Twice Melvin

Twice Melvin

by James Pumpelly


Publisher BookBaby

Published in Romance/Romantic Suspense, Mystery & Thrillers/Thrillers & Suspense, Romance, Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description


Melvin, a deceased Vermont attorney, and Aunt Martha, Melvin's self-appointed spirit guide, vie humorously over the trivial, heroically over the traumatic. Their interaction with dear ones left behind is the troubling constant holding the past and the possible in perilous proximity.

Whether tongue-in-cheek humor, heart-wrenching romance, or soul-searching tears, Twice Melvin provides it all - including an ending that begins.

Sample Chapter

To regret deeply is to live afresh. (Thoreau)


My story begins with my funeral. Born - and soon to be buried - in Plainfield, Vermont, my quaint little village is about as close to monastic life as one can imagine short of taking the vow. More so when it’s raining, which it is on this April afternoon, the valley's Winooski River chanting its way round barrier rocks like so many white-hooded monks, overreaching elm and maple trees dripping penitent tears from the dampening breath of the mountains. At ease by a patchwork of houses, the rain-laden nods of native perennials acknowledge the wending procession, not a few of their number in pious repose along the chancel of the Church of the Good Shepherd, its glistening steeple enshrouded by the morning mist. In the village church, stifled sobs accompany the rustle of rain across the skeletal stained glass, lancets of amber and rose casting gloom on my casket thrust up through the nestling blossoms.

But if anyone present is immune to the communal melancholy, it's my long-dead and recently reappearing Aunt Martha:

“Take a gander at this blubbering bunch of hypocrites, will you, Melvin?” Aunt Martha jabbing my ribs like Eve coming home to roost, our secretive stance, peering through vertical cracks in the vestry door, forcing the two of us closer than we’ve been in years. “Take Thelma, for instance, sniffling as if she were stretched out in that box, instead of you-“

“But Thelma has always been a good crier,” I interject, “a necessary talent for her profession, I suppose.”

“A Sunday-school teacher?” Aunt Martha derides, “give me some credit, Melvin. There’s no call for tears in a kindergarten class. Not unless you happen to be on the wrong end of Thelma’s ‘board of education’.”

“Right,” I whimper, recalling the board’s familiarity with my behind. “Then again, she’s championed some causes that could make anyone cry,” I add, moving aside to give her the benefit of my view.

“Why, nephew, are-are you suggesting?” Aunt Martha halting in mid thought, “, I suppose you’re not,” she finishes, offering me her curiosity.

“Not what?” my attention now solely hers.

“Suggesting she had anything to do with your death,” Aunt Martha emphasizing ‘death’ as though the very word is anathema.

“Foolish, indeed,” I agree, chuckling at the thought of a Thelma Peabody harangue initiating some unfortunate’s demise. “But if there’s anyone out there who might have such ability...” I edge back for another look, “it would have to be the reverend, his expertise in the supernatural more likely than Thelma Peabody’s”

“Look at you!” she snips, “the pot calling the kettle black! I don’t know which is worse: a lawyer or a preacher!”

“A minister, for sure,” pride in my law firm serving me well. “An attorney has a legal right to charge for his services.”

“And who wrote the law that makes it legal?” she cavils, “and who, but an attorney, can legally inflict a heart attack with the aid of the post office?” Aunt Martha puncturing my argument with yet another indefensible probe. “Between you and your law partner - that, that, that what’s-his-face sitting a little too close to your wife – there’s probably few folks this side of the Montpelier Statehouse who haven’t opened a mailbox to the wallop of one of your bills.”

“You mean George,” I correct; Aunt Martha like a yammering coyote on my trail, “George is my law partner’s name, Auntie, not ‘what’s-his-face’; and as to his proximity to Melody, George is merely acting the gentleman he is,” I argue. “Should my wife feel the need of a compassionate shoulder, there’s no bigger one out there than his.”

Aunt Martha ignoring my rebuttal, motioning me to listen to the reverend, her interest in his every word not unlike her attention to hearsay.

“’Only that day dawns to which we are awake,’” the reverend quotes, “and for our departed friend, that dawn is a spiritual one, the kind of dawn Henry Thoreau may well have been referencing when he penned those words in Walden. We take comfort in the assurance our dearly departed is now awake to the glory of that new and spectacular dawn. He lives, our Melvin does. He lives afresh! Any regrets he may have suffered left behind, abandoned abruptly, even gladly, in that paltry portmanteau one drops at the crossing.”

“Not bad...not bad at all,” Aunt Martha opines, patting my boney hand sympathetically, “but entirely too tame, this service of yours. Too tame, indeed. And I’m going to do something to liven it up. After all, you are my nephew, Melvin, and that makes you special! Makes you deserving of a better send-off than the old reverend’s managing,” her decision to tamper with the powers-that-be marking my death as nothing more than the inception of a new round of troubles.

For five days, Aunt Martha has been enlightening me on the superior skills of disembodied spirits (her passing a decade before mine), our impromptu meeting occasioned by my sudden arrival. But it's onerously apparent she's kept up with the times, her postmortem antics in step with the latest events, the Right Reverend Rolundo (his big basso profundo waxing eloquent in my eulogy) hardly more surprised than I am as Aunt Martha begins demonstrating her savvy.

Falling rose-petal soft on listening ears, the reverend’s pleasing elocution brings me back to my wife, her blue eyes misting with tears - then suddenly widening as Aunt Martha’s magical “thought imposition” finds a voice in the reverend; old Mother Eve’s fascination with the unknown as nothing compared to the stark fear of knowledge in my beloved’s eyes.

“Now as paradoxical as it may seem,” the reverend's sonorous bass climbing to a decidedly stressful pitch, “profound thoughts can be more easily entertained in a comfortable setting. Why, even Thomas a Kempis could have improved his philosophy had he allowed himself a few luxuries...yes...and suspecting this, our Melvin...aaah! our Melvin,” his unnatural falsetto squeaks, “our Melvin worked feverishly for success. True, we may have thought of Melvin as an aspiring young attorney; but he was much more than that...more, even, than all his sudden wealth and ill-purchased fame would have us know. He was a philosopher...a thinker...a bender of facts...ah! and a bender of backs, I should add; a veritable genius in legal crimes!”

With this sudden and unexpected turn down tribute’s trail, I can almost hear my mourners’ heartbeats, the excitement of some bizarre or bawdy discovery perversely refreshing amidst the sickening sweet of funeral sprays, the one exception being Vincent Tenklei, an English Poetry student at Plainfield’s Godhard College, his dark face glistening with a patina of sweat.

Vince had been my only charity case, his unique situation alerting my greed. Hailing from Rhodesia, Vince, I had schemed, could open a few international doors if I handled his case gratuitously, one involving a small fortune in some New York tenements bequeathed by his uncle. The simple matter of paying off a few tax liens acquainted me with his seemingly limitless offshore accounts - and his bankers, their shadowy world of hidden wealth a realm I hoped to explore. But now exploration is at my expense, Reverend Rolundo blundering on with his invisible, soprano guide.

“He had a painter’s talent for color,” the minister shrieks, his eloquence lost, his keen blue eyes growing spasm large, his labored breath, for all the world, portending angina pectoris. “Melvin knew the power of a pliant sentence; a well-placed word, peony brilliant; the charisma of listening. And how do I know this?” he whines as though quizzing himself, “be-because...because confiding in him was like dropping pebbles to the bottom of a well...little secrets kept to be drawn when lust demanded.”

By now, even Thelma Peabody is squirming to the edge of her pew. Perched scandalously close to Vincent, Thelma appears to be everything she taught me not to be as my Sunday-school teacher. The busiest old maid in Plainfield, Thelma manages to profit from her organic vegetable farm while organizing protest marches in nearby Montpelier - marches in accord with her Sunday-school interpretations of the King James Version, her rendition of Joseph’s coat a Bible story I've never forgotten. Thelma’s graphic, animated discourse on the metaphysical meaning of said coat’s colors (“sacrificial red” among them) was more than an adolescent imagination should ponder in the winter-dark of a wind-swept, window-rattling night. The glowing embers of my bedroom hearth frequently birthed bloodthirsty fiends; the current rattling more the closet skeleton type, though the blood is still my own.

”Now full of distrust, now of angry courage,” the Reverend's piercing pitch frightening the congregation, “Melvin Morrison never lacked for motivation. Prodded by pain...drawn by delight...he knew if he did what was in his lustful heart he mustered within him a loyal troupe, a deceptive effrontery, a bit of show that always kept us guessing, kept us ignorant of his sins: an ignorance allowing him a secret life at the expense of our blind admiration.”

Vincent’s nervous, choking coughs allow my entrance: “Surely you aren’t going to tell them that, Aunt Martha,” I plead. “Think of my Melody, my grieving wife, Melody. How could you?“

“No, how could you?” she breaks in churlishly.

“I-I was mortal then, remember?” I stammer, “unlearned in the scheme of things. It was my legal assistant, Charlene, who led me astray - the seductive way she retrieved a file, or served my coffee.”


Excerpted from "Twice Melvin" by James Pumpelly. Copyright © 2018 by James Pumpelly. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

James Pumpelly

James Pumpelly

Reared by traveling evangelists, my sheltered years were a moth-swarm of questions and quandaries. Like drawn curtains against the sun, my naiveté rebuffed the dazzle of temporal joy. I feigned comprehension, for to do otherwise was to be reproached by the happiness of others - until the milieu of university curricula enlightened me. As Eudora Welty wrote, "A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."

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