Sunday, May 13

Here For The Pistachios

MY COUSIN’S FUNERAL WAS beautiful. It was a beautiful funeral. If it had been my funeral I would have been very proud. Wherever I was I would see all the people gathered around my grave as I was lowered in and thought, “What a beautiful funeral. Everyone must be so proud of me.” The burial took place in early January and it had been snowing. Everyone grazed towards the empty hole and stood around it. I wanted to snap a photograph but I didn’t have my camera on me. “What the hell is Lawrence doing taking a photograph of us?” they’d ask each other. Black coats were done up to the top button to keep out the hissing wind. I had my hands in my pocket and an umbrella hooked over my right wrist. My parents were beside me and my dead cousin’s parents were on the opposite side of the grave. His mum was sobbing. This bleak white tissue was held against her cheek and she howled once or twice. It wasn’t nice to look at. His father was a tall silent man who stood with his head bowed. It was my first funeral.
The snow was what made it beautiful. There was no doubt about that. It preserved the body, too, I imagine. But, o, the ground was white and the coats were black and the women wore deep red lipstick and nail varnish. The red was the colour of velvet theatre seats.
We all walked away from the body, which hung precariously over the open grave, and back to our cars. When I threw my cigarette butt on the floor a hand came from nowhere and slapped the back of my head. Who did that? I asked but no one answered. My auntie Natalie approached me to make small talk.
“Where’s Cynthia, Lawrence?”
“She had to work today. She’s very sorry. She’d have loved to be here.” I realised that saying someone would have loved to attend a funeral was a bit weird so I apologised and got into my car. The truth was that Cynthia and I had ended long ago. I didn’t care to be reminded of it.
The drive to my auntie’s house was long and quiet. No one said a word. My mum kept saying, “Poor George. Poor, poor George.” My dad was fixated with the road. This “poor George” business seemed to be some revised version of the Rosary my mum was saying. She was still repeating it when we got to the house. “Poor George. So young. Poor George.”
We got out and I said hello to our relations. Having a sorrowful look on my face was becoming arduous. The house was on a busy road and there weren’t many places to park. Sometimes a stiff breeze would skim the snow off the branches of trees causing it to descend in heavy clumps that slapped the pavement. “Poor snow,” I muttered under my breath. “Poor, poor snow.”
My good mood was beginning to make me feel slightly guilty. I tried to ignore it. I tried to get into a state of mind that, at any other time, would come naturally to me but that day was impossible to even imitate. I was just too jolly.
More people began to arrive as we walked up the drive. “Good afternoon, Lawrence.” “Hello Iris.” “Hello Ron.” “How’s it going, Nan?” There seemed to be more people than necessary at this wake. It was a Saturday. Don’t these people have plans? My aunt stood at the door, welcoming everybody with a kiss and directions to the toilet and refreshments. Will there be wine? My cousin was never much of a drinker.
“I’m sorry, Michelle.”
“Thank you, Larry.”
We hugged. She insisted on calling me Larry. I stopped being called Larry seven years ago. Any other time I would correct her. What’s the point? Her kid’s dead.
Conversations were probably taking place in the living room but couldn’t be heard beyond a subtle slapping of lips. The predominant sound was the sound of the women in the kitchen telling each other to plate up food. The sound of tinfoil removed from plates. The clatter of crockery. It was all very exciting. I had been hungry for a few hours now. Perhaps nothing stirs the stomach more than the presence of a dead body; I would wait for the plates to be revealed.
On the coffee table a miniature shrine had been set up to honour my cousin. It wasn’t as beautiful as the funeral, it wasn’t as holy as Graceland. It was just so. There was a school photo of my cousin. He had avoided acne—the lucky bastard. Then I thought on a bit more and added to myself, Swings and roundabouts.
Why couldn’t I get in the mood? There must be some great anniversary that I have only remembered in my subconscious. I ran through a list of birthdays and deaths of my favourite writers and musicians. Perhaps that was it, a great writer had been born this very day one-hundred-and-fifty years ago and my spirit was simply bursting inside of me. No, not it. Bloomsday? No, that was the sixteenth of June. Well, I suppose every now and then you’re granted one day of inexplicable happiness. How terrible, though, that mine should fall on my cousin’s funeral. I stared at the school photo of him. He always smiled well. Big shiny smile. Big shiny smile with perfectly aligned teeth. He had dulled towards the end. He wasn’t as fun to be around. As children we had lots of fun and even as a young teenager he would dress up and play guitar for everyone. “I wrote this for the troops in Vietnam,” he’d say and then strum out some comic version of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. In his final years—I use the word “final” grudgingly—he wasn’t such fun to be around. Our conversation was always phatic. I wonder if he’s up there now, on the roof with all the apostles. What’s the difference between apostles and disciples?
My mind was playful. I couldn’t stop it.
The food was brought out and various plates were placed quietly on pretty much every flat surface in the room. People—still arriving—gradually migrated towards the produce.
“Larry, help yourself to the food,” George’s brother said to me.
“You what?”
“My name is Lawrence, not Larry. I haven’t been Larry since I was fifteen.”
“O fuck off,” he whispered.
Swine, I thought. If this were any other place I’d probably try and wrestle him; the last thing anybody needs is a pair of fighting boys falling into the shrine of a dead person.
I picked at some pistachios. They were very lovely. I could eat the whole bowl. I called my dad over.
“Dad! Try these pistachios. They’re delicious.”
He had one and then another. He ate them very unenthusiastically.
“Good, right? Bigger than normal.”
He walked off.
I decided to take the bowl of pistachios and sit down. I sat down alone and looked around. There was a black woman who I’d never seen before. Perhaps a friend of my auntie’s here for the food. She was elegant and classy. She had this black coat on and a fur pelt hanging over her shoulder. She looked like someone from an American commercial.
Ah, my cousin’s ex-girlfriend! I hadn’t seen her in some time. They’d been together for a few years. Must have split up six months ago. I thought about going and saying hello. She was apparently a model or had, at least, done some modelling work. She wore a black dress, short satin black jacket and this hat with a black veil. She thought she was Jackie Kennedy. I suddenly despised her. Nevertheless, I stood up and walked over, without the pistachios.
“Hello Gloria.”
“Hello Larry.”
I winced.
“I’m sorry about your loss,” she said.
“Yes, very sad. Poor George. Poor, poor George.”
She nodded solemnly, as is the fashion at funerals, and sipped her white wine. She looked absolutely arresting lifting the glass to her lips. If only I had my camera!
There was a lot of silence between us. I couldn’t really talk to pretty young women. I could think of nothing to say. I suppose I always thought of them as stupid. “When did you speak to him last?”
“Shortly after we broke up.”
“I’m sorry.” There wasn’t a man in the universe who could explain why I was apologising to her. It made no sense. But perhaps it did to her, perhaps she thought she deserved an apology, because she nodded once more and sipped her drink. She was starting to resemble a nodding dog. I remembered the pistachios. Why hadn’t I taken them with me?
“Food’s good!”
“Yes, Michelle has done a lovely job.”
If I’d had any sense I would have stayed on the sofa with my nuts.
“Did you drive here?”
“Yes,” she said, sipping again.
“You have to be careful in this snow. The roads are deadly!” I coughed on my words. What a fool! A couple of people looked around at the pair of us.
“I’m going for a cigarette. Excuse me.” I said, ready to make my exit.
“O, I’ll come with you,” she said. I thought I might take the pistachios with me. They were still where I’d left them on the sofa.

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