“There’s a funeral this Saturday.”
“Are you going?”
“Well, I feel like we kind of have to, don’t you?”
“Yeah… At least there’ll probably be some good food eh?”
“Where is it?”
“I dunno. It’s not like a club, it’s just a space but it’s called a club. Lemme check… The Anza Club.”
“Ohh yeah. Okay.”
The mourners approached. The line slowly filed up the aisle to the coffin beside a blown up photograph of the deceased. One at a time, those who wished would approach and pause, maybe touch the polished wood of the lid, or say a few words before moving back to their seat. The coffin was closed.
Asa’s girlfriend elbowed her and nodded her head in the direction of April, who sat in the front row, head bowed, chest heaving every now and then with a sob, tears streaming from behind her big black sunglasses. Asa felt uncomfortable and looked away. She wished she was back outside in the sun, instead of sitting in this dark room facing an empty stage, in front of which was the small coffin.
“I feel so bad for her,” her girlfriend said, dabbing her eyes with Kleenex.
Asa felt bad for herself. She couldn’t cry. Didn’t even cry at her own father’s funeral. She looked instead at the floor, at the ugly runners the man in front of her was wearing. She wondered what there would be to eat after. Hopefully more than just stale veggies and dip, or sad floppy rolls of unidentified deli meat and cheese. Maybe smoked salmon or shrimp salad on a blini, or little sliders.
Asa’s stomach rumbled audibly and her girlfriend turned to give her a dirty look. They were getting closer to the coffin and to April, where she sat. The young man currently at the coffin tugged on his collar, cleared his throat, said nothing to the coffin, didn’t touch it, and moved along. Asa wouldn’t have touched the coffin either. It was so shiny and she could see the marks left behind by the many fingers.
“How much do you figure that set them back?” a man behind them asked his wife.
“I don’t know. How would I know? You know my mother was cremated.”
“Okay, okay. I bet it was a lot though. It’s a nice box but it’s just going in the ground.”
Asa considered the benefits of cremation over burial.
Suddenly, the woman at the end of the line began to wail and fell to her knees, and turned her broken-hearted, deep, dark eyes to the ceiling and cried in gasping sobs. April looked to her from behind her sunglasses and seemed to relax, as if what had been holding her bound had been loosened. It was like it was a relief to have someone else express what she was feeling, like she was getting worn out being the face of grief.
Asa’s girlfriend turned and took Asa’s arm. She was worried for the woman. Under her breath, Asa reassured her, “She’s a professional.”
“A professional mourner.”
There was little need to whisper. Asa remembered that when her father died, her aunt explained that such professionals could be, and were, hired.
Johnny, a friend, leaned forward, “Did you say she’s a professional?” His phone was in his hand, he touched the screen in a reverse pinch, zooming in on the performer, recording a video.
“What? She’s great!”
Someone else, a relative of April maybe, leaned over, “She should be good. She’s an aspiring actress. Used to be a server, like in a restaurant, but she said she got sick of being paid to smile. You know, emotional labour.”
“So why not get paid to cry instead?” finished Johnny, laughing. “She does a damn good job!”
There she was, doubled over and sobbing on the floor, before but not on the stage that stood empty and dark behind the little coffin.
April’s mother moved forward and helped her up and out of the way. Everyone took their seats. April’s boyfriend stood up in front of the coffin and the blown up glossy picture. He stood for a moment looking at the picture before he began.
“When I first started dating April, she told me about Ferdinand right away. I couldn’t wait to meet him because I knew he was such a part of her life. She loved him so much. He became part of my life too. We were a family.”
April cried quietly. So did the mourner. Johnny slid out of his seat, whispering ‘scuse me’s. The bartender was polishing glasses and carefully lining them up in a row on the bar that wrapped around along the wall, to the left of where they were all sitting. A girl who worked for the caterer was taking the greenhouse-like saran wrappings off trays of food. Asa tried to see what was on the trays.
“… always there to say hello when I came home. And we’d have so much fun in the park together, walking the Seawall.”
April cried a little less quietly. Her boyfriend paused and looked to her. He hurried to his conclusion, “He touched many lives and he will be dearly missed. We hope — We know he’s chasing balls and sniffing trees and rolling in the grass in doggy heaven.”
A subdued, kind of confused cheer went up from the crowd and there was some half- hearted applause. No one knew quite how to act or what to do. Except the mourner.
She was the first to stand and rush to April. She took both April’s hands in her own and spoke to her, looking earnestly and sensitively into her eyes. Everyone else watched.
“She is damn good,” whispered Asa’s girlfriend. Asa was trying to edge closer to the front of the group. The sooner she could have her moment with April the sooner she could check out the food.
Behind them, one guy nudged another. “There’s a brewery next door. Let’s go grab a beer before this reception thing gets going.”
“Sure. But I drove. I can’t have more than one.”
“That sucks, dude. I biked. I’m gonna get wasted.”
The group had formed another line, this time to April instead of Ferdinand’s coffin. Condolences were to be expressed. The mourner had moved aside and was dabbing under her eyes with a Kleenex, careful not to muss her makeup.
Johnny approached, said a few words, and she brightened. Wearing a big smile, she tucked the Kleenex away and from her bag pulled out a business card. She and Johnny shook hands. He came back over to Asa and her girlfriend.
“Well, she’s gonna come in handy!”