“Bad Choices in Dark Places”
Excerpt from: Chapter 33
Pizza in the Coffin of Robert Morgan Binga
The local mortuary gave her exactly what she insisted on: A dull ash-gray coffin with questionable silver and chrome handlebars. The box was perfectly suited for a “2-for-1” Sale. Vashti Elizabeth Preston Binga deliberately chose a bargain basement coffin for her dead former-husband. She knew he would have wanted a high-end, showpiece Casket for his last remains. But also against his wishes, Vashti chose to lay out Robert’s body in a dink chapel at the rear of a modest funeral facility.
Had he been alive, Morgan’s Daddy would have objected vehemently to each of his former wife’s choices. But Vashti was determined to get the last lick in the final round of the fiasco that Robert had made of their marriage. He had shamelessly robbed her of self-respect and exposed her to public humiliation. It would take several lifetimes for her to even the score on the injuries he had inflicted on her life. Having no control over his much anticipated death, Vashti took comfort in knowing that Robert’s demise marked an agreeable end to her misery as his former wife.
Vashti also knew well that none of her friends and only a few of Robert’s would attend a gathering to lament or even acknowledge his death. His stouthearted enemies – those he had not killed or made disappear … would come only to make certain he was dead.
When Vashti learned of Robert’s death, she immediately recalled part of a verse of Scripture from the Book of Isaiah. She recalled the verse from 35 years earlier when she dutifully attended the Presbyterian church her great grandfather founded:
“The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming.”
Vashti found it odd that she would recall this passage after so many years. Obviously, she had buried it deep in her subconscious, acutely aware that it would serve a purpose at some point in time. It pleased her to imagine Robert’s dead cronies, already in Hell, greeting him with high-fives and backslapping. She could almost hear one of them yelling.
“Hey, Binga! ‘Bout time you showed up, man. Life after death been boring as hell!”
Another would chime in, “Hold tight y’all, Binga ‘bout to Fire-Up the place!”
Finally, a voice yelled out something they could all rally around, “Look y’all, Brotha Binga didn’t come empty handed … PIZZA! Let the Good Times Roll!”
Vashti tried to harness the laughter dancing in her belly but couldn’t. She was amused by the irony of her thoughts … because she did not believe in life after death. In her mind, life with Robert had been hell enough. Surely, she had already paid for any sins she may have committed in her life. Besides, if there was an After-Life, she would surely be given a medal for the many times she restrained herself from poisoning her husband or bludgeoning his eye sockets while he slept.
While under particular stress during one of Robert’s long-running profane indiscretions, Vashti consoled herself with this thought, “I needn’t soil my hands by putting a bullet in the right side of his brain … I’ll have one of his hit men to do the job. Some of them would do it free of charge.”
On innumerable occasions, Robert had cheated on Vashti and lied about it to her face. On just as many occasions, he didn’t bother to lie. He would shrug his shoulders like he was the injured party and say, “That’s what you expected me to do, isn’t it?”
Vashti often felt as if Robert worked at coming up with creative ways to hurt and embarrass her. He deliberately and repeatedly shamed his proud wife in public. Before she left him, Vashti tried to tally up all Robert’s offenses against her. Because she could never get to the end of the list without losing count, she named his sins Legion, too many to number.
Robert’s funeral service was conspicuously brief. The funeral director, who did not know Robert, opened with a prayer and awkwardly greeted the audience of five. Morgan read her father’s obituary and used the five minutes allotted her to share memories of the man she loved unconditionally and called “Daddy”.
Robert had injured too many people for too many years for any of them to forget why they hated him. Zeke was the lone exception. He and Robert had been like father and son from the moment they met. Zeke was 15 at the time and had never known his biological father. As Zeke got older, he and Robert became brothers. Their relationship remained a curiosity to most people who weren’t there at the beginning. They were not privy to the dark symbiosis that characterized Robert and Zeke’s friendship. They knew nothing of the kinship the two men felt toward each other or that it served them mutually well … once upon a time.
Robert Morgan Binga’s body lay squeaky clean against the black imitation velvet interior of his final nesting place. In life, Morgan’s father had been a crude man, as coarse as sandpaper around the edges and not much different at his core. Worse still, he was without a grain of sensitivity to cushion the weight of what sprang from his foul mouth and landed on the raw nerves of those he wished to offend.
The day before the funeral, Morgan stood motionless before the remains of her father. Tears flooded her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She would not allow herself to weep openly, though she was heartbroken. She had had nightmares about her father’s death from the time she was 11 and overheard her mother describe how Robert was attacked by three drug competitors, when they thought he was alone and easy prey. Robert killed the three in a shootout and managed to get the incident expunged from his record.
On many occasions, Morgan’s mother had willed the death of her father. When Robert learned just how much his wife hated him, he laughed in her face and said, “The only reason I keep cheating death is because YOU are an Incompetent Killer!”
Robert’s arrogance made Vashti step up her visualizations of his death. Surely he would go out in an FBI sting involving a hail of bullets that would finally take him down. Indeed, Vashti expected Robert to die violently, without her murderous mental imaging. She never expected him to reach age 40. As life would have it, however, Robert died quietly in his sleep at the ripe old age of 81, and in astonishingly good health. The only apparent consequence of the reprehensible life he lived was … he died alone.
Standing in the chapel with her daughter, Vashti clumsily tried to comfort Morgan, “Don’t grieve for your father, dear. He was very fortunate to have lived as long as he did. I always…”
“How can you be so cold, Mother? For God’s sake, he was your…”
“Husband? Yes, I know that. But unlike you, I did not remain deaf, dumb, and blind to his foibles.”
“So why did you stay with him as long as you did?”
“Habit … a bad one.”
“Mother, you could at least give Daddy credit for how he matured over the years. He changed his…”
“Don’t be silly, Morgan. A certain amount of wisdom naturally accompanies the aging process … by Default. Your father deserves no credit for that!”
Vashti and Morgan both turned in the direction of someone moving down the aisle toward them. It was Zeke. Vashti tossed her head angrily and turned her back to Zeke.
“I told you not to invite him, Elizabeth!” Vashti spoke softly but harshly.
“Zeke has a right to be here, Mother. He and Daddy were family! It’s inappropriate for you to shut Zeke out.”
“Hello, Mrs. Binga, Liz.” Zeke spoke to the back of Vashti’s head, “Mrs. Binga, I hope you don’t mind me coming.”
“Why should I, Ezekiel? You and Robert hatched from the same egg. Were he alive, he would never forgive you for not coming.”
Vashti turned slowly until she faced Zeke squarely. He immediately recognized the expression – Haughty Indifference, “You’ll have to excuse me, Ezekiel, I have to speak with someone about the arrangements.”
In that moment, Zeke realized Vashti had softened somewhat toward him. In the past, she would not have allowed her eyes to rest on him at all.
As Vashti left the chapel, Morgan sighed and stroked Zeke’s face. He put his hands on her shoulders, “I’m sorry, Liz. I was hoping to get in and out without her seeing me.”
“Daddy loved you like a son, Zeke. The only thing he could never forgive you for was becoming a minister.”
Zeke spotted the Domino’s Pizza box in the coffin and burst into laughter, “Morgan Elizabeth Binga, you didn’t!”
“That’s the last thing Daddy asked me to do. How could I refuse? He said he didn’t know how far he was going and didn’t want to get hungry on the way.” Morgan smiled and buried her face in Zeke’s chest, “I’m glad you came, Zeke,” She slipped her arm around his waist as they turned back to Robert.
“Remember when Daddy went down to that little town in Mississippi to get you out of jail? I never told you this but Daddy had tears in his eyes when Mike and Jackie told him where you were. He was afraid they would lynch you before he could get there.”
“Robert saved my butt many a day. He was the closest thing I ever had to a father.”
“Sometimes I think you and I were the only people he ever really loved.”
Zeke turned to face Morgan, “And I haven’t loved anyone but you since I was 15. I never thought I could have you, but that didn’t stop me from wanting you. I still…”
“Don’t, Zeke.” She paused, “But just for the record, nothing stopped you from having me except the choices you made.”
“Sweetheart, I always…”
“No, let me refresh your memory. First, you chose the military, then you chose the Panthers, then you chose a life that kept you in and out of jail. And finally, you chose God.”
She paused and her eyes quickly filled with tears, “You never chose me, Zeke. You never made a choice for us.” A sob snatched her breath.
Zeke took Morgan in his arms and they quietly wept … for themselves, for each other, and for Robert Morgan Binga.
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