Kevin Spaide

Wake

I was going crazy in my house because I didn’t know what I was doing any­more and feared the advent of the future. But the future nev­er came.

I said, “I think I’m devel­op­ing ago­ra­pho­bia.”

My wife (who knew how to ignore me) said, “Could you hold this for me, please?”

She put a cur­tain rod in my hands. Then she slid a cur­tain onto it with a sin­gle-mind­ed­ness that left me breath­less with admi­ra­tion. How did she do it? How did she find the time for cur­tains?

I’m tired of the neigh­bor star­ing at us,” she said. Then she went up a step lad­der and hung the cur­tain rod in place.

Fuck you,” she whis­pered, either to the neigh­bor or the entire world.

We went out and got in the car. Someone my wife knew had died and she had to go to the wake. She didn’t expect me to go — but the TV was bro­ken, I didn’t know how to read any­more, drink­ing alone had nev­er real­ly appealed to me, and I didn’t feel like stay­ing home and brood­ing about my ago­ra­pho­bia and the advent of the future. So I got in the car.

I said, “Was this that woman who liked the smell of cow­shit?”

Yeah, she liked the smell of cow­shit. It remind­ed her of where she grew up.”

Now she’s dead.”

She isn’t dead,” said my wife. “She died.

What? What?”

You can’t be dead, because once you die you can’t be any­thing.”

God, I hope you’re right.”

We got to the funer­al home. It looked like a lunar sta­tion shop­ping mall. The win­dows were tint­ed yel­low like an astronaut’s sun visor.

Mind if I come in?”

Ah, I don’t care. Just don’t say any­thing.”

I won’t say cow­shit, if that’s what you’re wor­ried about.”

Don’t say ago­ra­pho­bia either.”

I’m not sure I could even say that in Spanish.”

It’s pret­ty much the same as it is in English.”

(Our con­ver­sa­tions took place in a ter­ri­fy­ing mix­ture of English and Spanish. We veered from one lan­guage into the oth­er with­out even real­iz­ing we were doing it. We just threw it all togeth­er and gib­bered at each oth­er. There was also a fair amount of telepa­thy involved — prob­a­bly the case with most active mar­riages. But at the funer­al home we were oblig­ed to refrain from English since Spanish was the lan­guage of the bereaved.)

We went inside. The place was enor­mous. There were slid­ing glass doors and arrows telling you where to go. There was an infor­ma­tion desk staffed by beau­ti­ful women with qui­et faces. They wore make-up and had their hair up in pony­tails and knew how to put on their clothes. There were large screens with names and room num­bers list­ed on them. It was like an air­port, except that each flight only had one pas­sen­ger, and there were no arrivals, only depar­tures.

There’s a bar here?”

It’s open 24 hours,” said my wife.

This is a strange coun­try.”

Your prej­u­dices are strange. This coun­try is what it is.”

As usu­al, she was cor­rect with­out even try­ing.

She found the name of the woman for whom the smell of cow­shit had evoked child­hood nos­tal­gia and we fol­lowed the arrows to the room indi­cat­ed – room 34.

And there she was. She lay in a sep­a­rate room, an alcove real­ly. You had to view her through a win­dow. I hadn’t expect­ed that. No fid­dling with the corpse in this place. No crazy last kiss­es or pil­fer­ing of wed­ding rings.

Why is she behind glass?” I said.

Gases,” said my wife.

Oh.”

Apparently they didn’t embalm the body until after the wake.

I hung back, wor­ried some­one might ask me to explain myself if I got too close. Did they all know each oth­er in there? Would they know I’d nev­er met her? All I knew about her, after all, was that she was dead – had died — and had liked the smell of cow­shit.

I sat on a bench, but the future began to rise out of the mar­ble floor and ter­ri­fy me. This was it, then. It was hap­pen­ing now, here, in this gigan­tic shin­ing funer­al home. The future was about to man­i­fest.

Fuck,” I said and made a dash for the bar.

The future fol­lowed me down the hall­way. It was a kind of cloudy thing the col­or of egg whites.

Oh my God,” I said. “Oh shit!”

You speak English?” said some guy sit­ting at the bar.

Yes,” I said.

The words cow­shit and ago­ra­pho­bia flapped down from the rafters of my mind like a pair of jack­daws and start­ed strut­ting around on the floor.

I sat next to the guy at the bar. He was eat­ing a steak. As long as I talked to this stranger I was pret­ty sure I could keep the future at bay.

The woman came over and I asked for a beer.

Where are you from?” the guy said in English.

I told him where I was from. Then he want­ed to know more about me. He want­ed to know every­thing. Too much. But I didn’t care. I knew what it was like speak­ing a lan­guage you didn’t know all that well. You end­ed up inter­ro­gat­ing total strangers. You were impo­lite out of the politest of motives. Your ques­tions were sim­ple, direct. Anything more nuanced was out of your range and vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble.

Where do you live? Where do you work? How old are you? Do you like Spain? Are you hap­py here?

No, I just sit in my house and do noth­ing. I’m crazy.

Switching to Spanish he said, “Well, it’s time for me to head back to work.”

You work here?”

No, I come here for lunch. They have a good menu.”

I said, “Nobody in America eats lunch in a funer­al home.”

No?”

You only go there when some­body dies. I don’t even think they serve food. Maybe in big cities. I don’t know. Definitely no beer on tap.”

I could see he found this notion hard to accept.

Yet anoth­er instance of American bar­barism.

When I was young and full of var­i­ous drugs,” he said, “I used to stop here late at night with my friends because it was the only bar still open. We want­ed anoth­er drink, you know? Now you can find a bar at any hour, but back then things were dif­fer­ent.”

You don’t look that old.”

Change hap­pens in this coun­try in spurts. Nothing hap­pens for the longest time, then sud­den­ly every­thing is dif­fer­ent.”

Not real­ly a mea­sure for mea­sure kind of place.”

No. Now I just come here for lunch.”

He looked at his watch and said, “Me cago en la leche,” which means, I shit in the milk. That’s one of the things they say around here when they get a lit­tle upset and need to mouth off a bit.

He paid his bill and said, “I hope I won’t be see­ing you here again.” Then he left. I won­dered if he said that every day to some grief-shocked stranger.

I looked around. There was no sign of the future. Not yet.

My wife found me.

What the hell are you doing?” she said.

Having a beer.”

Now?”

Yes. Right now. You want one?”

No!”

I said, “Me cago en la leche.”

She looked at me like I was made out of air.

Then I said, “They have a good lunch menu.”

I’m not fol­low­ing you.” She was glanc­ing around at the door­ways as if she were expect­ing some­one to join us.

I just had a con­ver­sa­tion with a total stranger,” I said. “He was nice.”

That’s good.”

Why don’t you sit down?”

Because I hate this place.”

I paid for my beer and we went out and got in the car. The future sat in the back seat. I saw him in the side-view mir­ror. He could have been my broth­er.