Four hours later we were parking my beat up old Datsun in front of an impeccably maintained somber-looking building from the 50's. In the trunk were several shopping-bags stuffed full of brand new garments (not all of them black) shoes, stockings, lingerie. Sheila hadn't blinked an eye at her newly-widowed mother buying a black satin and lace corset. Apparently for my daughter such things were as necessary as toothpaste, as commonplace as high-neckline granny underpants at a Lawn Bowls Club.
We stepped out and approached a tall carved door sporting a bronze hand-knocker. The polished door-plaque discreetly announced: Silverman& Stell - Undertakers.
Undertakers, not the more usual "Funeral Home"... Undertakers had a dark Dickensian charm I found enormously appealing at this particular point in my life! It was redolent of pale mourners in dense black and Resurrection men with rusty hands. It went beautifully with the new sinister sensuality that was awakening in my changing body.
I knocked, and the door was opened by a young woman with a small mousy face and the most splendidly exuberant red hair I had ever seen. The serious-looking girl greeted us in a low and sad tone - very professional - and had I not been desperately containing a surge of joyous energy and biting my lips so as not to let my mouth expand into a happy smile, I would have been both comforted and impressed.
I grasped Sheila's arm firmly and responded appropriately: "Good afternoon - the Valginsky party, for Mr. Francis Valginsky , deceased. We have an appointment with Mr Stell?"
"Of course, please come this way. The girl lead us into a large room where several imposing and rather beautiful caskets reposed. Lovely! To a new vampire, raised on Bram Stoker and all those Hollywood movies of lusty and lecherous toothy seducers, these objects assumed an oddly erotic luster...
I wonder if I could get one for myself? I had to bite savagely at my lips not to giggle. A tall man moved forward out of the gloom. Tall and slim, with a smoothly shaved head and large velvety dark eyes. He wore a beautifully tailored pinstripe suit with a narrow black tie - the very image of a man you could rely on in your time of grief.
The only clear indication of what I was to know as his true nature was a well shaped and frankly sensuous lower lip, overshadowed by a small rakish moustache with curled tips that would have done a musketeer proud - what raunchy May would have identified as a "pussy tickler".
"Mrs Valginsky?" His voice was warm chocolate, "Jonathan Stell" He extended his hands and gripped my right hand firmly. "I am so sorry for your loss," said the future love of my undead life, looking deep into my eyes, "We at Silverman & Stell will do our very best to honour you loved one and put him to rest with dignity and discretion."
What a charming man! Next to me Sheila perked right up. The girl had inherited Frank's irrepressibly flirty and sadly promiscuous nature. She sobbed and extended her own hand.
Mr Stell let go of my hand with gratifying reluctance to give her a brisk handshake. His head swivelled to renew our dizzying eye-contact. "Mrs Valginsky..."
I interrupted him: "Ms Schultz, Greta..." The ends of his moustache curled a little more, and a little dancing flame seemed to ignite in his pitch-black eyes. I was assaulted by a vision of myself in my new corset being bent over the silky honey-wood of one of those luxurious caskets...
I felt the blood flood my cheeks. And poor Frank not cold yet! Then I remembered Frank's night at the morgue in a freezer drawer. Frank was as cold as a leg of lamb, and a cheating, hard-hearted bastard besides.
Mr Stell's expression changed dramatically, and Sheila cried out in alarm. "Mom, are you alright? You turned the strangest colour! I swear you turned blue." She was frantic with fear. "Mom, I am taking you back to Hospital, you may be on the verge of a heart attack..."
I recalled poor Donnie's blue blush. Oh,oh! Yet something else to deal with. Lust turned me the lovely pale azure shade of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.
Then Mr Stell smiled, and two deep dimples (my perdition) punctuated his cheeks. "Ms Schultz, I see we have much to discuss, perhaps it would be best if we spoke alone? There are details of a delicate nature in you...husband's...situation that might distress your daughter." He turned to Sheila, even as he gestured the little red-head forward. "Maeve will show you our range, Miss Valginsky, and advise you on the best choice, while I speak with your mother..."
Ooooh...All alone with Mr Stell and his pussy tickler in the midst of all those inviting caskets? My heart lurched, my undead soul twitched, my uplifted chest heaved. Being dead had certainly done wonders for my love life. First the Doctor, now the charming Mr Jonathan Stell!
"Lead on, Mr Stell," I said, lowering my eyelids to hide my excitement, "I'm all ears.." And all yours...