Anna rests on a white satin pillow, her eyes shut finally at peace. The coffin is a heavy shiny walnut with bulky gold handles. Maggie clasps her hands together at the open casket and sighs as morbid classical music fills the room.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea.” Maggie whispers carefully. Anna rises from her coffin and glares at her girlfriend.
“Why can’t you just let me have this one thing?” Anna barks.
“Well, because it’s really fucked up and ummm hang on a minute, oh yeah, because you’re not dead.”
The women tussle in debate. The funeral director busies himself with the cheaper coffins. Maggie pulls her girlfriend from the coffin.
“So what, I am just to call your mum and be like oh hi Susan, please come to your daughter’s fake funeral.”
“No! She’s not to know I’m faking. No one is. Only I’ll know, you’ll know and Gary.” Gary, the funeral director turns around from dusting the coffins.
“This is really something you’re fine with Gary?” Maggie interrogates.
“There’s fun in funeral.” The funeral director moves his thin lips with an elongated voice. Maggie glares furiously at Anna.
“I’ll take this one.” She points to the coffin still warm from her test lay.
Anna has found herself trapped in a vortex of an instagram thread. Her thumb rests over two weighty women in opaque bras, their hairy underarms shifting in the wind on the side of a lake. She shuffles backward through the forest of stranger’s photographs to the original post and then throws her phone on the floor. Today’s job was to drop the car in for a service. That was easy and at 9:00am. The pale, blue eyed Italian man with the wet lips and the grey hair had gestured that the car would be available after lunch. That meant anything from midday until the end of time. Anna sinks into the couch. She can’t believe she had worn a bra for this. Just to sit on the couch and wait for an old man to call her. She flings the tight crop top off and resumes sitting and staring. In this instance and within the time over the last year, she’d been avoiding writing. She’d pushed out bits and pieces but nothing she was proud of. Kind of like the passiveness and lack of genuine care one has for a forth child. Maybe she’d mop the floor again. It wasn’t boredom that sat with her on the couch but rather a new friend named purposelessness. Instagram was a trap. Too many selfies at Bondi, selfies in Berlin, selfies with a newborn, selfies with my boo, selfies with wild rice, selfies at Ikea, selfies at Grandma’s funeral. In her question of humanity, she would always find herself at the resolution of banging her head against the wall or a bath.
Anna runs a bath and tosses in a lug of lavender oil. All the aches of life could be temporarily calmed by hot water in a wide ceramic tub. She imagines Winston Churchill bathed by his wife as he detoxed world war two. Her last two poems had lacked magnetism. That’s what the publication had said. No magnetism. She pushes her face underwater and wonders where her magnetism has gone. Maybe it drifted down a street drain after falling out of her pocket. Or perhaps she’d left it on a tram or donated it to a more charismatic writer. Or maybe she was just shit. Maggie rolls back the door and snips her girlfriend’s string of negative thoughts.
“You’re bathing again?” She asks.
“Yeah, well. I felt dirty.” Anna defends herself.
Maggie throws her hands in the air. She unclips her sterling silver dangly earrings and leaves them on the basin. Maggie wipes off Tuesday’s face. A line of red lips and two swabs of black eyeliner stick to the threadbare mint green washer. She pulls her tracksuit pants off the hook on the back of the bathroom door and whips them on under her long white linen dress. Suddenly she is transformed into her pyjamas.
“How do you look good in tracksuit?” Anna grunts.
“I’m a queeeeeeeeen.” Maggie glides outside the bathroom and Anna is left to wrinkle alone.
Between dark violet linen bed sheets Anna brushes her hair with her fingers.
“I’m sorry for how mad I was the other day. You know, when you were in the coffin.” Maggie twists around her partner becoming a thief of second hand warmth.
“Oh nah, it’s cool. It is a bizarre thing.”
“Anna, thank you for saying this. It is.” A brush paints Maggie’s face with relief.
“Yeah.” Anna pauses. “But I’m still going to do it. I’m still going to host my own funeral.”
Maggie rolls onto her back and slaps her hand on her face.
“Why not just see a psychologist and then lie about it like normal people?”
The women’s bodies tense on opposite sides of the bed. In this instance, the mattress feels vast and cold as though the Sahara desert at night.
“I’m feeling like my life is a waste.” Anna’s sentence hangs in the air, drifting downward with its weight.
“Yeah but that is completely up to you whether it is or not.”
A hiss of wind enters through the crack in the window frame and gifts the bedroom with a slight breeze.
“I wish there was a war just so I could join and at least then my life would count towards a number in the army.”
“Bloody hell.” Maggie mutters.
As the navy blue night pushes itself over the house, Anna releases her existential ridden thoughts in a whirlwind of words. She eludes of loneliness in a sense that Maggie couldn’t understand. Just before midnight, Maggie gives way to her girlfriend’s delusion.
The feeling of business allowed a fullness to ripple into Anna’s self esteem. She’s started a pinterest board for her funeral design. Her latest searches included DIY funerals, hipster funerals and cool funeral outfits. This mornings outing to Spotlight was deemed successful, bags of plastic white and pink roses piled in the lounge. She’s also bought wooden letters that were to spell ‘RIP Anna’. The funeral planning is a ludicrous albeit profitable distraction of the vastness of her days.
The upstairs office swings high above the reception hall and looks down on grieving widows and wealthy-only-by-inheritance grandkids. Today, Anna watches as people she used to know enter in dribbles.
“Only a bunch of people from my free yoga in the park meetup are here. It’s like they scheduled their next meetup as my funeral.” She wipes down the creases in her silk crimson dress.
Maggie has helped her get that dead makeup look but said that was the limit to which her help extended. Maggie looks up from smudging her eyeliner to affect the look of sadness. Her curiosity grows, glancing down at a man in the crowd. She points to the thick suited man and frowns. Anna is looking now too. A heat raids her body. Anna’s father had only given her his dark features, a large foreboding eyebrow and a cricket set for Christmas 1998. Other than that, it was a lifetime without his presence. She shook her head in disbelief.
The funeral is an artfully decorated service. Champagne coloured bunting threads across the ceiling and golden fairy lights flood the backdrop to a dark wooden casket. Plastic floral arrangements adorn red fabric chairs. In memoriam pamphlets are embellished with cursive. ‘It’s my life’ by Jon Bon Jovi crackles from the old speakers. In the crowd of not many, the celebrant begins to read Anna’s first published poem.
How life dances,
Sullen but onwards,
Desperation reaches a pinnacle,
Only to crush,
For no reason – none.
The poem is a muffle from inside the coffin but loud enough for Anna to nod at the approval of her work. She can hear shuffling, an individual sobbing as they reach the stand. It’s her Mother. She blabbers something incomprehensible with long drawn out sighs and extended moans. She rattles with every desperate gripe. Too young, she was taken too young my baby. The supposedly dead daughter plays with a loose thread from the lining in the coffin. Her Mother’s tears subside as her tree trunk legs thud her back to her seat. Next is her teenage half brother whose deliberately masculine intonation echoes inside her tomb. He huffs, pauses then says something about how she’d helped him with the printer once. Maggie pretends to be too devastated to release a single word in front of this ‘hostage crowd’ as she put so accurately. A morose piano chord strikes and with that bursting wails from her Mother’s fat lips. James Blunt’s ‘Goodbye My Lover’ vibrates in the hall. With every beat, a photo of Anna fades open onto the screen before transitioning with a star effect. A series of blurry pixilated shots documenting a short lived life. Pictures of Anna were rare. Somberness had pressed against her soul when she was making the photographic montage. Perhaps she was mourning time lost, time wasted. Time that the rest of the world appeared to drink with endless passion. The song lapses to an end. The celebrant takes her place in front of the audience again, stretching out her speech to bill for two hours instead of the agreed one. Gary the funeral director emerges from the shadowed corner akin the gait an undertaker would creep. Though his jolly temperament contrasts with the walls that contain him. He puts on a voice like a presenter from Smooth FM.
“And what a lovely service that was. Anna will always be in your hearts and that’s what you must take away.”
Anna starts to squirm. A heat of eczema throbs on her arms. She starts to itch furiously. Anger swells inside her, a monsoon of fret and distress. Above the soreness of loneliness, she feels betrayed by the concept of fulfillment. Anna kicks the lid from her coffin and heaves herself standing into the room. Faces are mortified. Her Aunt surges vomit. Yogis from meetup shriek. Her Father is bewildered and her Mother’s air shoves from her mouth as she falls to her seat. Maggie covers her eyes. People screech and wobble and scream. Anna doesn’t even flick a look of remorse, instead she is completely bitter.
“Yeah so I’m not fucking dead. Get over it.” She husks.
“Why do this?” Snot cannonballs from her Mother’s nose.
“To make a point.”
“It’s a pretty bloody bleak way of doing it.” An Uncle or someone from meetup squawks.
“Shut up,” she bleats a brutal reply. “I never saw any of you when I was alive. Look, what the fuck is Rachel Briggs doing here? Fuck off Rachel. We were never friends in the physical world, I’m definitely not going to look you up in the afterlife mate.” Rachel looks down at her feet specifically thinking of the time she’d cut a bald patch into Anna’s head in front of the art class.
“Dave you’re disgusting. We never liked each other. Don’t be polite. You fucking touched my tits in your office and then fired me when I reported you. Second cousin Paula, I’ve literally only ever seen photos of you at Disneyland. It looked like you had a nice time. Good for you. Wish I had gone to Disneyland.”
Empty seats outweigh people. She wishes in this moment to not have paid for chairs and instead made people stand so it wouldn’t be such a visual insult.
“What is worse do you reckon? To be alive and non-existent or to be dead? You don’t spend time with me but you mourn me?” Anna’s eyes leak tears and she shrivels, falling to the floor.
People murmur if they are brave. Maggie rushes to her resurrected girlfriend and coddles her in embrace.
“Ahhh people, people, what a surprise. How fortunate you all are! Wish that happened at my Dad’s funeral. Please help yourself to complimentary light refreshments in the foyer.” The funeral director’s voice is silky as creamy milk from a cow’s udder.
“No!” Anna yells. “Don’t any of you fucking drink it.” She sobs, then corrects her sentence. “Only Mum is allowed a drink.”
As the hall empties, after Gary packs away the judgmental chairs, the two women hold each other.
The air is frosty and crisp bestowing freshness to Anna’s face. To gaze upwards is to see a clear sky of dark blue and glittering spots of light. Trees become silhouettes to the sky, their spines becoming part of that midnight blue. Anna walks through the park trying to house a still nothingness in her head. A mindfulness technique she’d been committed to mastering lately. She nurtures blackness, coolness in her mind. Any splotch of everyday life that tries to stain her thoughts was to be engulfed by this forever darkness. All the self-torture and self-pity was to be snapped up in the shadows. She traipses along feeling if just for a moment, a glint of contentment. Lightness pours down her lungs while she inhales the wintry landscape. As she experiences for the first time, the ability to sit quietly with herself, she accidently steps into oncoming traffic and a truck going twenty kilometers past the speed limit kills her instantly.
Caitlin Farrugia is a writer, producer and teacher from Melbourne, Australia. Her pieces reflect ideas of human connection, feminism and child wellbeing. You can follow her at caitlinfarrugia.com or @ohuniverse.