Stage set: Podium downstage center, chair slightly to the left. Glass of water on the podium. Inside the podium one might find a bottle of Japanese whiskey and a glass, but the audience can’t see that, so for the time being the bottle is an imaginary bottle, the glass, an imaginary glass. Small table to the right—on it, a wooden box, big enough to hold the cremated ashes of an average-sized person.
She enters from one side or the other carrying a slim sheaf of papers. She may be wrapped in a sheet like a shroud or dressed in mourner’s black, including hat and veil. Either way, she wears the most ridiculous possible shoes. This is open to interpretation.
After pausing to lay her hand on the box, she arrives at the podium, taps her sheaf of papers square and sets them down. If she wears the shroud, she’ll make small adjustments to assure it is secure, then take a sip of water. If she opts for mourner’s black, she should lift her veil to take a sip of water then remove her hat entirely and set it on the chair.
Good afternoon, evening, morning.
A pleasure and a privilege. To be here. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here. I am so pleased, as pleased as one could decently be. Decently.
The imaginary girl resembled a Greek myth, rejected the dominant paradigm, had bigger fish to fry.
We come together disconnected, awkward, wide spaces between filled by the desire to honor a life, to express love and admiration—we come not to bury but to praise. Well, also to bury, given the inescapable fact of a box of ashes, a box of ashes we’ll cover with handfuls of rich, brown, Midwestern dirt and walk away from with varying degrees of coordination given the weight of grief and whiskey each may carry—so we can praise and also bury, and perhaps damn, a little, with a sense of humor. All damning must be done with a sense of humor—this is a rule. Any humorless damning must be done in the privacy of your own homes out of consideration for those of us who don’t really care enough to damn. To be angry. To be angry at being left behind with the body-shaped emptiness that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to fill with things not the same shape—with things like sleep, and alcohol, and shopping, and therapy, and the rending of clothes and the tearing of hair, and other bodies. Our inevitable failure does not mean our suffering is infinite.
This is a lie. All suffering is infinite.
But first and foremost, we commemorate the deceased. Please stick to the program. Those who cannot stick to the program will be taken outside and shot.
(Finishes off the water.)
The imaginary girl preferred pink lipstick, was immune to nostalgia, performed minor brain surgery upon request.
It is reasonable to assume that I, at some point, brushed realities with the deceased, that we collided in a single juncture of space and time. Or a similar space at a similar time, close enough that one of us would have seen, if we looked, the back of the other’s head as she disappeared into the crowd. Possible. Even probable. The physics work.
According to the First Law of Thermodynamics this entire exercise is without function. Conservation of Energy. Of course. Given a closed system energy can change from one form to another, but never becomes nothing. Death is transformation. Prettier to say, perhaps, “Love doesn’t die,” but the deceased didn’t believe in love. She believed in physics. So be respectful.
The imaginary girl perpetually involved herself in theological disputation, spit on the existence of god, was waiting for a train.
(Produces bottle of whiskey, fills glass, drinks.)
Amusing story. I gather this is required—to make us laugh, a bit sadly, at the charming and only somewhat annoying personality quirks that defined the dearly beloved as our…dearly beloved. Therapy is amusing. At least, she considered therapy amusing—maybe due to the entertaining nature of passing off lies as truth—but not always, as the most sensible place to hide the truth, the one she’d never tell but kept tucked in the bottom of her boot like an emergency twenty-dollar bill, is behind a truth, and on this particular day—I’m telling a story, remember, about a particular day, an amusing story—she was telling a truth. Ranting, as was her inclination, about idiots and their idiot problems: “My husband is having an affair with my mother my son is dropping out of college to be a hairdresser I’ll never be a prima ballerina or a theoretical physicist I drink too much I hate doing yoga my ass qualifies for its own zip code…” and how they’d rather whine and lament than, as they say in therapy, “do the work.” She was a great fixer of other people’s problems, our dearly beloved. The therapist made a note on her little clipboard with a chewed blue pen and said, “You know, when God was handing out compassion you must have been standing in the alley by the dumpster taking a smoke break.” To which the not-yet-but-soon-to-be-deceased responded, leaning forward on the couch, elbows on knees, doubtlessly wanting a cigarette because moments she did not want a cigarette were few and far between: “So that needs to be fixed?” The therapist squinted through psychic cigarette smoke. “No,” she said. “I suppose not.”
The accuracy of this assertion is up for debate. Please submit any statements on the topic, in triplicate, by the end of the service, at which time we will retire to the bar for a heated but pointless debate fueled by shots of Bushmills.
(Laughs, finishes drink. Pours another.)
The imaginary girl coddled obsessions, peddled unscrupulous lies, grew spare limbs at will.
Memory is awkward, calling comfortable truths into uncomfortable question—not only what the truth of a truth might be, but also what truth itself might be. If I remember her as a struck match guttering in a high wind, that is the truth of it—she burned and flickered and almost went out, then burned again, higher and brighter, until one last gust put her out for good.
There might have been a day, or a month, or a decade, when she might be seen swing dancing in the street to the Glen Miller in her head, or weeping solitary into a vodka martini on the last stool at the end of the bar, or sitting on the floor during story time in the children’s section of the public library reciting, “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…” along with the librarian, or floating three inches above the ground in a coffee shop with a chai latte in her left hand and a crucifix in her right—but we may only remember one of those. We may remember none. We may remember she always won at Scrabble and meant it when she said, “I promise,” and spun red silk stories like a spider. We may remember her struggling to tell the truth, to spend the twenty in the bottom of her boot. Maybe not. We tend to remember the pretty, the pleasant, the happy. The fact of dying renders the deceased instantly imaginary. Keep that to yourself. I for, one, am not interested in your fictions.
(Slugs down entire drink. Pours another. A little wobbly.)
The imaginary girl looked naked even when clothed, danced on the Sabbath, persisted in changing the color of her eyes.
She didn’t love you. Any of you. She didn’t love you at all. “I love you,” was her kindest lie. When it seemed the proper thing to say she’d say it, motivated by the intellectual understanding that people need to be loved, or at least they need to feel loved. Which is a different thing. And they also need to love. She was well-loved for no reason she could fathom, being unable to fathom love, and assumed that people loved her the way they might love a slightly brain-damaged puppy—with great patience and low expectations. Neglectful and selfish, she vanished for months at a time into her own head, refusing to answer phone calls, or semaphore signals, or cries for help from burning buildings. She preferred not to be obligated—she didn’t concern herself with suffering. Because all suffering is infinite.
The imaginary girl insisted on questioning the veracity of your truth, lost track of time, wore ridiculous shoes.
Perhaps, maybe, she might have loved you, given one or two or ten more moments to breathe. Might have encountered the unlikely soul who didn’t mind always losing at Scrabble, who understood her need for solitude, who was patient with her wobbly comprehension of the truth. Might have stopped lying to her therapist. Might have finally understood that the solidity of physics does not negate the intangibility of emotion. Might have run into the burning building.
(Pours one more drink and knocks it back. Totters away.)
Notwithstanding an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, failed physicist Suzanne Cody prefers to spend her precious writing time concocting BBC Sherlock slash fanfiction. When she can be convinced to do otherwise, she writes poetry, essays, and performance essays, examples of which can be found at Pithead Chapel, Every Pigeon, Crack the Spine, and Gambling the Aisles. She also served as co-editor for the Seneca Review collection We Might As Well Call It the Lyric Essay.