Death operates on a tight schedule at Sunny Acres Cemetery, which has seen its ranking as our city’s most popular and picturesque graveyard rise to even greater heights in recent years, as a more demanding generation of dying people have begun imposing more and more elaborate wishes upon their grieving next of kin, who are expected to arrange spectacular aquatic tours to ferry the dead along the city’s waterways and upriver to a private, reed-lined quay near the cemetery’s ornate, wrought-iron gates.
It was here that I stumbled into a bizarre series of events, which began after I’d lost my job at the corporate travel agency. To avoid distressing my wife and kids, I pretended to go to work in the mornings, putting on my suit and combining my job search with long walks, during which I applied the Danny Wallace Principle. What this boils down to is that you can alter the course of your own fate by saying ‘yes’ even if your entire being screams ‘just keep walking,’ which is exactly what I should have done when I saw a small barge approaching the cemetery quay, its diesel engine muttering.
On board were four middle-aged playboys and a coffin, which lurched forward eagerly as the barge hit the quay, triggering an avalanche of wreaths arranged haphazardly on the lid. The men were clearly in a hurry, but also obviously drunk, staggering around in a manner suggesting there was a growing chance the deceased would get some form of aquatic funeral. And before I knew it, I found myself clinging to a corner of the coffin, helping to lift it onto a trolley that had been rushed out to the boat by the cemetery’s pall-bearers.
There was a countdown, but as we heaved-ho, we heard the wet bellowing of someone soiling his pants in exertion, the odour of fresh excrement swiftly ming-ling with the scent of diesel and dying flowers. The stricken sailor stumbled off in embarrassment, unbuckling his belt as he went. Judging by his desperate roar, there was little hope of saving his underwear and trousers, so I crossed the road to the flower stall, where I borrowed a bucketful of water and some paper towels, which I presented to the grateful sailors, who began speed-cleaning their friend, his naked butt and legs shivering in the breeze, as water was splashed into his messy crack.
It was then that I jokingly offered Mr Smelly Bum the bottom half of my suit, after which I found myself sitting semi-naked in a vestibule to one side of the funeral hall that had swallowed up my four new friends, chased along by the location manager, who raced around like a blackbird seeking stray minutes to repair his schedule.
As I sat staring at my black-socked calves planted in my unlaced brogues, I heard the sound of heels crossing the hallway, where they were intercepted by the tip-tapping footfall of Manager Blackbird, who proceeded to guide a vision of superior hotness into my vestibule. She was an almost cartoonesque version of Sophia Loren, cast as a widowed Contessa, wearing the kind of elaborate hair and designer clothing once popular in 1980s soap operas, but now the sole reserve of ultra-feminine drag queens.
As the Contessa alighted at the far end of my bench, she gazed at my legs over the top of her vast sunglasses and asked: ‘Where are your trousers, dear boy?’ After which I told my story, prompting commiserations from the Contessa, who was a lot less pretentious than my prejudice suggested. In fact, she leaned over and whispered: ‘Don’t worry, darling, we’re partners in crime. I’m not wearing any panties.’
Before I could come up with a witty retort to mask my arousal, she defused the explosive atmosphere by asking whether I’d like coffee, which I gratefully accepted. As she click-clacked off to the reception area, I scrutinised her departing derrière to assess her claim to absent underwear.
When she returned and handed me my coffee, the Contessa looked down sternly over her shades and asked:
‘And? Was I?’
‘Was I what?’ I asked innocently.
‘I think you know the answer to that question.’
‘Let’s kill some time,’ she said, taking the coffee from my trembling hand.
‘In what way?’ I enquired.
‘I’ll be the bereaved friend,’ she replied, ‘seeking comfort from a kind stranger by nestling in his muscular lap.’
Before I could object, she sat down beside me and said, ‘Close your eyes,’ as if we were playing some ancient parlour game. ‘Now choose.’
When I opened my eyes, I saw a peppermint and a condom laid out on her palm. Hoping to buy time, I chose the peppermint, which triggered an awe-inspiring display of legerdemain. As I unwrapped the peppermint, the Contessa did the same with the condom, and before I could place the white disk on my astonished tongue, the Contessa had rubbered up my rigid shaft.
Then she arose and sobbed dramatically as she sat down side-saddle on my lap, impaling herself with a moist sigh. As I caressed the Contessa’s heaving back in consoling circles, she cured my grief by way of a subtle interplay of clenching muscles.
Just as we were about to cast off the last remnants of our sorrow, Manager Blackbird peeked around the corner and announced: ‘They’re ready for you.’
‘Ready for you?’ I asked.
‘I’m a performer,’ said the Contessa, plopping to her feet. ‘These rich fools hire me as a surprise speaker to cheer up the mourners. Today I have such a memorable story to tell.’
‘Absolutely,’ she smiled. ‘And it will either be fiction or non-fiction, depending on whether you’re still here when they fetch their coats.’