The sheer volume of flowers at Amé’s sugar daddy’s repast implies a wedding rather than a funeral. I imagine the florists being confused when delivering to the church, arms overflowing with expensive bouquets and fretting, “These are for the funeral? Are you sure?” Everyone is dressed from head-to-toe in an expensive shade of black. Dry clean only black, an unmarked lint-roller highway. A string quartet plays in the ostentatious ballroom. Somber faced staff holds silver trays displaying selection of hors d’oeuvres: snapper crudo, seared steak lettuce cups, shot glasses full of gazpacho. The only thing that remotely resembles a cucumber finger sandwich held together by a toothpick is the widow. Currently, I’m standing in the middle of the ballroom floor with Amé and Joy, who are making good use o their time by casting judgmental aspersions upon everyone around them while simultaneously attempting to discern how best to tastefully Instagram the event.
I’m not exactly sure how Amé found out about Mike’s death, or how she managed to warrant an invitation (let alone three). Mike was a maple syrup tycoon who died of a heart attack, presumably after seeing Amé’s VISA bill. We were sitting disrespectfully close to the front of the funeral, close enough to notice the weeping widow’s scuffed shoes as she was comforted by her two daughters, both of who are older and less attractive than Amé. Two groups of three women itching for a Shakespearean-style turf war. If we were knight pieces on a chessboard we would have been able to knock them out, where we were sitting in church. Up two, over two. In contrast, der Mike, the maple syrup King of the North, is now six down, six across.
Mike was an older, mustachioed gentleman. His hair was all white, with a single bald spot in the middle. Whenever I saw him he was dressed like he was a military captain or a University professor, all brass buttons and navy blue blazers. The term “dapper” came to mind to describe Mike. I only met him twice but I liked him well enough, and now he’s dead and we’re at his funeral.
Amé is sniffling into a handkerchief (linen, embroidered with her initials, a present from Mike), although somehow her eyeliner hasn’t smudged. She still looks like a cabaret dancer. Joy is generously helping herself to some finger food. Refusing to be outdone by the Widow, Amé is wearing so many diamonds she would sink if she attempted to set out to sea. “Mike would have wanted me to look nice,” she sniffled this morning before donning a pair of black stilettos, black stockings attached to a black garter belt, a tight black dress slit practically to the belly button and massive black diamond earrings. “You won’t need plugs after wearing those all night,” I told her. “They look really heavy. They’re going to dag your earlobes all the way down to the floor.” Amé informed me that I was already dragging her earlobes all the way down to the floor with my running negative commentary.
I’m not very interested in what they have to say. The funeral has filled me with an overwhelming melancholy, boredom so monumental I’m humbled. The time that should be taken to reflect on life, death, time, being… hell, even Mike, is being used to discern the carats of a necklace buried deep in a fat lady’s cleavage. There’s no way to know for sure how many diamonds are hiding away in there as they keep surfacing and disappearing, giving it all the illusion of a sparkling wave. Perhaps that was the intention.
In “Being and Time” by Heidegger, he states that one is only living an “authentic” existence if you “accept the ‘they’ as an essential existentiel.” That basically means that you have to accept that everyone outside of you bears no impact whatsoever to your ‘being’ because they won’t share your death. Contemplating existence only in relation to death is the only way to live ‘authentically.’ Sounds cheerful enough, I guess, but then Heidegger goes on to spend the next five hundred or so pages outlining and defining exactly why death is so terrifying in a way that only a German Nazi philosopher could. Although to be honest I’d rather be hanging out with Heidegger than with Amé and Joy right about now, even though that book really fucked me up and Heidegger is the monster who lives under my bed. Don’t think about being. Don’t think about dying. Don’t think about Heidegger. It’s like the whole “don’t think about pink elephants” conundrum, except it’s an existential crisis. How are you supposed to stop thinking about being? I’m always being. Dasein.
At least Heidegger would have something interesting to say. He’d be great to gossip with. I bet Heidegger would be all like, “The only reason Amé and Joy are acting like this is to distract themselves from their own frail mortality, girlfriend.” And I’d be all like, “But isn’t ALL “idle chatter” meant to distract us from our own mortality? Isn’t that what everything we DO fundamentally IS, according to you? I’m not sure. I didn’t really understand your book.” But then again, Heidegger could only speak German (I think), and I can only count to ten in German. So we’d probably need a pair of those pocket translators. I wonder what Heidegger would think about those.
“What do you think, Petra?” Amé asks, sweeping her hair over her shoulder and causing a man gaping at her to walk into a wall.
“About what?” I ask.
Joy sighs, and Amé rolls her eyes to the ceiling with such force I’m shocked we don’t have to rush her to the hospital for pulling a muscle in her eye. I am such a trial to her. “About Mike’s wife, of course,” she hisses.
“What about her?”
“Do you think she’s had any work done?”
“Oh yeah,” I say. “Loads. “Oh yeah,” I say. “Loads. All over her face, probably. A real full on landscape job. And her boobs, too. Absolutely.” This is what condescending sociology professors refer to as “following a social script.”
“So much Botox,” Joy says. The words gush out of her like a blood out of a fresh wound. “Like, her eyes were crying but her eyebrows seemed more surprised than anything else. Hard to look like you’re grieving when you can barely move your mouth. And I bet she had her nose done – those two don’t look anything like her. Or like Mike. Friggin ugly. Bet she doesn’t even care, his life insurance is probably through the roof.”
This sets Amé off in a fresh wave of tears. “I can’t believe he’s just gone,” she says. Of course thinking about how much his wife is about to make is setting her off. What an emotional day.
I nod but disagree. I think Mike’s widow looked plenty sad. You could see it in her flat, empty eyes. It’s a grief that goes beyond what Amé and Joy are thinking about, in my opinion. The poor woman just lost her husband. But then again, I guess that she lost him a long time ago. As soon as he locked eyes with Amé’s tits from across the gym.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I say, guzzling the rest of my champagne. The waiters have been passing it around frantically, like they’re on an assembly line: one behind the bar pops the bottle and pours it into glasses single-handedly, one arm tucked behind his back. Loads up twelve to a tray and the other waiter grabs it and hoists the silver platter high into the air. Repeat.
“Okay,” Amé says, dabbing her eyes.
“We’ll be here,” Joy says in a singsong voice. When shall we three meet again?
“Sure,” I say, and leave.
My Louboutins bitch slap the marble floor with the recoil of a revolver. I can’t handle Amé and Joy’s endless gossip, which seems more plastic and one-dimensional than usual in juxtaposition to the funeral – champagne cartoon speech bubbles taking up space.
I pass pockets of investment banker types, happy-drunk old men with their hands firmly latched onto the silken bottoms of their dates. A platinum blonde with her gel-manicured talons pressed into the tiny, plump wrists of two boys. She’s crouched back on her heels and hissing at them, and they are obviously exerting a lot of effort not to cry. The waiters are calm and focused. Asking me if I want anything and smoothly cutting through the crowd when I refuse, like sharks. Two serious-looking older women whisper to each other in a corner, like a conspiratorial Renaissance painting. A tiny blonde wrapped up in furs like a frail but beautiful savage swaying on her stilettoes. The crowd is shapeless, occasionally pooling into larger groups before couples or trios split off to join others, social dynamics too intricate for me to understand, like a complicated ecosystem.
The line for the bathroom is long. Too long. I have to pee. I stop a waitress like I’m hailing down a cab.
“Sorry,” I say in my best conspiratorial tone. “I’m having some lady issues. Is there, like, a staff bathroom or some other one around here? I’m getting really worried.” I tug on the hem of my dress. “This doesn’t really offer a lot of coverage in case of emergencies, know what I’m saying?” Amé and Joy picked this dress out for me. I was going to wear something, like, you know, respectful, but the only reason they take me out anywhere is because I complete the Bermuda triangle of good looks that we form. Amé was Mike’s arm candy, and we’re sure as hell hers.
“Absolutely,” says the waitress, after sizing me up. She seems to have concluded that I’m different from all the other entitled rich people here. Maybe she can tell I’ve read Heidegger. Maybe she can see it in my eyes. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Maybe she just doesn’t want me to bleed my fictional blood all over the floor. “Follow me.”
I follow her through an entrance I hadn’t even noticed, seemingly materializing out of thin air in my hour of need. “Just at the end of the hall, down the stairs and to your left,” she says, pointing. I thank her and carry on my merry way.
My heels click against the floor in a way that would be ominous if the hallway wasn’t so grand, all marble and high-ceilings. The bathroom itself is lovely, although there are only two stalls. I go into the furthest one, yank up my skirt and pull down my panties. They’re old black granny panties. The only part of my entire ensemble that’s respectful, and no one is even going to see them. The lining is coated in some kind of thick, gooey gel. The kind that girls frequently experience but rarely talk about. I’m mid-stream when I hear the sound of scuttling outside, and some urgent whispers. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
“Get her inside,” someone is saying. “Jesus. We can’t let anyone see her like this. How many drinks has she had?”
“I don’t know,” someone else says. “What am I, her babysitter?”
“Well, maybe if someone had been paying more attention to her than to Alfred Merton we wouldn’t be in this mess, now, would we?”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault?”
It sounds like they’re playing that improv game where you can only answer a question with another question. All of these questions are rhetorical. They’re just distracting themselves from the problem at hand, and, in turn, distracting themselves from the fact of their own deaths that are slowly catching up to them, if Heidegger is to be believed.
“Girls, girls, I’m fine – whoopsie!” The ‘whoopsie’ is accompanied by a chaotic crashing crescendo as someone wipes the fuck out. I see a pair of high-heels and beautiful legs. I stop peeing. I know who those shoes belong to. Fair is foul and foul is fair; hover through the fog and filthy air.
“Is everything okay?” I ask, announcing my presence and slipping my underwear back on. There’s something about confrontations and being pantiless that don’t exactly go hand-in-hand.
Pause. “Is there someone else here?”
“Obviously?” I answer, tentatively. “Do you need any help?”
“No, no, we’re fine.”
I open the door regardless – if only to selfishly make my escape – and run into the widow and her two daughters. The widow has her legs splayed like mangled clock arms, and her daughters are attempting to hoist her up by her wrists, and were it not for the manic Christmas angel smile spread across her face the scene could easily be misinterpreted as an attempt to hide a body. Although in a sense, I guess they kind of are.
“But I don’t want to get up,” the widow moans.
“Mummy,” one of the daughters says, her voice a synthesis of exasperation and concern. “Come on.”
The widow turns her head, like something out of a horror movie, and spots me. “You,” she says. I’m shocked. Me? Why me? I sidestep over her, towards the sink, and jam my hand under the automatic faucet, waiting for it to start. Exit, pursued by a bear. Whoopsie, wrong play.
“Why are you here?” the widow asks. If it were a horror movie, this would be the part where her voice would go all deep and gravelly as she becomes possessed, and although she manages to convey ample dissatisfaction, she still mostly just sounds drunk. “Wasn’t enough that you got to have him all to yourself when he was alive, but now you want to soak up what’s left of him now that he’s dead.” On the word ‘dead’ she lunges for my ankle, misses, and stays in a ball on the floor, crying. Oh fuck, she thinks I’m Amé. Of course. I look to the sisters for help, but the iron expressions on their faces don’t alter as they roll their eyes to the heavens
“Get up,” one of them hisses. This just makes her cry harder.
I kneel down beside her. It bothers me that I don’t even know her name. Amé only ever referred to her as Mike’s wife or her or the old lady. I put a hand on her shoulder. Gingerly, like I’m touching a wild animal. “Listen,” I say. I’m not really sure what I have to say next. What would Heidegger say? After we die there is nothing, to the best of our knowledge. Nothing we do here matters, nothing that happens after matters, we don’t even know what it means to ‘be’ – hundreds of years of philosophy and science and we still have no fucking idea what we’re all doing here. The only reason we know we exist is because we die. Heidegger wasn’t exactly what you’d call a “grief counsellor.”
“Mike loved you very much,” I say. I clear my throat a little. Although her body is old, her eyes still have a pleading childishness. She stares up at me desperately from the bathroom floor. “You two had pledged to spend your entire lives together, till death do you part. And I’m so, so sorry that that time has come.” I stroke her hair. It feels like the right thing to do. “There’s nothing worse than feeling that half of your soul belongs inside of someone else and having that half disappear. It feels like you can never be whole again. Of course people wanted to take Mike from you. They saw that what you had was pure and beautiful and when people see something pure and beautiful they want to tear it down and build a condo there. But the only thing that took Mike away from you was the tragic instability of the human body and our own ontological misunderstanding of what in all of fucktopia we as a species are doing here. And although you can stay on the ground for as long as you’d like to, is uh, is that what Mike would want?”
The widow throws up all over my shoes. I’m so embarrassed, I could have fucking died hereafter.
Hailey Wendling is a recent graduate of Concordia’s English Literature program. Her work has been published across a variety of platforms, including the Feathertale Review and the Danforth Review. She currently lives in London where she is working on a novel.