a note and come back the next day. In the UPS world, screams, especially those coming from anywhere in front of the brown trucks and not under the rear wheels, are very good signs. So the UPS woman waits.

Katherine does not care who is at the door immediately because she is already in mourning about the loss of her bra. The bra that held her up and saw her through when her daughter announced that she had her first kiss (3.1 years ago) and then snapped the back of her mother’s Bali bra instead of performing the regulation high-five; when she found out her ex-husband Michael was about to be married (2.8 years ago) as she was sorting wash and the bra moved from her fingers and into the black depths of a dark load; when finally a man emboldened by vodka martinis put his hand down her strategically placed low-cut sweater and ran his fingers very slowly past the elastic top and curved his hand around her left breast; when her father came to her one night (2.1 years ago) and said that he could no longer care for his wife, her mother, and could Katherine “please, please, please” help him find the right place, and then leaned into her, clutched her shoulder, his sad and tired arm thumping against the metal hook; when she let Alex finally make love to her (1.8 years ago) and he turned her around, lifted her blouse and took his sweet, sexy and fabulous time unhooking the Bali and then replaced it with hands that spoke seventeen languages; when she leaned over her mother’s coffin (.8 years ago), the metal from the underwire tapping against the edge of the coffin as she ran her hands through her mother’s hair one last time and then wept so long and hard that the funeral started almost an hour late, and just now the hole emerging like an omen of age and change slapping her upside the head and making her wonder, “What next? What in the hell is going to happen next in this life of mine?”

The doorbell.

Katherine, angry at the unseen intruder who had startled her, miffed about the meaning behind her disintegrating bra, and half-naked, lunges for the door as the terrified blonde woman drenched in brown is reaching for the doorbell for the third time.

“Jesus!” she shouts as Katherine falls into her arms the very moment the door opens.

Katherine, still angry about the intrusion, has managed to grab a kitchen towel on her run from the bedroom. It is a small towel but a towel it is and when she falls into the arms of the UPS woman the towel drops and they both watch it descend to the floor as if it may break and shatter the instant it touches earth.

Anyone lucky enough to be watching would be breathless. What next? Who will move first? Will the UPS woman find this incident funny or humiliating? Will Katherine begin screaming again? And the package . . . what in the hell is in the package?

The UPS woman, who just happens to be a kind and gentle soul who lives alone and keeps notes on all of her customers, has her arms wrapped around Katherine to steady herself. Katherine has a brief moment of clarity when she feels the warm fingers of the woman on her shoulders and this resurrects a historic moment in her mind.

She remembers that her friend Reva took her shopping the day she bought the bra. Reva stood in the center of an old-fashioned department store, hands on hips, moving from foot to foot, and said that her mother had sold bras door-to-door in rural Nevada and it was a simple gift that a woman could give to herself—the proper fitting of a bra. This was said to Katherine P. Givins, attorney at law, who had purchased every undergarment in her entire life on the fly, cups too small, elastic tight against her back, tiny dents under her rib cage from wires that should never have been put into women’s clothing in the first place.

And then, the moment the saleswoman fitted her—the measuring tape sliding to the floor, her aging fingers gently lifting her breasts into this bra—this very exceptional bra—and the look on the older woman’s face, a look of kind satisfaction, as she watched Katherine move and realize that “Yes, damn it, a good bra can change everything.”

Their eyes meet then. The UPS woman asking with her soft green eyes what she should do next, and Katherine, not moving away, holding her there, for one, two, three seconds while she lets go—just lets go.

“It’s the bra,” she tells Ms. UPS. “Have you ever had a bra that has taken you through so much and held you in place like nothing else?”

The UPS woman, who was a woman way before she was UPS, does not flinch. More than once in her twenty-six-year career, a man has answered the door naked. She has walked in on clowns dancing on tables, a wife throwing meatballs at her husband’s favorite television show, and so many drunk people she cannot even begin to remember them all. Katherine in her favorite bra, holding her in her bra on the porch, is nothing.

“I love jogging bras,” the UPS woman begins. “In my business there is quite a lot of bouncing and jumping and although I am far from voluptuous, I need a good, solid foundation for the kind of work I do.”

Katherine falls right into the conversation, wearing her favorite undergarment, a pair of faded green cotton shorts that have another story to tell, and absolutely nothing else. The UPS woman, with more than a hint of subtle and gracious poise, motions for Katherine to step back inside of the house, but the women do not stop talking. They dance backwards and Katherine, hands flailing idly as they always do when she is excited, continues to talk about the demise of her Bali.

“Well, how about just getting a new one?” Ms. UPS asks.

“I’ve written and called and stopped at every department store in the United States and in three foreign countries. They do not make this bra anymore.”

“How sad is that.”

Katherine, who is usually gracious and poised herself, has this ridiculous urge to invite the UPS woman into the kitchen for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee so they can talk about undergarments all day, but she’s also a practical and usually wise woman. She knows there’s a good chance Ms. UPS has to finish working but she can’t quite stop herself. Undergarments, she thinks to herself, surely do strange things to one’s inhibitions.

Later, when days and weeks have passed and she has time to backtrack to this very moment, she will remember it as one that she should have paid more attention to when she was asking herself about why the hole in the bra was spreading now and why she was standing in her underwear in front of a stranger and why none of it seemed out of the ordinary.

“That thing,” she will eventually say to herself, “that inner voice that was tapping against my heart and asking me to pause—Damn, I should have listened. I should have paid attention because that’s when everything changed.”

Everything changed.

But first a wave of laughter rising from the two women who visually embrace each other as women do who can talk at the ring of a doorbell about underwear, and breasts and menstrual cycles and the way women connect and can fall into each other’s lives and arms so quickly.

“This must seem ridiculous,” Katherine says as the two women tip their heads and the sound of their laughter mixes and rises to the edge of high windows in Katherine’s very old but lovely home.

“Well, as you can imagine, I’ve seen everything. I’d much rather be greeted by a woman in a black bra who has a great story than a man in black underwear who has no story at all.”

Then Ms. UPS reaches inside of her brown pants pocket and she pulls out a small, soft stone that has been worn smooth and shiny by one ride after another inside the cotton pants pocket.

“You have a lucky bra, something that I imagine has carried you through some challenging and tough nights and days, and I have this rock.”

She lets Katherine take the rock into her hand and feel how just holding it, like wearing a fabulous bra, can be a comfort. They don’t talk about it because they are women and they know. They know about comfort and the loss of it and they know about sacrifice and change and that the ring of a doorbell, a wild call at midnight, the scent of something new, the touch of a baby or a lover’s fresh face, can change everything.

They know.

“I see,” Katherine says and then she gently hands back the stone, understanding its importance, but also not able to stop herself from saying, “You’ll understand if I don’t hand over the bra.”

They laugh, which is the perfect thing to do, and then Ms. UPS says, “The package!” and goes back to the front door where she set down her clipboard and the box, wrapped in the requisite brown paper with one single and simple label.

“This is for you if you are indeed Katherine P. Givins.”

“I am.”

“Expecting this?”

“I have no clue.”

“Well, this is your surprise and you were mine then,” Ms. UPS says, smiling as she dips to pick up her sign-off sheet.

Katherine signs the metal-backed ledger and then Ms. UPS bends to pick up the box. The transfer is swift and easy and the package passes from woman to woman in a ceremony that is completed only when Katherine, who has always been way to the other side of spontaneous, bends to hug Ms. UPS one last time.

“You are a sweetheart,” she tells her new blonde friend.

“Well, that’s nice but it’s all part of the job. I never know what is going to happen or what I might see when I ring someone’s doorbell.”

“I imagine you’ve seen more action than a pile of undergarments,” Katherine says and then pauses for a second. “There’s something new and exciting behind every unopened door.”

“Sounds like a book title,” Ms. UPS responds just before she turns back toward her waiting van. “Time to go see what’s behind the next door.”

There is a quick wave and then Katherine finds herself alone in the foyer of the home she has spent twelve years restoring. The home she bought with the proceeds from her first fairly huge lawsuit, which netted her $69,283 and allowed her to move from a two-bedroom apartment with her daughter Sonya following her divorce from a man whom she had once loved a great deal but had come to realize she should have never married for a variety of reasons including the not-so-obvious fact that he had never gotten over the love of his life—a woman he still saw three times a week at places like hotels, nice restaurants, and the back seat of her husband’s car.

The package.

Ms. UPS is stepping into the brown van when Katherine looks for just a second at the package that is wedged against her own chest, just where the Bali touches the top of her last rib, and wonders if the shape of the box does not hint that there may be a pair of shoes inside. Her mind stops there as Ms. UPS turns, shouts, “Bye now,” smiles as if she knows a wild secret and then disappears behind a sliding door that sounds like a smooth and even gunshot.

The door closes as Katherine turns to tap it with her heel, because ever since she has owned the home that is what she does to make certain that it really is closed, and when she turns she can see her reflection in the oak mirror by the door. She sees the bra hole—which is now wider than a golf ball, maybe even a tennis ball—widen to the shape of an almost ripe grapefruit.

“Damn it,” she says, even though she is not prone to swearing and loathes the societal turn of events that makes a word like “fuck” commonplace. “Just damn it.”

The package is wedged under her bra and Katherine does not realize that it is the package that is now holding the bra in place. She does not see that there is a dwindling span of threads the size of three toothpicks that is holding together the left side of her bra and that the minute she sits or moves too fast the bra will fly open and be lost to her forever. She doesn’t see this but she is thinking about it. She is thinking about the miles of highway that the bra has seen her over and the heartaches and the laughs and then, because she harbors a secret, a very old and almost forgotten desire to write children’s books, she wonders if anyone has ever written a story about a girl’s first bra. She is also thinking about the mysterious box and the who, what, when, where and why of its existence.

Katherine settles into the rocking chair just beyond the edge of the front hall, the box pushed tight against her chest, and rocks for one, two, three minutes wondering if Ms. UPS will race home and call someone to tell the story of the wild woman with the ancient bra who answered the door just past noon.

“No,” she answers herself the same way we all speak when we are alone or working and need to just hear a word so we can validate our own precious thought. “This probably happens all of the time.”

She imagines then just for a few moments what it would be like if she had the UPS woman’s life or anyone else’s life but her own. She wonders about delivering packages with unknown contents instead of drafting law briefs; she wonders about changing an entire career just like that, like the snap of a bra, for something new and maybe not so ferocious and seemingly arbitrary like distributing little pieces of the law. She wonders about skipping a beat, about missing an appointment, about maybe running down the road naked or doing something impractical like not even wear- ing a bra anymore. Something. Anything. She wonders and as she wonders she is astonished to realize she is tired. Physically tired and mentally tired. Tired of routines and all the expectations of her own life that she has so carefully designed and now scrambles daily to keep in place like one of those ridiculous plate-balancing acts at the circus.

Then it is time for the package.

Wrapped in a brown paper bag that has been cut with scissors and then taped so the edges touch perfectly. A package that comes to Katherine’s house on a Wednesday when she is rarely, if ever, home, but because of a scheduling mix-up and a sick clerk and the desire to breathe in some rare quiet for just a few hours, Katherine, who considers herself beyond predictable and north of reliable, slips from her assistant district attorney’s job and into her favorite nasty clothes, in which she expects to read a pile of old magazines until her daughter comes home for dinner from her third year of high school, track practice and a S...

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