The 'FUN' in Funeral
A LONG TIME AGO, I USED TO CARE ABOUT THINGS. Things like people, my bank balance, the latest music sensations, or the way that guy at the bus stop smiled at me causing my lips to protest in indifference. I guess there are others like me, people who have simply stopped caring. After all, the momentous effort required to care can take its toll over time on even the most giving of hearts.
But, perhaps, it is more a case of reciprocation. Cold, harsh, unwavering humans are all I've ever really known. From my distant part-time dad, who only turns up at the odd Christmas with his shy sheepdog Reginald in tow, to collect his poorly wrapped gift leaving in a drunken stupor before the Queen's speech. To my indigent, inhuman work colleagues who sit glued to their computer screens, flinching at the slightest of motions in silent pray hoping nobody will disturb them from the promising glow of the virtual realities in which they so comfortably dwell.
Really, I shouldn't antagonise myself with such thoughts when showering. But, something about warm water parading on my head makes me analyse the plight of existence with dire sentiment and ridicule. Maybe some shampoo will help wash away the latest grim narcissistic loathing?
My small shower-come-bathtub is a tight squeeze and the enamel bathtub could use a good scrub or entire upgrade, if I could afford it. I web out my wet feet allowing water to carelessly seep between the toes. Lathering shampoo into my long hair seems to momentarily amend my mood as I try to forget the long day I've just endured. I tilt my head underneath the hanging showerhead, allowing water to send waves of soapy bubbles all over me.
After a few minutes, I turn off the shower and swing out the screen door turning on the heel of my foot to exit, but suddenly my legs give way and I'm flying through the air…
Everything slows down, even my heartbeat which impedes inside my chest, although time is indeed ticking away at momentous speed. My body stumbles as I slip against the warm soapy water, trying to catch myself futilely. I feel myself clench, awaiting the impact of this hazardous plummet.
My initial shock is then replaced by reflex and deep rooted survival instinct, which finally stirs awake in bleak realisation. Desperately, I try to grab at something… anything… but all I have is wet tiles to my right and a shower screen to the left just inches out of reach. Slipping and sliding in comical yet grievous fashion, my body gives way completely, sliding out from gravity's hold in one swift move and I drift in the air a moment.
Facing the drab ceiling, I fall closer to the hard surface below, a short cry escaping my quivering lips. A small part of me wonders whether I 'care' enough to save myself from this misadventure, but that is just me trying to deter from the sheer stupidity of the situation.
The first thing that hits the grubby white bathtub is the back of my head. It makes a loud crack sound, before my shoulders and back both take a painful whack, seizing up in anguish. Finally, my floating legs hurtle down bending awkwardly, resembling a discarded ragdoll, with one leg draped halfway out the tub.
It's a most unflattering position and the indignity makes me wilt in horror. My light brown hair is turning a dark sticky red as blood trails from it in abundance, washing away down into the plughole. My grey eyes are still open in fright, but motionless as if painted on a statue.
I step back, staring at my corpse as it lay indignantly in the blooded bath, shaking my head in utter denial.
"I can't be dead," I whisper to myself. "Not like this..." I choke.
"Hello, Miss…?" The voice behind startles me. Not because there's somebody in my bathroom, or the fact that I'm dead but still stood here gawping at my dead body, but because the voice is deep and soothing, like a skilled storyteller reciting Shakespeare with passion and graceful beauty.
I slowly turn on my feet to face him. A dark figure stands before me. A strange black material is contorted around his tall slender body, almost in a mummified fashion. He is holding an elongated wooden staff with a long curved blade at the end. I can't see his face because it's hidden under a dark pointed hood through which he just looks at me in absolute calm.
I want to scream, just because it feels like the natural reaction to this type of situation, but I can't. Instead I mumble, "Hello?" and step back towards my dead body lounging behind me in the bathtub.
"Miss? What was it?" He asks again politely.
I can't seem to work my mouth in that normal up and down motion I usually do. His hood is looking at me patiently and I have a strange sense that underneath it he's smiling at me.
"Er, Greaves," I reply finally and add, "Am I dead?"
He slowly nods and his scythe motions towards the bathtub and I turn my head to look once more at my lifeless body.
"Ah…" is all I can think to say.
"Dumb question," he notes.
My face flashes with anger.
"Sorry," he adds quickly and shuffles slightly as if embarrassed.
I realise I'm still scowling and drop to my normal indifferent expression.
"So, shall we get going, Miss Greaves?" He asks pleasantly, as though this is extremely common.
A wall to the right opens into a door-sized hole which is glowing white. I wonder if this is the part where I should 'stay away from the light', but glancing back at my lifeless body I can see there's no hope of revival. But still, I hesitate.
"Um, where are we going?" I ask uneasily, in a childlike manner.
"Follow me and we'll find out?" he says shrugging.
"Um, what about my… um…" My head motions behind me, to my unsophisticated fallen corpse.
He shakes his head as if chuckling, and then simply says, "It's amusing how you humans are so attached to your vessels."
His words echo around me, but I go on determined. "Can't you at least, you know… cover it with something… please?" The image of my body, lying there in all its humiliation, is disturbingly fresh in my mind.
He seems to be thinking with his head resting against his scythe. The worn brown wood is beautifully carved in circles, like the inside of tree trunks. He then walks over and picks up my purple bath towel and places it over my body, moving my dead hand to grip it, as if I had clutched at it in my last hurrah.
"There," he notes.
He's stands beside me. I can sense his eyes on me, although I can't see his face. I smile, to thank him, and then stare in awe at the white hole in front of us. It's glowing slightly, like a train tunnel with luminous strobes beckoning you closer. There's nothing particularly frightful about it and I don't feel anxiety or dread – if anything curiosity is begging me to edge towards it. But physically I can't yet find the strength to move.
The robed figure offers me his hand. I can't see the hand itself because it's wrapped in layers of black material, but I take ahold of it quickly. It feels comforting so I grasp it tightly and place it against my chest.
He just stands there unmoved, silently and contently waiting.
I look down and see myself dressed in a long white satin gown.
"Did you do this?" I ask, amazed.
He shakes his head and says, "That was you."
"But… how?" I whisper.
"This is simply your true self, Miss Greaves," he answers strangely.
I look at the long bathroom mirror hanging over the sink. It's steamed up but there's a small clear circle where the condensation has faded away. I look at the reflection and see myself looking remarkably beautiful. My crooked teeth are no longer misshaped, my hair has soft brown curls waving down past my shoulders, my complexion is clear and the stress-lines on my 30-year-old forehead seem to have all but disappeared. I had expected to see blood gushing down my head, looking ghostly transparent. But somehow, this improved and polished version of me just feels right.
"H-h-how?" I stutter, touching the side of my face in disbelief.
"Does it matter?" he asks, his voice beautifully soft and crisp in my ears.
I drop my arms to my sides in acceptance, but still hold his hand in my own securely.
"I'm ready," I say, tearing myself from the mirror.
Together we walk through the white hole as if disappearing into a cloud...