The suitcases sat on the dusty linoleum floor of her apartment for eleven days thereafter. Every morning, amid her shower to toaster to front door sprint, she whizzed by them as she struggled to juggle a mess of keys, which had long outgrown their key ring, her coat, and a change of shoes. On day eleven, as she cleared a patron’s table from the world’s most heinous runny eggs, grape jelly and undercooked bacon combination, she fortuitously picked up the publication to her salvation. Good thing too, because she was going to have to break into one of those suitcases any day for a pair of clean underwear.
Jane ran her fingers over the smeared ink on the jelly-stained open page of The Post’s classifieds section and an entry caught her eye:
Wanted: Newspaper Reporter for the Hope Township Gazette. Obituary Column. Salary commensurate with experience. 0-6 months work experience preferred. No benefits. No transportation salary. Must be a town resident. For inquiries call Miss Majorie. Speak loudly; her hearing aid is broken.
Three hours later, crouched in the back storeroom, tangled in the diner’s exceptionally long coiled telephone cord, and yelling into the phone on borrowed lunch time, Jane found herself asking the octogenarian on the other end of the telephone where, exactly, the Town of Hope was located.
Kansas. Rural Kansas. Pass civilization and keep driving down the two lane road until you stumble upon it, Kansas.
In weighing her options, Jane momentarily considered whether she would miss the crackling of the neighborhood trash can fires if she were to leave, given this new, incredibly sleepy, alternative. That consideration was, however, brief and fleeting. Rural Kansas it was. The Hope Township Gazette needed an obituary reporter with no previous experience and Jane was the woman for the job. After all, she often read through the obituary column. How else would she have known where to find the higher-end garage sales scheduled for the weekend?
By the time she placed the telephone receiver back into its cradle she already had her first assignment. She was to be in Hope by 10 am on Tuesday and have a copy of Mr. Robertson’s obituary submitted by that afternoon.
Until that previous Friday, Mr. Robertson had been the obituary reporter. Everyone in town seemed content in with their jobs, so the Gazette had placed an ad in several different newspapers around the nation. Hope, apparently, didn’t get much outsider traffic.
Now, here she stood. Reluctantly staring over at Bess who was trying desperately to salvage the undercooked dough on the top of what used to be a pie. Without Jane’s help, Bess explained between high-pitched sobs, she’d never make it to Old Man Durston’s wake in time.
It figured that the only room rental available in all of Hope was situated in the home of a wayward child-less June Cleaver hopeful and her kind-hearted, but suspiciously quiet husband. With respect to their characters, and perhaps a bit in the jowls as well, Bess’s husband, Jeff, and the family bloodhound Horace, were actually a lot alike.
Carefully pinching fruit-smeared dough back together, Jane reminded Bess that it was the thought behind the pie that really mattered anyway. This was, afterall, the third pie Bess had attempted in the last three weeks for various wakes. At an average of one death a week since her arrival, Jane realized that Hope sure did have a high death rate as of late for such a small, sleepy town.