The Funeral

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Well, I wrote a story about a wedding, so I thought I'd submit one about a funeral to balance things out. I've never married so I'll avoid my funeral for as long as I can. I want my ashes emptied into the septic tank out the back of the shack where I reside.

The Funeral

I received an email informing me that an old family friend had died in Canberra. The funeral was arranged and I briefly considered travelling to the Capital by public transport. However, I faced a dilemma regarding the vagabond residing in the music room. She’d paid a fortnight’s board and was thus entitled to remain until the end of the fortnight, but I was reluctant to leave her home alone, as she has no common sense. She’d probably burn down the house trying to light a fire, or more probably invite her druggie mates around, who’d no doubt steal my books and musical instruments. I would have worried myself stupid, so after much consideration I decided to hire a car and take her with me, as it wouldn’t cost too much more.

The next complication arose when I informed friends and family that I was bringing her along. They didn’t want strangers at the funeral, specifically drug-fucked mad-women. You can’t take her anywhere, I thought. She is barred from both of Coolamon’s hotels; she is afraid of going to the library, as she has significant outstanding fines, so if she isn’t sitting around smoking ganja, she is off visiting her undesirable associates in search of weed, or begging former lovers for money or drugs. “How do people live like this?” I thought.

The funeral was scheduled for Thursday afternoon, so we locked the house and caught the early bus into Wagga Wagga to pick up the hire car. I had neglected to book accommodation, as I imagined it would be easy enough to find somewhere to stay when we arrived at the Capital. I was wrong. It was an uneventful journey, but we arrived in the nation’s Capital eventually. I hadn’t driven for a few years, so I was unaccustomed to city traffic and I’d only driven in Canberra once before. I saw a sign that said Dickson, so I turned left off Northbourne Avenue and pulled into a shopping precinct, hoping to find suitable lodgings nearby.

As it was school holidays there was a scarcity of accommodation – large numbers of sporting youth had inundated the city to play various codes of football, hockey and other manifestations of the national obsession. We drove around aimlessly looking for a room, but they were all booked. I became frustrated and angry, asserting that we should just head back to Wagga Wagga. Bugger the funeral!

“No Poe!” the vagabond exclaimed. I doubt anyone had ever hired a car and driven her to a location as glamorous as the nation’s Capital. She found a row of B and Bs on the map of Canberra I’d purchased in Dickson. They were in Downer, a mere stone’s throw from Dickson, but they were all booked out, until we reached the last one. The owner had a vacant room for two nights, at $100 a night. Perfect, I thought. We took our luggage inside and made ourselves at home. It had a double bed with bedside reading lamps, an en suite and an adjoining room with two single beds. It had a television and an electric kettle. It was luxurious compared to the Coolamon shack. I was quite excited to have escaped the small-town tedium. The vagabond was also pretty happy. We made ourselves tea and coffee and she rolled up some pot she’d acquired for the journey.

She went outside and blew a tiny spliff; I had a couple of small tokes, but it was foolish as I would be driving and they have apparently devised a drug detector swab that law enforcement officers wipe on your tongue, known colloquially as a ‘licky stick’. I didn’t care. We were hungry, so I drove the short distance back to the Dickson shopping complex to find something to eat. It was fantastic! Little Asian restaurants everywhere; but she wanted McDonalds, of course. Well, she is a complete philistine, I suppose. I grabbed a bottle of cheap red wine and she purchased an outrageously expensive four-pack of Bourbon and Coke, or Bogan cocktails as I call them. $20 for less alcohol than a bottle of six-dollar Shiraz. The poor will always be with us, because they are vacuous, reckless and profligate.

We got back and I had a shower. It was so nice to have a decent shower, as the one in the shack was on the blink. I got into my pyjamas and got into the warmth of the electric-blanketed bed to watch television and read A Clockwork Orange which I’d recently borrowed from Wagga Wagga library. She got out of the shower and wrapped in a towel, threw herself onto the bed next to me, but thankfully she later moved into the annex to sleep in one of the single beds, to escape the sound of the television and the brightly lit room. I finished reading the novel and continued watching telly until I nodded off.

The B and B had a kitchen area and I had muesli, toast and tea for breakfast. I’d decided I wanted to visit the National Gallery of Australia that morning, as I hadn’t been there for years. The last time I’d gone was with my sister, Liane and our friends Demitri and Melissa. I got the vagabond into car eventually and we headed to the gallery. It didn’t open until 10 am, so we walked around the sculpture garden and down to the edge of Lake Burley Griffin. I loved Canberra more than ever, as I stared out over the lake. If I had the money I’d move there. It has civilisation and culture, which are sadly lacking in Coolamon and Wagga Wagga.  For all its many faults, Coolamon is at least affordable, which is probably why so many low-life rejects, including myself, reside there.

The doors to the NGA opened and we were amongst the first to spill in. We looked like a couple of Bogans and the staff looked at us nervously and asked us what we wanted to see. We didn’t know, just to look at art, I suppose. We wandered around, occasionally losing one another and then finding ourselves reunited and telling each other what we had seen. She had to see the Drover’s Wife by Drysdale, I told her, but she wasn’t terribly impressed, as it is not a flattering portrait. I caught up with her again in the room with a Brett Whitley painting of Sydney harbour and a Howard Arkley airbrush painting of an archetypal suburban fibro house. Both artists had died of drug overdoses. I’d never seen an Arkley in the flesh before and it overwhelmed me it was so big and beautiful. She thought the Arkley was pretty good too; so much so that she had to touch it.

“Don’t touch the art! You’ll get us kicked out.” You can’t take her anywhere, I thought. I saw some Namitjira water colours that were great. So much great art. I caught up with her again on the top floor. She pointed to the David Hockney landscape painting, A Bigger Grand Canyon, which she loved.

“They bought this for a million dollars and now it’s worth three hundred million.” I’d tried to get a decent look at the Jackson Pollock, Australia’s greatest art acquisition which was hanging nearby, but there was a group of primary school students being lectured to by some teachers explaining the merits of the work.

“No, that’s Blue Poles, the painting over there.”

“That’s shit!” she exclaimed for the benefit of the school children. It is quite an experience going to a major gallery with a complete philistine, I thought. I’ll never go to a gallery with anyone articulate, middle class and tertiary educated again. It would be no fun.

I saw the Andy Warhol Campbell’s soup cans, Colin McCahon’s Victory Over Death 2, the Gilbert and George and the Malevich. I’d forgotten how much I loved art. By eleven O’clock we’d seen enough and left after I purchased a post card of Gough Whitlam pouring sand into the hands of Vincent Lingiari. If I had the money I’d buy one for all the racist, anti-Gough reactionaries in Coolamon; that would cost a lot of money, I thought.

We were getting hungry, so we drove back to Dickson. I wanted to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant and so I ordered a pot of jasmine tea and pho. She tried the wonton soup but claimed she couldn’t eat it and immediately exited the restaurant. What a waste. The pho was really filling and the jasmine tea superb. Sometimes I miss living in a cosmopolitan city, but they are too crowded, too busy and too bourgeois, whereas I am proudly déclassé.

Whilst I’d been enjoying my lunch, the vagabond had been trying to score drugs in the Dickson shopping precinct. How uncool, I thought. Harassing likely looking passers-by to ask them if they could sell her some pot.

“You’ll get us arrested,” I told her.

“But it’s legal here, isn’t it?”

“Not the soliciting of illicit substances and attempted purchase in suburban shopping centres,” but she ignored me. I went into an Asian shop to buy some Chinese tea and chopsticks, then returned to sit in the hire car.

“Quick, Poe. Let’s get out of here,” she demanded and then explained that she’d managed to score some weed, but she owed the dealer another five bucks and thought a quick escape was a better option. How do I get myself into these quandaries? I thought. We returned to the B and B and I prepared for the funeral.

I got to the crematorium very early. Eventually I encountered a formal looking car whose passengers called to me. It was Prue, the partner of the deceased, her daughter Melissa and my sister, Liane. I climbed into the driver’s seat to chat to them which alarmed the driver who was standing nearby talking to someone. He rushed back and I explained that I was a friend of the mourners, not a car-jacker. “Who would steal a hearse?” I wondered.

We lined up and entered; the service was suitably solemn. I should have felt a lot more mournful, as I had always liked Al a lot, but I was preoccupied with my own pathetic predicament. I looked away as the casket sank into the furnace. I want to be buried under a tree in the back yard of the shack near the Cyprus pines, although it’s not strictly legal.

“You can’t do that,” I heard a conformist voice within me nagging. “Wild dogs will unearth your corpse and consume your rotting flesh. What if everyone tried to avoid conventional death rituals? What would happen to the funeral insurance industry?” I hate the conformist voice. I wish it would remain silent.

  •  

A recording of Mozart’s Lacrimosa played in the background, but it cut out before the end. We adjourned to a nearby room for post-funeral refreshments. It was nice to see so many familiar faces, old friends, women I’d slept with and women I’d almost slept with when I was young. I chatted to Demitri and his cousin Jonathon. Demitri became a born-again Christian many years ago, but he is an old friend. I mentioned the mad woman back at the B & B and he seemed to think it was rather kind-hearted of me to tolerate a drug-fucked yokel.

“What would Jesus do?” I asked rhetorically.

“What would Jesus do?” Demitri replied

“Tell her to fuck-off in Aramaic,” I replied, quoting one of my poems.

I should have turned my phone off, as I got a text message from the Madwoman. She was off her head and needed her medication. I didn’t see why she couldn’t get it herself, as she never seems to have trouble acquiring illicit drugs. Jesus, I was pissed off. I had to leave the crematorium to assist a mad woman to whom I owed nothing. She’d blown all her funds on ganga in a Dickson carpark and expected me to purchase her psychotic medication. My sister made a snide remark as I made my premature farewells to those assembled.

“Back to your girlfriend?”

“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s just a mad woman who latched on to me.”

I shouldn’t have left so soon and I certainly shouldn’t have driven while I was so angry, but my judgement was distorted.

“Why the fuck did I bring her?” I wondered. Because she can’t be left alone in the shack with the cat. She can’t be left alone at all. She’s not my responsibility. I should not be liable for the care of a demented stranger. “We are only responsible for what we have tamed,” according to Saint Exupéry in The Little Prince, if I recall correctly. “Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this?”

I got back and we drove to Dickson. I’d have preferred to walk, but she insisted we take the car. She looked terrible. She was strung out and on the verge of a psychotic reaction. I was livid. She’d interrupted an important occasion due to her manic irresponsibility.

“Why didn’t you get them earlier? Why did you blow all your money on pot when you should’ve bought your medication?” But she showed no contrition. She is the most fatuous, selfish person I have ever met. I gave her some cash; she got her medication and I got another cheap bottle of Shiraz. We returned to the B and B and later I walked back to the shops and purchased a superb pizza for our dinner. The wine only heightened my resentment. I berated her until I ran out of insults and finally fell asleep. I didn’t care if I upset her, as I was beyond caring about anything.

The other mourners had planned to go to a restaurant in Dickson that evening, but had neglected to phone me to tell me which one. I was now persona non-grata due to this utterly inconsiderate mad woman. I awoke at four in the morning and packed my things. I thought about leaving her behind, but there is a pale streak of kindness in my soul, unfortunately.

I got into the driver’s seat and she lay down on the backseat to sleep. I was ropable; I continued my rebuke. She’d had enough and finally relented; she was going to move out. She had no money and nowhere to go, but that wasn’t my problem. I was sick of being ripped off.  I’m not a charity, I reminded her. I didn’t owe her anything; I had to get rid of her. My contempt was turning to white-hot rage. Every negative emotion imaginable was taking hold of me; she had to go.

I dropped her at the shack and took the hire-car back to Wagga Wagga, got some money out of an ATM and caught a rare bus back to Coolamon. I gave her one hundred dollars and told her to leave. She rang Charlie Cockhead, who turned up shortly afterwards; they loaded all her useless paraphernalia into his car and departed. I put on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and turned up the volume. Things were definitely looking up, I thought. Even my cat, Tom Tom, looked happy to see her go and even happier when I fed him some mince.

 

 


Submitted: June 09, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Craig Davison. All rights reserved.

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hullabaloo22

I'm going to miss your stories, Craig, and all the characters you've introduced. The art gallery experience brought more than one smile, I've got to say!

Tue, June 9th, 2020 7:19pm

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Yes, well, maybe I'm not finished yet. Delphine rang me from rehab and wants me to visit her in Canberra. Maybe I could hire a car and visit the NGA with her again. What a nightmare she is! Touching a piece of art! Lucky it wasn't Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock.

Tue, June 9th, 2020 5:42pm

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