It was a difficult sell. “I want my funeral now.” He said it matter-of-factly, like he was ordering food, his bony chest rising and falling perceptibly beneath his starched shirt. “I want my funeral before I’m dead.” My mother, his daughter, sighed and, placing her cup down in its saucer, told him exactly how unpleasant that idea was. He smiled, like he had scored a point of some sort.
“This is the biggest party I’ll ever have. And I won’t be there to see it. What’s the point in that? Why trouble everybody with my stinking body laying in a casket? Is that what you want?”
He has always got his way. Nothing eludes him. Nothing has ever just “gone wrong” for him. He has a devil’s luck. He has two gold teeth and wears a three-piece suit and a fob watch every single day. He is authoritarian and stubborn. I think my mother knew, at that moment, that he had won.
The funeral was heaving with his old friends, even past lovers. A trio of dignified looking women in fetching black dresses, clasping orchids to their stomachs. Everybody was wearing black. Even my grandfather. Sickly, he had had his coffin used as a drink cabinet. I pulled a bottle of beer uncomfortably from the satin. It clunked against the wood.
“You watch that coffin, lad,” he said, laughing desperately, his eyes strangely milky beneath the lights.
“Big turnout,” I said. He grinned, his gold teeth flashing like brilliant suns.
At the midpoint of the funeral he stood on the podium, one hand resting on the flower-decked coffin, and gave a rousing and witty speech. He amused us with inappropriate jokes. He slapped his hand against the coffin for emphasis. He settled scores.
After he was done we carried on, pretending that this was somehow all reasonable and not in any sense of the word unusual. After a time I lost sight of my grandfather. Nobody had seen him, as if really he were dead, and his speech had been that of a ghost, a memory, an imagination.
I found him in the echoing, bare corridor behind the podium. He was seated on a metal folding chair, his tie unclasped around his neck, falling around his thin and wrinkled neck. I stood above him. He seemed terribly small then, and vulnerable.
“You know, I’m actually afraid to die,” he said. He didn’t laugh. He sighed instead, the breath coming from his chest only weakly. He had the look of a dead body simply going through the motions of life.
He stood and, placing his hand on my shoulder, winked. His eyes were clear again, and youthful.
“I won’t be able to crawl in that coffin until the drink is gone, lad” he said, flashing his teeth in a sudden smile. “Come have a beer with your granddad, so he can die.”
Owen Vince is a poet, writer, and sometimes games critic. He lives in Wales. On his street, there’s a man who has cut a hole in his curtains so he can look outside without opening them. It’s level with his head when he’s sitting on his chair.
Lead image: “DSC_0030” (via Flickr user ahlea)