He Never Talked About You
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He Never Talked About You

The funeral home was crowded for Joe Pipowski's viewing, and Edna was wearing her favorite funeral dress. Her own husband had died 12 years earlier—his lungs corroded from too many cigarettes and too many years toiling in the Blacklick Valley coal mines—and by now Edna had certain dresses for certain types of people. One for distant relatives and acquaintances, another for friends and close relatives. And then her favorite—a knee-length black dress with gray polka dots and black lace on the collar. That was an easy decision this evening, but she still hadn't decided what, if anything, to do with the key she'd dug out of the trinket box in her closet.

Edna didn't recognize anyone in the funeral home's big foyer, so she headed straight to the main viewing room. The carpet smelled like cats. For the money these homes charge, they should shampoo the carpet, she thought. She recognized Jane Parsons, who was maybe ten years younger than Edna and Joe and still worked at the bank branch in their small town of Nanty Glo, Pennsylvania. Jane had worked with both of them for a few years before Joe was made manager of the other branch in Ebensburg, the county seat and the next town over from Nanty Glo.

"Not surprising he drew a crowd," Edna said.

"I hear he wanted a party instead of a viewing, but his wife wouldn't have it," Jane said.

The casket was open, and Joe was in a deep gray suit with pinstripes and a plain navy tie. He looked heavier, but still had a full head of hair—silver and slicked back.

"He looks good," Jane said.

"He was always a handsome man."

"Handsome men stand out around here."

Edna leaned toward Jane's ear and whispered, "Do you know his wife's name?" [End Page 145]

"Midge."

Midge Pipowski was a frail woman in a solid black dress who was greeting people at the casket with her two sons, but she didn't say much. Mostly, she offered a nod and a polite, "Thank you." Some people leaned in to embrace her, and she responded with a quick, obligatory hug.

The line moved slowly, and Edna stood erect as she waited. She scanned the crowd, trying to judge the ratio of men to women: maybe two-thirds women, and she wondered how many were there for the same reason. Then she opened her purse and glanced down at the key. Tarnished with age, it had a green plastic tag with numbers that were barely visible anymore, but she knew them. Room 804. He'd brought her along to a conference at the William Penn, and had gotten a room for the afternoon. The William Penn had a grand lobby with shimmering marble floors and crystal chandeliers, and she had never been in such a beautiful building. Nanty Glo seemed a world away. It was her first trip to the city since her dad had taken her to see the Pirates at old Forbes Field, and it was the nicest place they went in the month they were sneaking away together.

When Edna got to the casket, she took Midge's hand and shook it gently.

"Hello, hun," she said. "I'm Edna Spicer. Joe and I worked together for so long."

"It's nice to see so many people from different places. The bank, the church, the Polish club."

"He was such a happy person."

"Yes, he was."

"He never talked about you at our bank," Edna said.

"Oh?"

"I don't know why a man wouldn't mention his wife at work," Edna said.

"What's that, now?" Midge said, her eyes darting.

One of the sons overheard their conversation as he was accepting condolences from Jane. As he turned away from Jane he said, "One moment." He seemed prepared for something like this. He put one hand on his mother's back and held out a beefy hand for Edna to shake.

"Excuse me," he said. "I'm George, Joe's oldest son."

"We were just talking about how Joe...