Plain Speak


"He loved life and lived it to the fullest," the minister began, as Lars rolled his eyes and sighed.

"What does that mean, exactly?" Lars whispered to his fiancée. "He avoided suicide for 42 years? Say that he liked life. I think he liked it in the way most of us do who dislike the alternative."

"In his 42 all too brief years he lived more than many of us will in 80," the minister continued.

"Bullshit," Dave whispered. "He worked a third of his life and slept a third. In the last third he liked to ride a bike and go hiking. Not exactly Ernie Shackelton."

"Though he left us too soon, he wouldn't want us to be sad," the minister added. "He would want us to celebrate the years we had together."

"Who the hell asks people to be sad?" Lars said. "I think at my funeral I'll request people prostrate themselves. Crying won't cut it anymore. Get on your bellies, you bastards. If you loved me at all, you'll get on your bellies and wail."

"Before concluding," the minister said, "Jeffrey's friend Tessa would like to add some remarks."

"She and Jeff were together 12 years," Lars said. "She knew him better than all of us."

Tessa walked to the pulpit wearing a blue cotton skirt, a white blouse, and a faded jean jacket. Her long red hair was tied in a ponytail as she carried Jeffrey's ashes in a polished brass spittoon. She set the ashes at her feet, bent the microphone down toward her lips, and spoke softly.

"Jeffrey died of an aneurism exactly four days ago, almost to the hour," she began. "We're here now to share our collective guilt over not having called him more often and failing to say kinder things about him."

"Uh-oh," Lars whispered.

"It's all right. Most of us are preoccupied with ourselves. We're trapped inside our own bodies and minds, and life is often one relentless confrontation after another with our own individual thoughts, passions, desires, and anxieties. Jeffrey wasn't on a Post-it note by your phones. I get it."

"I kind of like her," Lars whispered to his fiancée. "She's got the joint sweating a bit."

"Jeffrey killed a man in a poker game in 1989," Tessa continued. "He told no one about it but me. He was up $1,700 when a man at the table accused him of cheating and a fight broke out. He hit the man in the temple with a gin bottle and killed him. He took his winnings and paid off the witnesses.

"Killing someone bothered Jeffrey profoundly, but never enough to get him to turn himself in. I listened to his remorse often but never weighed in one way or the other. The past didn't interest me much.

"I tried to call him my soul mate two weeks ago, but Jeff said soul mates are for the dead. The living want flesh mates, and we made love that evening like I'd never made love before. He was right. We need flesh mates. We need people to hold and to touch and to sleep against, and I don't have that anymore in my life, and that alone makes me want to throw this spittoon hard against the wall and scream."

The church grew still and quiet. Tessa paused to compose herself. Lars looked away.

"Jeff had asked years ago that his ashes be placed in a spittoon and that the spittoon then be set on the floor below the bar rail at Largo's Tavern. His hope had been that Sammy Martell would stroll in on a Saturday night. We all know how Jeff felt about Sam. I think Jeff hoped Sammy would innocently use the spittoon, bringing the tavern to a standstill as the barkeep rushed over to tell him those were Jeff's ashes he just spit on, and if he ever wants to drink in here again he'll fish that nasty wet brown ooze right out of there.

"Jeffrey liked the image of Sammy going in with his long white fingers, and the thought of Sammy's pale, drawn face as he touched the mixture of his own spit and what was left of Jeff's body. Jeff said only then would the two be even.

"Well, the ashes are in that spittoon, Jeffrey, but they're staying in my apartment.

"And before I walk out with those ashes, I feel the need to say I don't know who it was that our minister was eulogizing moments ago, but the guy sounded like an angel. Give my sympathy to his dear family when you see them."