In the gray light of the afternoon, the rain falls lightly through the towering pines as the funeral procession lurches through the woods. A gleaming black Cadillac hearse and its flashing lights is followed by a somber train of Mercedes and BMW vehicles all bearing the orange sign: FUNERAL.
I wait at my turn letting them pass. The traffic behind me backs up as each vehicle with their flashing hazards roll by us off to one of the memorial cemeteries around this area, hidden behind fields and nature preserves. Mausoleums and Columbariums high on hills overlooking both the city and county.
This home is hidden within walls of glass, where through these portals walls of unfinished wood and expanses of marble extend throughout the large open floorplan. Standing before the glass outside the cube façade of the home, a wing of the house extends into the dark woods where faintly I can see a large brick colonial house set deep into the foliage and beyond that the road where still some cars using their flashers slowly creep by in a continuation of the funeral procession.
A small camera and chrome button rise on a burnished bronze pike from the gleaming white marble steps. I wave at the camera. The van sits on the black, rain-slicked drive just a few large steps down. I wait, holding my tool bag before the large glass double doors into the home, checking out the bare white walls in the dim light of the dark atrium inside, the home is like a vitrine, a domicile for preservation. A sleek bench is inside and above it is a large circular mirror, across from that a glass table is set with freshly arranged white hyacinth in minimal wide glass vases. Beyond this is, the kitchen gleams white light with recessed blue lights lining the places the walls and ceiling meet. I ring the bell again and peer inside the home. It is so easy to observe the living space from outside. There is no privacy and once you peer in your reflection is trapped between the mirrors and the glass.
The rain slows down, glistening on the manicured landscaping of blue-tinted juniper.
I check my phone and see no one has called.
I ring the bell again on the bronze pike and wave at the camera. I pace the marble steps and careful not to mar the cleaned glass peer through my reflection into the house again.
“I told you to use this entrance.” I turn to see a woman standing by a side door to the house.
“Oh sorry.” I say. She talks into her phone and raises a finger for me to wait. “Are you Karen?”
She nods, svelte in a long tight skirt, tall heels, a flowing patterned blouse and thick black Tom Ford glasses, whose frames are larger than her slight pale face.
“I don’t know what they want, I showed them the credenza and they said it wasn’t their style after all. This way.” She doesn’t look at me but brushes her blond hair back with her free hand. “Come on.”
“Sorry.” I say, hoisting the bag to follow her.
“Yeah, I know, I know. Do you have booties or something?” She stops and looks at me.
“Me? Of course.” I fish the blue shoe covers out of my bag and slip them on each foot.
“Who knows, hold on.” Karen looks at her phone and walks in the house. I grab the door and follow her, her voice echoes off of the marble floors and through the high ceilings where modern asymmetrical chandeliers affixed with Edison bulbs guard the expanse. Karen continues into her phone. “The work is a special piece by Sterling, do you know him? No, Hello?”
Trailing her through the home we pass another large mirror. And enter a corridor at the end is a gleaming piece of Marilyn Monroe in diamond dust.
“Russel Young. Yes. I helped them get it. It’s great, with real diamond dust.” The work sits wrapped in tight plastic that obscures its surface. “They have Warhol’s in their other houses. John is a jeweler. Do you know Sterling?” Karen asks again.
“I think so—”
“Oh, hey girl.” Karen grabs a thick tumbler off of the marble counter and continues into her phone. “Yeah vodka, yeah. Diamond filtered.”
“Chance Sterling, I’ve hung his pieces before.”
“What’s that?” She stops and holds the phone away from me screwing up her young face behind the oversized eyewear. “No not you,” she says into the phone.
“Yeah I know the work.” I say slipping on the marble floor in my covered shoes.
“Oh sweetheart. Yeah tonight we’ll get some.”
“Is this the piece?” I ask laying down a blanket next to the piece.
“Hold on,” Karen says and flips something on her device. “Sorry, it’s Agatha, the bitch. Yeah. Yeah. No. You ok?”
I undo the packing tape binding the thick plastic sheeting around the painting.
“Hold on. Yeah. No, why would I do that?” Karen continues her voice echoing into the home. I remove the tape.
“What the hell?” I pull back my bloody finger and hold it out before me making sure to keep the piece supported against the wall. I place my finger in my mouth and suck the iron tinged blood.
“Oh, hey, the painting is coated in diamond glass. Have you hung these before?” Karen shouts at me across the living room and takes a swig from her tumbler. “Oh, I don’t know, I’ll probably check Home Goods on the way home.”
“Yes. Thanks.” I say and walk back to my bag trying to apply pressure to stop the thin red line from spreading down my finger. I fish in my black bag to search for a band-aid from a side pocket but there are none, so I peel off a piece of blue painter’s tape to the source of the cut.
From my bag I pull out a pair of white nylon inspection gloves and slide them over my hands then return to the piece and remove the plastic coating. The surface gleams the fractured gray light of the cloudy day across its busted surface, the diamond dust has congealed into a harmful varnish of spikes and shards set in an abstract pattern.
“You weren’t kidding.” I say to Karen and place the piece on the blanket I placed on the floor earlier.
“Yeah, yeah. You know. Hold on.” Karen pauses lifting her ear up to the air. She stands before a wall length mirror that reflects the lost profile of her hair and blouse. ”Shit, I think they’re home.”
Karen fumbles the phone across the room and into her purse, she swishes the tumbler in the sink. And fixes her hair in a mirror in the kitchen.
“Shit, shit, shit.”
The owners enter the home silently from the garage, the lights softly illuminate their approach toward us almost like the arrival of a deity.
“Karen.” The wife says happily, her heels clacking on the marble tiles as she opens her toned arms to the designer, her multi-beige and black plaid Burberry shawl draped around her neck and over her arms. “We were slowed down by the funeral.”
“Oh, Amber it is so good to see you.” Karen says holding her arms open and lightly embracing the owner. Behind them the husband stands checking his phone behind his Matsuda glasses. His bald head gleams in the newly glowing lights as he flips through the device. “John.”
“Hi, Karen.” He says and smooths his black polo shirt around his rotund chest.
“We were just about to hang the Sterling.” Karen says, her voice in awe. They all turn to me.
“Hi, just about to remove the covering.” I turn to the piece and careful where I place my fingers, I unsecure the plastic coating revealing the gleaming jagged surface.
“Do you want some wine.” Amber says in a soft voice. I turn to make sure she is not offering it to me.
“Of course.” Karen says.
“John—?” Amber begins her face glowing in the vintage lightbulbs.
“Amber, it’s the afternoon.” John says annoyed not looking up from his phone. He runs a hand over his stubble on his head.
“What does that matter. I’ll get it. Just a little Viogniet.” Amber turns and walks toward the spiral staircase into the dark basement, the darkness brightened with each step as every motion sensor lights on.
The back of the Sterling is a series of solid wood crossbars behind a thick wood panel. Using my tape measure I calculate the height for the wall.
“Is this the wall?” I ask Karen, placing some blue tape lightly on the painted white wall.
“What’s that?” Karen asks staring at her phone.
“You sure it goes here?”
“Yeah.” She says, nervously.
Using the tape measure I place another piece of blue painter’s tape up high for the top.
“What do you think of the height?” I ask. Amber comes up the stairs holding a bottle of wine.
“Hmmm,” Karen says holding her phone off to the side. “Can you hold it up?”
“It’s such a beautiful piece.” Amber says handing the bottle to John who rolls his eyes behind the thin wire frames and takes the bottle to the kitchen.
“Yes.” I say and gripping the sides to hoist the piece up away from my body so the pointed surface won’t be near me. I grip the whitewashed wood frame on the bottom. Securing it between the pieces of tape. “How’s this?”
“Oh, how was the Hamptons?” Karen asks Amber. I press the weight of the piece against the wall.
“It’s beautiful.” Amber says. John hands them each a glass.
“Can it go higher?” Karen asks me.
“Do you visit?” John asks handing her a half full glass of wine.
“Oh, just Amagansett, but not this summer.” Karen says taking the glass. John recoils a bit, “A bit higher please.”
I lift the work up feeling its weight in my arms, my face is reflected in the shards of diamonds.
“Where do you vacation?” Karen asks setting down her glass on a side table by the small curved white leather couches. She comes to me, grips the painting and lifts it up an inch.
“Our home is on the water.” John says retreating to his phone. “That is a good height.”
“Good. That’s good.” Karen says. I hold the piece letting my muscles tense with the weight while she adjusts next to me.
“What John doesn’t want to say is that we summer most of the time in Sagaponack, have you been?” Amber inquires, her bright gray eyes seek a recognition of the status of the location. She sips deep from her glass.
“Just driven through,” Karen says reluctantly looking at the piece and into her own reflection.
“Yes, great placement. Such a stunning piece.” Amber says rolling the remaining liquid in the wine glass.
Karen releases the piece and the weight bests me, sliding down the wall and scraping my hands as I try to grab it again. I tell myself to let it fall but I reach out to stop it.
I don’t feel the surface remove my hands, I feel nothing, they are gone in a blur of white gloves, blood and bone. Then it stings. My pressure holds it to the wall where my smear of skin and gore has marred the clean bright pattern of the surface. I let it rest on the tops of my shoes with what is left of my arms.
“I’m sorry I say,” holding the piece against my burning twin stumps. Amber sips from her glass and raises an eye brow. My blood stains the diamonds in streaks marking the painting’s trajectory.
“I’m glad you caught it.” Karen says. Amber laughs.
“Amber.” John says quietly not looking up from his phone. Amber laughs harder, holding her side. I can feel the pain open within the ends of my arms.
“Amber are you ok?” Karen asks. I try and touch my open wounds but my hand is gone, left behind in the surface of the Sterling.
“Amber!” John yells. Amber drops her wine glass fully succumbing to her laughter, her eyes are closed tight. The glass bounces but does not shatter on the white marble floor.
“Can someone help me?” I ask holding my bloody stumps to them. I can feel my hands but they are not there.
Amber falls on the floor holding her belly cackling a horrible sound from her throat.
“I’ll call.” John says annoyed. Tears squeeze from Amber’s eyes.
On my knees on the marble floor I see myself reflected in a mirror on the other side of the room, my hands gone, my forearms sanded down to fine stumps. I can see my bones below the shredded flesh. My blood pools across the white tile floor and the painting gleams in diamond glass and my blood catching far off reflections through the window of the headlights of a yawning funeral procession down through the trees.
Terence Hannum is a visual artist, a musician, and a writer. Based in Baltimore, MD he has performed in the groups Locrian (Relapse Records) and The Holy Circle. His death-metal coming-of-age novella "Beneath the Remains" (Anathemata Editions) was published in 2016 and his body-horror novella "All Internal" (Dynatox Ministries) was published this year, his short fiction has appeared in Terraform, Counterclock, Lamplight, and Turn to Ash. www.terencehannum.com Image: Funeral Symphony (II), Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1903