My older sister Nancy and I love funerals. We go at random every weekend, ingratiating ourselves into the crowds, the friends, the family. We pretend to weep with the mourners, while we absorb things with the coldness of detectives, me in an oversized suit, borrowed from Dad. Nancy in one of Mother’s nice black gowns. We love the darkness, the garb, the somberness. The people gathered together, mothers and children, cousins, nephews, people with connections we cannot fathom. Being so close to darkness, a kind of whirl, excitement. We don’t know dead people, the wildness of loss. Mother and Dad are divorced, but that’s different. They wear fedoras and lavender and false civility. Even our grandparents still live, regaling us with tales of meeting Teddy Roosevelt and other trivialities.
It was a big box joint, out on a low overhead stretch of highway. The pink neon sign arching over the entrance to the parking lot read CRYPTS, a division of Marshal Memorial Inc. Below that was a flashing white neon sign reading Drive-Thru. I drove on, and waited in line for the order window. There was only one car ahead of us, a red Cadillac, circa 1975. The driver had been talking into a speaker next to his driver’s side window for several minutes, before two men arrived at the passenger side of the car with a gurney. Opening the car door, they pulled the body of an elderly man out of the car. He wore a rumpled brown suit and only one shoe. The two men placed his body onto the gurney, while the driver watched and waved a slow, sad good-bye. Then the dead old man was wheeled away, as a slot below the speaker spat out a paper tape and credit card that the Cadillac man took, before he drove away.
Nakul Pandey sat staring at the frail corpse that had been his father. A group of mourners in various shades of white sat in vigil. Suffocating floral bouquet notes arose from the garland-draped cover of the coffin cooler in which the corpse had been kept as the mourners waited for Nakul’s older brother, Vipul, to come from the UK and perform the last rites. Through the huddled fog in his head, Nakul observed the cable snaking from the cooler to the switchboard and anticipated that someone might trip over it. He tripped over it when he got up to take a call. A few hands were raised in alarm, “oh-oh” and “watch it” and “careful” were exclaimed, all garbed in the tone and pitch appropriate to mourning. You wouldn’t want to wake the dead especially if the dead was his father, Jeetendra Pandey.
There it was, in black and white: Cecily VanDeGroot, dead at 88. Rich. Well-known. A good-sized family who’d want a good show. One I could give them.
Damn. “Services provided by Eternal Rest.” Lo’Retta had beat me out again. Early bird gets the worm.
And so do the dead. But we don’t tell the customers that.
Sonny’s hand shook as he took a drag from his cigarette. Rain drops from the eaves above bruised onto Sonny’s faded grey scaly cap. He watched on as his lifelong friend Daniel reached the walkway to the funeral home. With his head down, and hands in his rain slicker’s pockets, Daniel walked down the cobbled path. “Sonny,” he said with a nod, as he reached the tall, twin hinged doors. The two men shared a moment of a silence, backs toward the funeral home, long faces towards the rain, as Sonny’s cigarette began to fade.
Oh man! That was the Mother of all nights out. What a headache! I can’t remember much about it. Must have been a great night!
But, where am I? In a place with dark carpets, velvety wall paper, fussy gold mirrors. Some woman’s house, I suppose. A sexy babe who whisked me back to her place for a night cap and a game of Hide-the-Sausage. Was it the surfer chick from Bondi in the barely-there bikini? Talk about hot. And the way she rode those waves. I’d better find a mirror to see how bad I look and whether I need a shower. Don’t you hate it when the girl gets her first peek at you in daylight and throws up?