Copyright is held by the author.
AT FIRST it was nothing. Then it was something. Now I’m stretched out in a cheap coffin wearing an even cheaper suit. I bet everybody who wakes up dead asks the same dumb questions. One: How did this happen to me? And Two: What the hell did I do with my life? I mean dying is something that happens to other people right? Until it happens to you.
So here I am on display like a side of beef in a butcher shop window. Except this side of beef is wearing off-the-rack pinstripes; I hate pinstripes and the cut is crap. The shirt and tie are polyester and I’m pretty sure there’s no socks, or shoes on my feet. Who picked out this junk? Sure as hell wasn’t me. I have better taste and a way bigger budget; know what I’m sayin’? Who’s responsible for this travesty? I’ll have their sorry ass for breakfast. But I’m guessin’ it’s too late for that.
Seriously, I specifically asked to be cremated, no coffin, open or closed for me. I’m sure I left those instructions with someone, somewhere, at some time during my suddenly abbreviated existence. Wasn’t anybody listening? I mean, a team of lawyers, three wives, four kids (one of which I’m sure isn’t mine, but that’s a story for another time), and you’re telling me not one of these people ever heard me say the word “cremation.” Or how about, “I don’t want people standing around gawking at me like a side show freak.” So far this isn’t going my way at all.
And just look at this place. It gives Fifty Shades of Gray a whole new meaning. I tell ya if you’re not dead when you get here, you’re givin’ it serious thought by the time you leave. It’s friggin’ depressing. Everything is grey and I hate grey. The walls, the furniture, the sagging, lifeless window coverings and the cut-rate Carpet Barn special that swirls across the floor in evermore shades of grey, greyer and greyest. Who decorated this joint? Lily Munster? I bet even the lights have special bulbs that make everyone look as though they’re not far behind the poor schmuck in the box.
Discreet bundles of business cards are tucked strategically beside the colour-co-ordinated boxes of tissue in case you get the urge to make your own arrangements while sobbing and blowing your nose. It all screams, “Yes, your life sucks the big one right now, but there’s a remote chance it’ll get better. So don’t be too downcast. If things go really bad and you’re next on the list, you can rely on Norbert and Sons Rest in Peace Funeral Home to send you on your way, almost according to your wishes.
Gary, Cheap S.O.B., Norbert; I might have guessed. He takes big bucks from grieving widows, then goes to Walmart and replaces the wardrobe of the deceased. Heard he’s got a second hand clothing gig on the side. I suppose, to be honest, who really notices? At times like this no one wants to get close enough to check if the tie is a polyester clip-on or one hundred percent silk. Nothing makes people keep their distance like an open coffin and Gary Norbert knows it. I give Gary a long hard look; he looks pretty good. He’s wearing Armani. Nice. This joint must be doing okay. Son-of-a-bitch; he’s wearing my suit. I take a closer look at Gary. “His” suit has my initials monogramed on the left inside front panel, but thank God he’s sporting his own underwear. (Red cotton boxers; Walmart brand).
It’s weird. My body is lying flat and confined in this uncomfortable box and yet somehow I’m everywhere. I don’t have eyes or ears anymore, but I can see and hear like a super hero. I’m able to zoom in and out like a camera lens. I’m in one place and everywhere at same time. And get this: I can see through walls and floors and clothing. I can count the layers of paint on the walls and read the labels on the back of those boring pictures hanging on the walls. (Walmart, Go figure). If I squint a bit I can see right into Gary’s office, and, into his desk drawers. Oh Gary, you naughty boy. What I wouldn’t have given for these super powers before the whole, you know, dead thing. I’m pondering the advantages these heightened senses would have given me in the board room or in the bar when wife number three walks in.
Monica. Lovely woman. Of all of them, Monica “got me” the best. She understood my need to be free and unencumbered by a needy, clinging wife. She was a class act; no nagging or whining like the other two. Guess you could say she knew her place. “I’m just happy to be with you,” she’d say. How many times did I hear, “That’s okay dear, I’ll be here when you get home.” Yeah Monica, bit of a doormat really. Got under my skin after a while.
But look at her now. The dress is Prada but the style is pure Monica. She always knew how to camouflage those thunder thighs. She actually looks good, although the black makes her look a bit sallow and emphasizes the circles under her eyes. All in all she looks predictable, so Monica.
Gary, sniveller that he is, rushes forward to speak to the poor widow and I wonder briefly is she recognizes the suit. His face is sad, yet supportive with just a hint of apology. His expression says, “I’m here for you. I’ll take care of everything. I’ve done my best with what I’ve had to work with, and what your paltry budget allowed.” Do you suppose they have to perfect this look before they can graduate from undertaker school? As I envision a room full of black suited wannabe morticians practicing “the look,” Gary takes Monica’s arm and gently guides her toward the formaldehyde filled remains in the cheap pine box.
He speaks in a soft monotone as if he’s afraid I’ll sit up and reveal him for the scammer he is. Looking down at my body, Monica sighs and whispers the words I know Gary longs to hear. “Mr. Norbert, you’ve done such a wonderful job. Thank you so much. I, I don’t know where I’d be without you. She squeezes Gary’s pale, fleshy hand before opening her purse, floundering for a tissue.
“Here, allow me, Mrs. Pendergast.”
Gary’s smooth, I’ll give him that. He’s got all the funeral director moves down pat. He offers my wife a tissue from a color co-ordinated box. Monica dabs her eyes and smiles through her nearly tears. “He looks just like himself.” She smiles in her brave, sad way and dabs again.
“Are you kidding me?” I yell in her ear. “Take a good look sweetie. I’m wearing more make up than Boy George. And you don’t wanna to know what’s under this paint job. My mouth never looked like this, and what’s he done to my hair? What part of cremation didn’t you get? Stupid cow.” I’m shouting in her ear. She pauses like you do when there’s a mosquito buzzing nearby then turns back to Gary. He guides her to one of the big, boring chairs and plumps up a washed out cushion before assisting her to sit down.
“It’s always hard, Mrs. Pendergast.” Gary Norbert pauses, holding my wife’s hand low and close to his body.
Do you see this? Norbert is wearing my suit and hitting on my wife right in front of me. And I’m barely cold. Son-of-a-bitch. Monica looks up and smiles her simpering smile before pulling her hand away and wiping it on the sofa cushion.
“I think I’d like a moment alone with my husband, Mr. Norbert, before the guests arrive.”
Gary nods and floats out of the room, a grim genie in a good suit, disappearing and reappearing on demand. His feet, clad in my Italian loafers, make a soft swooshing sound on the bargain basement carpet.
Monica stares at the casket and what was me. I watch as she lowers her head and her shoulders start to shake. She’s upset. She misses me. Man, she’s really broken up. Poor kid. “Monica I’m sorry. I wish I’d . . .” She raises her head and holds her fist to her mouth; convulsed with grief. God Monica. I had no idea. I watch as she searches in her purse, looking for more tissue. She breaks down again. Wait. She’s not crying, she’s laughing.
Monica looks behind her, no doubt making sure no one is witness to her hysteria. What’s she doing now? She’s got her cell phone and she’s walking toward the casket. She’s taking a selfie with me as background. A goddamned selfie, and she’s laughing so hard she can hardly stand up. What the hell? Now she’s texting. Texting for Chrissakes. How disrespectful. I’m dead, sweetheart. No thanks to you. Apparently you were too stupid to know how to call 911. Like I always said; if your thighs were brains you’d be half as smart as me. My voice is right in her ear.
Monica swats at the invisible bug again. She’s finding it hard to contain her laughter as her fingers move over the surface of her phone. I zoom in and read over her shoulder. The text is addressed to my two ex-wives. She types “See you at the airport. LOL.” She looks up at the body in the coffin then toward the irritating, invisible bug that’s been buzzing in her ear since she came in. She grins that stupid grin and looks right at me. “Rest in Peace Stanley.” She laughs again and slaps one of her huge thighs. I hear her laughter as she walks away, leaving me behind. She pauses in front of the sad, surprised and well-dressed Gary Norbert.
“Bury him deep, Gary. Bury him real deep.”