It was a hot day for a funeral, but not humid. The powder-blue sky was adorned with puffs of cloud, few in number and tastefully spaced wide. The landscaped flora beneath bloomed lush, aggressive, and the sun shined bright as the machines within the Greater Network that defined her life and ours.
“I broke the Internet,” confessed The Mortician to his phone.
“Are you connected?” demanded The Help Desk.
The voice of Help, tender, female, emerged from the thin gadget, loud enough for The Bereaved to hear.
“Does the little ‘hand-shake’ icon on your pad flash green, or red?”
“Tap the icon with your stylus – twice. Make sure you’re on-line,” echoed The Help Desk.
“Oh. Yes. Yes, of course. Thank you. Thank you so much. How embarrassing.”
“Nothing to be ashamed of. People ‘break the Internet’ all the time. It’s been a pleasure serving you. How would you rate my service, on a scale of one to ten? This call is being monitored for purposes of quality-assurance.”
“Oh. Ten. Definitely. Absolutely. Ten.”
“Thank you, and you have a great day, now!”
“Something trivial as a misplaced symbol might cause the program to behave very differently,” one of The Bereaved, a well-known, well-remunerated analyst of systems, whose nickname, ‘Bright Boy,’ I recalled from thirty years before, said to the chastened mortician.
“Very differently indeed,” agreed The Slim Girl – a woman, now, still thin – I’d known most of my life. “Irrational. They never pause to think. Enough about them. How are you? ”
“Me? Working hard. Late nights, coffee, occasionally speed,” I confessed. “Low-level amphetamine. Prescription. Nothing serious. ”
“Such a shame for this to happen now, of all times. In May. The Reunion’s not till June,” she said.
“She died of—? ”
“Brain Cancer,” said the The Beautiful Girl, who was somewhat less comely than I recalled, but still peremptory, and somewhat indignant, whether at my ignorance of the cause, the actual cause, or Death itself, I could not tell.
“How sad. So sad,” I attempted somber, or at least concern. “Not old. Not old at all. Some kind of young, in fact. I mean, we’re all just –”
“– forty-eight. Only twenty-eight when I last saw her. At the 20-year reunion,” said Bright Boy.
“Do you remember?” whispered The Slim Girl.
Remember the reunion, the deceased, or the old-style forty-minute fling The Slim Girl, then freshly divorced, and I had shared in the parking-lot of the catering hall, that night, appropriately in the back seat of a Buick, which inappropriately belonged to her ex-husband and was bound for repossession?
“Twenty-eight was old to us, once,” I said.
“We were impossibly young,” she winked coyly. “Impossibly, outrageously young.”
The deceased appeared at the foot of her metallic-green sarcophagus. Dead, of course, but none the worse for it. She too was a woman, or had been at the time of expiration, but appeared, to my old eyes, a girl. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen — who can distinguish such epochs from this distant vantage point in time? Old, thrift-store clothes, granny glasses, long, brown, impossibly wild hair.
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter…” said The Dead Girl.
“I can almost hear her voice, as if we are there, right now, then,” said The Slim Girl.
“Oh, please,” sniffed The Beautiful Girl.
A voice from the Past cried, “The cafeteria is empty! There’s no one in the office. The machines are idle. It’s all just, just lights!”
Was I the only one to hear?
“Such a terrible day for tragedy and loss,” said The Slim Girl. “It’s so unjust.”
Bright Boy confirmed, “Yes, unjust. It is, you know. Life. Really, it’s relentless. ”
“May I be excused from Life? I have to use the bathroom,” The Slim Girl attempted to be humorous, to smile.
“There’s only one free pass,” Bright Boy gestured toward the coffin.
“I’ve never felt so alone,” The Slim Girl urgently grabbed my tie. “Not even in dreams. ”
“Beauty is youth, youth, beauty…” The Dead Girl droned, then winked, somewhat sardonically, at me.
After all, it was her show. And surely her high-school palaver was more pleasurable, or at least bearable, than the sentimental excursions into mythical-magical syntax of the hysterical Unknown escaping in gasps and gusts from the huddled mass of The Bereaved.
They crowded ever closer toward the green sarcophagus, center-piece of the room. Parlor. Hall. The place We The Bereaved had congregated, strangers who had once been friends – or whatever you call folks thrown together by circumstance and compelled to sink or swim; as we were again, in a way — mercifully brief, I hoped — stiff, formally dressed, and indoors on a what should have been a loose-fit-cotton, out-door afternoon.
“Nothing satisfied our expectations,” said The Slim Girl.
“Oh, please,” again The Beautiful Girl.
“‘Nostalgia.’ Fear of the future,” The Banana intervened. He was tagged thus, so very long ago, due to the relatively extreme dimensions of his nose, which was still quite large, though his face had “filled in,” and sagged, a bit, to jowls.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“That’s all it is. Nostalgia. Knowing you survived. You made it through. The Past has always been the safest place to hide,” said The Banana.
“The Future holds no guarantees,” Bright Boy agreed.
“Beautiful bodies come and go,” The Slim Girl touched her necklace.
Again Bright Boy nodded, “Energy, desire. All of it grows old. Or rather, disperses. You know, entropy and all that.”
“I don’t understand,” The Slim Girl seemed confused. “All we ever meant to locate…”
“Shut up with all that. I don’t want to hear it. It’s depressing,” said The Beautiful Girl.
“She’s right, you know,” said Bright Boy. “Make merry. After all, this is a funeral…”
The Dead Girl sang, “Hey diddle, diddle, the Spacemen fiddle, a goose-stepped over the moon.”
She stuck out her tongue — moist, pink. Again at me, I thought, though given the proximity of the others, who could tell? We had converged, almost congealed, before the box, to avoid speaking in tones that might be ‘disrespectful’ at such an event. Though there really were no rules, none I was aware of.
The Beautiful Girl said, “I haven’t heard a phone ring since forever — why have the phones stopped ringing? Damned cell phones. Not like the old days when you could just ignore the damned thing and leave the room. These little bastards follow you around.”
“My phone rings,” said The Banana, helpful, though obsequious. “It’s just an option you can set. It’s easy. You just –”
“Don’t interrupt,” The Beautiful Girl admonished.
“May I please be abused? I mean, ‘excused?’” The Slim Girl was drunk, though no beverages had been served.
“Of course, my dear…” winked The Banana.
“What time is it? Does anybody have the time?” asked The Beautiful Girl.
“I’ll give you the time,” Bright Boy, getting in on the act, nudged The Banana.
“Listen,” demanded The Slim Girl. “Time when, time was when –”
“Time is a rocket,” said Bright Boy.
“Time made us numb,” said The Beautiful Girl.
“’Time present exists in time past’ or something something and so on,” expounded The Banana, who had been some sort of liberal arts major, and long-winded, as I recall.
“Never understood what that meant,” Bright Boy confessed. “Still don’t. I see Time as — it’s just a measurement, a marker, for the units of our –”
“How quickly they pass,” said The Slim Girl.
“Moments cast velveteen shadows,” continued The Banana. “Holes in the sky leak toxins. The Emperor of Ice-cream has no clothes.”
“Life’s too short to be so long,” lamented The Slim Girl.
Thus provoked, The Banana rambled on, “Once we were in season. We ripen, rot. Fish float belly-up. Sky-scrapers’ reflections slice The Mall. The gods grow bored with our transactions. No time for refrigerators. The children have no teeth. We wait, we anticipate The Killer’s count-down. The death-march.”
Bright Boy abruptly switched stations.
“They creep into your code unnoticed,” he said to a man I could not place. Another of the young computer enthusiasts Bright Boy had palled around with in “the day.” We called them geeks, nerds, pencil-necks. Who knew that they would rise to administer the world?
“Sickening. Repulsive. Real pain in the ass too,” agreed the Fellow Hacker. “They take forever to get rid of.”
“After all, in a world gone mad, the sane are freaks,” said Bright Boy.
The Fellow Hacker ruefully agreed.
“Friday we get paid. At least, where I work,” said The Banana, to no one in particular.
“Something, something must be done,” The Slim Girl became urgent.
“About what, darling? Done about what?” asked The Beautiful Girl.
“That is, to think. To plan. To cogitate,” The Slim Girl persisted.
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about,” scoffed The Beautiful Girl. “And neither do you.”
“The Unforeseen can insert itself at any time,” Bright Boy ponderously diffused the subject, whatever it was, or might have been.
The Dead Girl said, “Boo!”
I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant.
The Mortician consulted his watch and suggested it might be time for someone to speak.
“Perhaps a eulogy of sorts? Have any of The Bereaved prepared words?”
“What about her family? Her family’s not here?” demanded The Beautiful Girl.
“Not that I’m aware,” said The Mortician.
He did not know precisely how the funeral had been arranged, or by whom, that is, in relation to the deceased.
“Then who the hell paid for all this?” persisted The Beautiful Girl. “Money doesn’t fall from Heaven.”
“Indeed it does not,” Bright Boy agreed.
“A third-party. An interest,” said The Mortician. “Or the designated representative of such.”
He’d been contacted by a man representing a company or business of sorts.
“CutterCup Inc. Or LLP. I’d have to check. The receipt, all records of the transaction, are at the office.”
“So, an executive of this CutterCup outfit just called you to ‘take care of’ the – our friend? And that’s that?” asked The Beautiful Girl, disconcerted, confused, for some reason put off.
“An attorney,” said The Mortician. “Whether he was part of the company, or simply acting on their behalf, I cannot say.”
Within hours of The Dead Girl’s officially becoming dead, the attorney chose the coffin type, size, color and all particulars, including floral arrangements, and paid for the entire package in full, using the company card assigned to him for such contingencies.
“You mean there’s no…uh…what was she? There’s no priest or rabbi or whatever here?” asked Bright Boy.
“No, there is not. None that I’m aware,” said The Mortician, touching, though not looking at, his watch.
“Interesting,” said Bright Boy.
“So it’s one of us,” said The Slim Girl with not a little triumph.
“Or not,” said the Fellow Hacker. “Not anyone’s responsibility to — “
“Honestly I haven’t spoken to the girl in…,” The Beautiful Girl cut him off. “Not since that last shindig, the ten-year conflagration or whatever.”
“Something, something must be done,” said The Slim Girl, with conviction.
Nothing was recalled of The Dead Girl but bits and bites — long since ruminated and digested, now yanked forcibly from flesh of memory and supplemented with what like-proteins could be simulated by imagination impromptu – offered individually, to the collective unit of We The Bereaved: her dark humor, her brown suede boots — some claimed black leather — her sad smile. The little things. Her phone number and street address, which existed, to varying degrees of creative accuracy, in our minds, not phones. That is, nothing concrete. No hard evidence or reliable redundancy of data.
“Yawn,” The Dead Girl said. “Yawn yawn yawn.”