Beeby Chambers was working in the kitchen and, although she didn't know it yet, she was recording a diastolic / systolic pressure of 80 / 135. "Calm down," she could hear the voices say, but she had arranged them into a neat, harmonious and repetitive tune and as such she had learnt to ignore them.
The snacks were arranged alphabetically across the table. Beeby had planned them this way. First, there were the almonds and then there were the cashews, each of them in similar mollusc-shaped bowls. Further along were the chocolate brownies, but taking pride of place were the two plates of Malpeque oysters.
Her parents arrived first, just as she was pouring out the pumpkin seeds into the last remaining bowl.
"So, you're feeding the birds this time," said her father. "Last time it was the rabbits but this time it's the birds."
"They're just pumpkin seeds," said Beeby.
"We're supporting you today," said Beeby's mother. "We know that it's hard for you so we're both supporting you all the way. Isn't that right Dennis?"
There were seven memorial cards stacked upon the kitchen table.
"Are you expecting a lot of people?" said her mother in a show of support.
"Six," said Beeby. "And I've asked two of the neighbours to come as well. As the pallbearers."
"Two people to lift a coffin?" said Beeby's father. "I thought Mark was a lot heavier than that."
"Dennis!" said Beeby's mother.
"Well, they could always do with your help," said Beeby to her father. "I'm sure they'd appreciate it."
"I'll tell you what, love," said Beeby's mother to her daughter. "We'll leave you alone for a minute."
"Ok, mother," Beeby said.
"And one of your friends has arrived," said her father. "Juliet, I think it is."
"It's Gillian, dad. I don't have a friend called Juliet."
Her parents left her alone and Beeby, a lone tear running like the slime of a snail across the deep verge of her cheek, continued with her present duty: washing the tea mugs in preparation for the wake.
Now, what is this music?, she thought as she scoured. Only two weeks into her classical music foray, a self-enforced musical retreat which involved an embargo on all other musical forms, and she had been unable to remember if it was Satie or Satre: they both sounded plausible.
"We're all here," said Maggie, out of the blue, her adenoidal voice like the cry of a walrus. Maggie had been a friend of hers since high school. A good friend. "Me, Gillian, Jude and your folks. We're all here. Is there anything we can help you with?"
"I think I'm all done now," said Beeby looking solemn, a look she had practiced several times in the mirror. "I'll be out in thirty seconds."
Maggie departed and Beeby was left with her thoughts once again. Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, she said to herself in a stutter-gun rhythm that reminded her of the sea gulls who used to pluck scraps at her school. Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, she said again, this time altering the pitch to provide a more mellifluous finish. It was only about a month ago that she had been woken up by the actions of Mark's fingers, the tips of his wild and roaming hands that had so softly, expertly and lithely traced a path across her skin. He had been dressed in his suit from Neiman Marcus, looking all smart for his first day of work, and she had been semi-naked, hidden beneath the covers, her soft exposed skin providing such comfort for his needle-like touch. How such a moment, so exquisite and so complete, could be so inconsiderable in the overall frame of life, that such a perfect and special moment, the unspoken intimacy, the ineffable desire, could only be known to them – them! – them and no one else, just two people out of six billion other humans, their compatriots having no notion of the feelings that had transpired, what had gone on there, the intense surge of elation, and yet surely this intimate connection, this bond, this innovation of love, was the meaning of everything: life, love and all that was in between. Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, she said once again and she could feel the tears pushing hard against the soft, waning dam of her eye.
No. There was nothing else to do but collect oneself, Beeby Chambers. She looked at her reflection in the glass.
Her solemnity? It was a little severe.
"Let the service begin," she said, as a chill pricked its way northwards along the curve of her spine. "Three point one-four-one," she said as a means of composure. "Five-nine." She paused. "Two-six-five." She paused again. "Three-five-seven." And with that announcement, she was ready to go.
The mourners all smiled as Beeby took her place in the horseshoe alignment. No one noticed Beeby's hand shaking because they were all focused upon the tears in her eyes.
"We're ready!" shouted Beeby's father over the silence, his face looking towards the pallbearers. "Bring him in!"
This was the moment, Beeby thought. This was the moment that would be the absolute hardest she'd ever known. And it wasn't helped, Beeby considered, by how cold the world seemed to be turning at this time. Blue skies, admittedly, and the middle of summer, and yet Beeby's body was frozen, her knees moving quickly, her feet tamping hard. 'Focus,' she thought to herself firmly. 'You need to focus on something. Focus Beeby.'
"Let us all bow our heads," said Beeby's father as the coffin was brought in by the two neighbours, Mr. Foley and Mr. Best, the two volunteers balancing it on the rooves of their heads with their arms jolting out in support, as if indigenous tribesmen taking their battle canoes out to war. When they arrived at the hole, dug fifty inches deep in the middle of the garden, they carefully slid their heads away from the base at each corner and then lowered the coffin somewhat dramatically into the ground.
"Thank you," said Beeby's mother to each of the pallbearers. "It's beautiful. It's a beautiful coffin."
A vessel, Beeby thought. Not a coffin.
"We are all gathered here today," said Beeby's mother, "to say goodbye to someone who will remain only in our lives as a memory. Mark Howard Chambers. A man who, dare I say it, was the one man who could make our dear Beeby happy, a man who has touched not just the heart of our daughter, our precious daughter, but the hearts of all of us here today."
Beeby shot a quick glance at the three friends of hers, Gillian, Maggie and Jude. The three of them lined up in order of height like Matryoshka dolls: the lank, awkward prettiness of Gillian next to the staccato of Maggie and the short, spoilt pucker of Jude. The four of them had, Beeby included, roamed the school like four horsewomen across the wasteland of Andamont High, and yet now they looked so weather-beaten and tired.
"It is with great pleasure that I will read you all a poem," said Beeby's mother. "One that Beeby has written especially for today."
Mark could be so irredeemably cruel about her friends. She had found it enticing and yet now, on this solemn day, she had found it a little unnecessary.
'Into a sea
of jet black must my life now descend,
Because you, my dear Mark, are now gone...'
And so the poem started, read beautifully by her mother's lilting voice.
'That I will
again see your face, I cannot now pretend,
Because you, my dear Mark, are no more...'
Beeby could feel her hand tapping hard against the seat of her thigh, like a conductor, moving in time with the rhythms and the lifts of her mother's voice.
'How to go on
from this pain, I can barely explain,
What am I but a product of love?'
"Three point one-four-one five-nine-two-six-five," Beeby said to herself as a means of composure. "Three-five-eight," she continued. "Nine seven-nine three-two-three," she said as she picked out a magpie to become her focus on the horizon. Her knee was arcing back and forth but, as to why, she didn't know. A stern, skittish wind appeared to be skating its way out past her stomach, down her leg, and down her hemline, this same skittish wind circling her knee, over and over, but where had it come from she didn't know. How it had been created she was at a loss to explain.
"Three point one-four-one," she said to herself once again. For that's what her counsellor had said at the last session, a session that cost a hundred and twenty one dollars, the session lasting fifty minutes although it had been billed as an hour. "Pi," the counsellor had informed her," is the key to all relief in this world." That's what he had said. And whenever she felt herself zoning out or feeling stressed then she should think of pi and she should recount it, recount it to as many different places as she could.
Oh Mark, she thought to herself. Mark who had promised to be so different, who had talked of eternal conjunction, Mark who had talked about marriage and the entwining of souls unto death. Why had he done it? Why had he lapsed? Gone off with someone else, a younger model, decided that maturity could be forsworn for callow flesh.
And how did Jude ever marry? That's what Beeby began to wonder. Jude, who was so nice to her and yet so plain and so insipid and dull. What did she have that Beeby didn't? Nothing. A nice smell and that was all.
"Small girls," Mark had explained to Beeby one time before sleep. "Men are drawn to them."
"But why?" Beeby asked
"Just because..." he had replied with a smile. "Because they make a man feel better about their manhood. You understand?"
"You mean, they make it look bigger?"
"That's correct. They make it look bigger."
"But that wouldn't be an issue for you," Beeby had whispered whilst sneaking beneath the covers and passing in kisses between his breastbone and crotch.
How ironic then that the colleague he had slept with was so short.
vast and grand, take my Mark in your hand,
May you bury him deep in your palm.'
Gillian, Maggie and Jude. All three of them, Beeby thought, appeared as if, although they wanted to support her, they simply didn't know how to act in this setting. How reliable they were as friends – always ready to share stories, go out, catch a film – and yet how unreliable they were when finally tested. That day in April. That day when Beeby sat down with Maggie and said "Maggie, I think that Mark is having – " and within the space of a second Maggie had said it, without prompting or delay... "An affair? I'm afraid it's true Beeby, he's been having an affair for some time now." She had known for approximately two or three months and yet she had not thought to tell Beeby. She had told Gillian and she had told Jude. But not Beeby. Not the person with the most right to know. Maggie, with the sisterly concern and the alleged spontaneity, she had not thought to warn Beeby that eternal love was such a lie.
Beeby could start to feel the cold now in a rather terrifying way. Her fingers were curled up, clawing inwards, trying to wrap themselves neatly into ringlets of bone. It was at this point, too, that the garish summer colours gave way to a chiaroscuro light, and in Beeby's mind the thoughts that were so important moments earlier were now superseded by weak thoughts, thoughts of repression and space. 'Mark Chambers,' she kept saying to herself. 'Mark Howard Chambers,' she repeated again with each her breath. She was one minute in a womb picking out the sound of her mother, and she was the next minute in a court room, explaining that the scales of love and happiness were against them from the start. If only the ground would stop shaking, Beeby wondered. If only it would stop rocking. Thrashing hard. But it wasn't so much the ground that was shaking but the confused and random thoughts in her head.
A tortoise-like cloud in the sky was now raining tears of blood. Beeby could feel them as they fluttered past her face, tears of loss and paper anguish, shredded confetti, the rose petals that Mark never bought, they were falling now just like bloodied snow upon his vessel in the ground. The hours she had spent ripping up these flowers so that her friends could release them into the grave, and yet now, so strangely beautiful did it seem, that Beeby could scarcely believe it might be real. And neither could she fathom how his voice had seemed to emanate from the grave, his stentorian voice, unmistakable, unreserved, the words "have I missed much?" springing like oil from below. And yet could that be her mother as well, her mother's voice, the one that she can pick out from a hundred other tones? Could that be her mother telling him to leave and to respect her daughter's wishes? And could that be her father telling him he's not welcome here today? Her father who has put a hand against the arched back of her mother, who is ready to support her whenever she seems flustered or alarmed. 'My daughter doesn't want to see you here today,' her mother keeps saying. 'Leave us alone, you're not wanted.' But Beeby isn't worried, because his objections are those of a ghost. A ghost who has been killed off long ago. She can kill someone from her mind if she wants to. 'Pi, just think of Pi,' commands Beeby to her brain, hoping for displacement, hoping for escape, but even though she can hear his voice clearly, his voice demanding permission to stay - "it's my own bloody funeral after all!" - Beeby knows it cannot be Mark, it simply couldn't happen, because Mark Howard Chambers is dead to her now, dead and buried, dead and gone, so if that voice is coming from anywhere it must be from the tortoise-like cloud in the air, because Mark is dead to her: no longer will his words clog the narrow hallways of her mind, no longer will his voice fill the empty pockets of the air, no longer will his fingers weave a faint path across her skin.
"It's okay. He's gone now," she could hear her mother saying.
"He won't be bothering you again," her father said. "He's gone now, Beeby."
Her beloved boyfriend. RIP.
BIO: Dave Witty is a relatively new writer living in Moranbah, Australia. He invents stories to give his mind something to think about whilst shaving. Previous fiction has been published in Sleet magazine and Thieves Jargon, and his story 'Z' was nominated for a 2010 Pushcart Prize.