Baruk’s beckoned me into its realm. Here, death was cheap. Because, outside the gates, life was cheap. Why celebrate a cheap life with an expensive death? We are only people to ourselves and some of the people who know us. To the people who make money from us we are not people. We are dollar signs, hash marks in their ledgers. We are the fabled, lauded, and sometimes dreaded bottom line. No fuller of life than the corpses they put into the ground. If anyone, it’s these people, champions of commerce, who are aware there is no heaven and there is no hell. There are no countries and there are no religions. Unless they can make a buck off it. If they can make a buck off it then they’ll tell you the sky pisses lemonade and your car will make a perfectly satisfying sexual partner.
The inside of Baruk’s contained, as the half-remembered commercial from long ago said, no frills. The markers were little more than laminated paper, held into the ground with wooden stakes. There were no trees. The grass was brown in some places and missing altogether in others. And this was where my mother’s corpse would be spending the rest of its life. At least until some developer came and decided they would pay more than the ground was worth so they could install their McMansion developments or upscale strip mall.
The rain continued to fall from the leaden sky. I finally reached the group of people at the top of the hill panting and out of breath. I looked for my father but I didn’t see him. I almost thought I might have been at the wrong funeral except I noticed my sister from across the grave. Action stood next to her and I was pretty sure he was feeling her up. I made eye contact with her and expected some sort of acknowledgement but didn’t receive anything in the way of a long distance greeting. Maybe she didn’t recognize me because of the beard. Maybe she was too distracted by Action’s groping. Maybe she was out of her head with grief.
I stayed on the outer perimeter. There were more people there than I thought there would be. It was interesting how they were all dressed in very somber clothes but each of them held a brightly colored umbrella. A couple of them were black but most of them were bright green or red or yellow or rainbow striped. I almost wanted to laugh. Yes, a funeral is a very serious occasion but not serious enough to buy a new umbrella for and definitely not serious enough to stand out in the fucking rain without an umbrella. Besides, the deceased wouldn’t want everything to be all doom and gloom, would they? No! They’d want happiness! A party! They would want those left behind to know they had moved on to a better place in a better bargain afterlife!
A minister stood at the head of the grave and read from something that sounded like the newspaper. Behind me, a man was digging in a grave and shouting, “Maria! Maria!” I looked back at him, sternly. He was being rude and disruptive.
He looked up at me and said, “She forgot her pills! If she takes her pills she won’t be so dead!” Now I noticed he was only digging in the dirt with his left hand while using his right fist, undoubtedly filled with pills, to punch at the loose dirt.
I turned back to my mother’s grave, trying to tune out his ravings.
The minister held up his thick book, took a swig from a flask he kept in this thick book. It wasn’t actually a book at all. It was one of those faux books teenagers use to stash their drugs in. He put the flask back in the book and closed it.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “concludes this life of conclusions and something and good night. You’ve been great!” He held the book up and began walking down the other side of the hill, staggering only slightly. Even the minister was had at a deep discount.
I now approached the grave and looked down. It wasn’t very deep. Maybe three or four feet at most. At the bottom was a knotty pine coffin, the kind I imagine prisoners got. I found it impossible to believe my mother was actually in there.
“David,” I heard from behind me.
I turned to see my sister, Cassie, standing next to Action. Action kept smelling his fingers.
“That was a great funeral,” he said somberly. “Really top notch.”
“Do you mind if I have a few words alone with my sister?”
“She’s your...” he began. “I’ll go ahead and apologize for my completely inappropriate behavior then.” Then he walked away. His truck was parked only a couple of graves away. It seemed to be parked right on top of other graves. Since there were no tombstones there weren’t any real obstructions to prevent people from doing this, I guess, although his was the only vehicle in sight. He entered the truck and revved the engine. “You guys need a lift back home!” he shouted.
“No!” I shouted back. “Just piss off!”
He put the truck in gear and sped away, kicking up some grass and dirt as he did so.
“That was rude,” Cassie said.
“You don’t know him. He’ll want to take advantage of you if he does you any sort of favor.”
“Yeah. He felt me up the entire time. I kind of liked it though.”
Cassie held a stylish green and yellow umbrella. She was a model, working in LA, and I hadn’t seen her for many years. She wore a very tight t-shirt that said ‘Bitch’ under a tailored tweed overcoat.
“You lost your shoes.”
“I couldn’t find them.”
“Yeah. Nobody woke me up.”
“So you moved back home, huh?”
“Yeah. How did you know? Have you talked to Dad?”
“No. Mom mentioned something about it a while ago.”
“So who told you about Mom?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you didn’t talk to Dad, then who told you that Mom was dead?”
“No one had to tell me. I knew she was dead. I knew exactly when she died. I thought we all did. It was... what do you call it?”
“That’s right. You always were the smart one.”
“Then why didn’t I know she was going to die?”
“I don’t know. You were probably doing other things. Besides, you always knew I was their favorite.”
“I guess I did. But I was Grandpa’s favorite.”
“And look what happened to him. I think they went with the safer bet.”
“But now Mom’s dead. Maybe Dad’ll change his mind.”
“Aren’t we a little old for these games, David?”
“You’re never too old to be the favorite.”
“Oh God, like he would choose you over me. I’m beautiful, successful. You’re a failure. And that beard looks ridiculous. You look like a little kid playing dress up.”
“Isn’t that what you do, though? Play dress up?”
“And get paid for it. What do you get paid for? You get paid for growing that stupid thing? What are you now, anyway? A writer? Oh wait, no, that was last year, wasn’t it? Maybe, oh, I know, maybe you’re an artist now?”
“I’m an out of work philosopher.”
“That sounds gainful.”
“Why do you always have to be like this?”
“Because I’m better than you.”
“And you’re adopted.”
Cassie’s jaw dropped. “How did you find out? Did you rifle through their papers?”
“I just added it all up. How could two people spawn one person like you and one person like me? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re aware of that.”
“Again, however, it seems like something they might have mentioned to me.”
“Look, you can take all that up with Dad.”
“Have you seen him?”
“No. I already told you that.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.”
“Are you coming back to the house?”
“No. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“Are you upset?”
“Why should I be upset? It’s just death. It happens all the time and, eventually, to everyone.”
“But it’s our mom.”
“Your mom. My adoptive mom. I’ve moved out. I would have only seen her like a few more days even if she’d lived to be a hundred and six.”
“Jesus. How can you be so cold?”
“Practical, David. Not cold. Just practical. If you want to keep entertaining your ridiculous thoughts and sensitivity and all that shit then you can go ahead and live with Dad for the rest of his life and I’ll even let you have the inheritance when he dies just to see how fast you can squander that away and then when you come crawling to me because you’re poor and broke and don’t have a friend in the world I’ll ask you why you came to me and I want you to say this: ‘Because it was the practical thing to do.’ And, don’t worry, I’ll take you in. You can clean my pool or wash my cars or something. But you’ll have to shave the beard. If there’s one thing I draw the line at it’s the help looking like the homeless.”
I wanted to push her into the grave. Why couldn’t it have been her instead of Mom? I focused on a small blemish on her chin and hoped it would blossom and grow into something covering her entire nasty face. Her entire nasty face that was also beautiful and structurally perfect.
At that point, a helicopter landed in the cemetery and she said, “I have to go. See ya, David.”
“I thought you were catching a plane?”
“Yeah, that’s the helicopter that’s going to take me to the plane. Want me to have it drop you off at the house?”
“No thanks,” I said.
She turned to leave, folding her umbrella before climbing into the helicopter.