My daughter once said that peoples’ skulls should be made of glass so everyone could see what each other was thinking.
“People aren’t like pies,” I told her.
Unlike a pie, you can never know what’s truly inside a person, not ever, not even if he slices himself open and shows you his fruit, not even if he says, “Hello, this is my list of ingredients. Please show me yours and then let’s sit quietly and understand each other forever.”
Unlike pies, people don’t like sitting on plates. They don’t like to be eaten alive with forks, even if you put a scoop of ice cream on their heads and tell them they look really good. There are so many ways people aren’t like pies I can’t even count them.
Pies never say one thing and mean another, because pies never say anything at all. Pies are never deceitful, condescending, hypocritical or cruel, because pies are not people.
Pies are so lucky.
If Kris had known he was going to die at age 43, I bet he wouldn’t have been upset about the white hairs on his chest and the ones sprouting from his ears and back.
“Fuck I hate getting old,” he said one night as we drove the kids home from the pool.
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know, just seeing my reflection in the change room. Do you know how much whiter my chest hair is all of a sudden? It happened overnight.”
“Growing older is a privilege.”
“That’s such a horrible platitude. Growing old is entropy and entropy is depressing.”
“I love your white chest hairs. They make you look like a silverback gorilla. And when we get home I’m going to lick all of them.”
I made up a song called Silverback Gorillas Make Mama Drip Like An Ice Cream Cone In The Summer Sun and sang it in a Loretta Lynn voice all the way home. Kris laughed tepidly, but went into the bathroom as soon as we got home and began plucking his back hairs with tweezers, inspecting his ears and trimming the sweet tufts of silver fur creeping out of them. I stood behind and him and watched us both in the mirror. I made a duck face at him, then a monkey face. He swatted me away, so I kissed his shoulder blades.
“I love you,” I said. “When I’m an old bird full of arthritis, will you pluck out all my white pubic hairs for me?”
“Of course I will. With my dentures, baby.”
ISO WIZARD FOR SPACETIME TRAVEL (no pay)
I am seeking an experienced, efficient and principled wizard to assist me in locating a wormhole. Must have experience with quantum jumping and the safe navigation of antimatter worlds. December 4th, 2015 is where I need to go, so the world I’m jumping into needs to be as identical to this one as possible. My objective is to prevent a catastrophe and assume the position of my parallel self while safely and compassionately disposing of her. Remuneration will be in coupons for housework and hugs.
SERIOUS REPLIES ONLY. THANKS.
do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers
This is the Industry of Death:
At the funeral chapel, they offer you water with lemon slices. It tastes like poison because everything tastes like poison now.
They speak to you very softly, like you are a child about to go down for a nap, and they listen to you with their heads slightly tilted to one side to show empathy.
Ushered into a parlour with golden flower wallpaper, you sit at a long, gleaming dining table of dark wood.
It’s a difficult time to make decisions, they tell you, and you think thank god, they understand. But then they give you a stack of papers to sign, which are full of decisions, and then a handful of catalogues of flowers and food menus to look at, also full of decisions. You and your family look at these decision things as if they are written in hieroglyphics.
Another catalogue: pieces of jewelry you can have made from the ashes of your beloved’s body. No, unfortunately you can’t see the body right now, as it’s being embalmed in the basement. But you don’t want to see it anyway, do you. If you see the body, that means the body is real.
“I don’t want to see the body,” you tell them.
“Well, you might change your mind,” they say, “many people find it a great comfort to see their loved ones at rest.”
“Our mortician is excellent,” they say, ” Kristian will look just like he’s sleeping.”
Then they say, “Just keep in mind that he’ll need to be taken off-site for cremation by noon, so unfortunately there are some time constraints if you do want to see him.”
“It’s not him, though,” you whisper.
No darling, of course it’s not me.
“What do you mean you lost the car?”
“Jus’ lost it. Stolen maybe?”
“I don’t understand. Okay, so – wait a minute – so instead of coming home from work where we were all waiting for you to eat dinner, you drove downtown, went to some bar that you don’t remember the name of, got drunk and then went back to where you parked the car and it was gone?”
“Yeah, ‘s gone.”
“Why would you go back to the car if you were drinking?”
“To… check it?”
“What is going on with you? What are you thinking?”
I got the coroner’s report last Friday. It took nine months for her to write two lines of text.
Date: Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 1:02 PM
Subject: ISO WIZARD FOR SPACETIME TRAVEL
I’m a professional wizard emeritus with certificates from all the necessary agencies so you can rest assured in my efficiency and principles. I’ve done my 5000 hours of quantum jumping to be labelled a Master of the Quantum Fields. According to my devices there are multiple “December 4th, 2015s” nearby and safely accessible with only minor discrepancies from the one we experienced here. Before I agree to work with you, I’ll need more details about the nature of the catastrophe we’ll be preventing, please be as specific as possible. I have a strict code of ethics that cannot be broken under any circumstances. Please reply to this e-mail address as I’ve recently had to disconnect all of my phones, for the standard reasons. If you don’t know what those reasons are we probably shouldn’t work together.
I did end up viewing Kris in the funeral home. I was scared, but his uncles and sister gathered and pushed me gently into the room. I was the last to see him, and when I did a guttural howl rose up from the heart of the earth. It shot up my legs into my guts and chest and up my throat, poured out of me in a flood of hot sad snakes.
I howled for a long time. With my head against the wall, then on the floor like I was giving birth. Every time I tried to stop, I caught a glimpse of Kris’ face and the room would spin and the earth would send up a fresh tsunami of pain.
At some point, my sister helped me up from the floor and I held onto her and limped towards the body. I put my hand on his hand. He looked so still, like he had just gotten dressed for a work meeting and fallen asleep.
I ran my fingers over his fingers and along the backs of his hands.
I put my hand under his suit jacket, felt his chest. He was dressed in a t-shirt we bought during a trip to Tofino, a green one with antlers silk-screened on the front.
Please understand what a perfect face he had. It was the face that was made for my face, the face that kissed mine for hours and hours until my chin was raw and sore for days. Long black eyelashes, a strong and sculpted nose.
Please understand how beautiful he was.
From: Chelsea Jane <email@example.com>
Date: Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 3:24 PM
Subject: Re: ISO WIZARD FOR SPACETIME TRAVEL
I am interested in your offer. Of course I understand the need for a professional like yourself to destroy telephones and other devices from time to time. Your credentials sound impressive. Two of your colleagues have written with very unreasonable demands. One requested that she bring her iguana, and I don’t want to travel with an iguana or be responsible for lizards of any kind. What if she didn’t make the jump and I was stuck with the lizard? As I’m sure you know, all lizards are arrogant and ungrateful companions.
The other Wizard demanded a 5 lb brick of gold, and I don’t have any bricks of gold.
Anyway, I need to get to the Silver City Theatre at approximately 7:00 p.m. on December 4th, 2015 in order to do the work necessary to prevent the catastrophe of my husband’s untimely death by an accidental overdose of illegal drugs on the 7th of December. I will be bringing a copy of his obituary and a picture of everybody crying at his funeral to prove that I have come from another dimension to save him from himself. Also, I would like to bring the Death Star cookie jar that houses his ashes so that we can spread them together at the end of the Breakwater. If Kris spreads his own ashes, I think he will really understand how lucky he is to be alive in that dimension. He will stop drinking like a rivermouth and using cocaine, and we will live together into old age as we were supposed to do here.
Completing this rescue will mean that my other self will have to be destroyed, but knowing myself, she will gladly sacrifice her life to avoid the kind of suffering she is having now.
Obviously, this all makes sense to you.
Write back. I need this, Wizard, and will give you the very best reference if you help me.
In the Industry of Death, containers for bodies and ashes are a big deal, a critical source of revenue.
The place where you pick out the containers looks like a car showroom, but with urns and caskets instead of cars.
You approach a shelf full of urns. Some of them look like jewelry boxes, but they have framed pictures on the lids featuring glamour shots of the happiest old people ever, smiling as big as can be knowing they’re going to get to spend eternity in an oak box now 15% off.
There are also fancy urns, ones with engraved plaques that say things like:
He gives His beloveds sleep…
In God’s Care…
Her wings were ready…
“These are all terrible and ridiculous,” you tell the Funeral Director.
“Oh… Well, we can certainly go through the catalogue if you don’t see anything to your liking.”
What the managers of the Industry of Death don’t want you to know, because they’re on commission, is that you can pretty much put ashes in anything as long as it’s sealable. One of your family members has heard this, and asks the funeral director if it is true.
“Well, that is true, however these products are designed specifically as keepsakes for remains, and they come with a guarantee.”
Everybody looks at you as if you just burst out laughing in a funeral parlour, because you did.
Thirty minutes later you and your family are in the mall. You have decided to go to the mall because it is a place with many stores. You can all split up, which is obviously a more efficient way to locate a suitable container for your loved one.
You find yourself in a fancy home accessories store called Bombay & Co. The saleswomen are dripping in gold, painted with orange makeup and blush and painful-looking botox smiles. One of them is trying to be subtle about following you around the store, which is very reasonable of her; you haven’t slept in days and your face most definitely has the puffy, untrustworthy look of a shoplifter. You are also wearing sweatpants and a coffee-stained t-shirt that says Cthulu Lives Mutherfuckers.
“Can I help you here, sweetheart?”
“Okay, what is it that I can help you with?”
“A container for my husband’s ashes. It has to be sealable.”
She grimaces, tries to smile.
You are examining a very lovely, extra-large jewelry box encrusted in fake sapphires with an elephant head on top.
“I like this one,” you tell her, “but I think it’s too small. He was six foot one so I don’t know how much ashes he’ll make. Also, do you have any that play music? Like T-Rex or Nick Cave?”
Your phone rings. It is your sister-in-law.
“Come to HMV,” she is shouting, “I’ve found the perfect thing. It’s a fucking Death Star cookie jar– come!”
You tell the saleslady that your sister-in-law has found a Death Star cookie jar.
“I might be back for this elephant one if the death star doesn’t work,” you tell her.
“My goodness,” she says.
From: Eythan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, Sep 12, 2016 at 3:49 PM
Subject: Re: ISO WIZARD FOR SPACETIME TRAVEL
I am happy to inform you that this is indeed a noble goal and falls well within the boundaries of my code of ethics.
It is unfortunate that you did not have much luck with my colleagues but it is in the nature of the field to attract all types of unsavory characters or at least many who are slightly unhinged. I may know the magus with the reptile obsession, you can trust me when I tell you that you dodged a bullet there.
My hardware can get us within close proximity of the Silver City Theatre on the night in question, but I must warn you that if you were there to see a motion picture that in any way involved time travel the whole plan may fall asunder. The Wormhole Lords have a tight grasp on cliches and a loose idea of what irony is and they’ve been known to deny passage to any circumstances that meet their nebulous criteria for these already nebulous concepts. As neither of us want to get trapped in the netherworld between dimensions I am sure you will be responsible and inform me if this is the case.
Also, my Quantum Spangler has a weight limit, so I may need to use my de-sizing spell on the Death Star cookie jar. My re-sizing spell works perfectly 99% of the time so this shouldn’t present a problem. I just firmly believe in making sure my clients are aware of all possible eventualities ahead of time.
Otherwise, your plan seems foolproof. Mice couldn’t have laid it better. We are guaranteed success.