I never want to be buried, I don’t want to be married to a wooden box carved by a worker’s unclean hands – much better to be buried naked in the soil where no human uncleanliness can ever reach, only the dense black clouds of nature’s shit. Waiting at the church for my grandfather to arrive – today is the last day I will call him that, from tomorrow on he shall be the passed on, the never-forgotten and finally the ‘erm’ – I looked around at the church I had not stepped foot inside since my Holy Communion. It hadn’t changed much, but that wouldn’t surprise anyone. I was so immersed in my time-travelling hallucinations that I could proudly say “no, I’m not here, even though you made me be here.” If you tell me my soul is more important than my body then it is not important where my body lingers, only the wild wanderings of my soul. Reverse theology.
Through the smokescreen of memory I remembered all that I had been taught by the priests with humps like a wildebeest and breath like a wildebeest corpse. One thing that stuck out to me, due to its relevance that stuck to the present like spilled beer on stone, was the saying that there existed two churches: the physical church, the building itself, and secondly the people that make up the church. I’m no architect, I have no interest in describing the ensemble of stones and the conflagration of paintings, I am interested in people. Not for any divine reason. But simply because I am human. If I were a weasel I would speak of weasels, if I were a pigeon I would speak of pigeons. And what did I have to speak of? My family were not wealthy enough to afford professional mourners – usually old women who were paid to weep floods of tears like a burst sewage pipe at the funeral of people they had never met pre-death. But the people that were present, friends, family and bees of the community that took some time off from the hive to be there, did their best to make up for the absence of mourners. My grandfather was well-loved around the town – no wonder he was happy to die.
I can imagine no greater inquisition than being loved by people you hardly even know. I’m full of love, myself, exploding with it, damn it – people were appalled by that Hiroshima (I remember hearing about it on the Rediffusion) but that was nothing compared to the mushroom cloud of love I emanate. Just – and this is important just as all things are important – my love is directed towards a select few. I cannot love humanity for I do not know it. I cannot love god for I cannot see him. I cannot love love because I have no faculties for the abstract. But I can love the impoverished, homeless children of the slums whose eyes light up like a thousand Hiroshimas whenever I read them a poem or tell them a story. I looked around me, then, at the rest of the church – the one of flesh and creaking bone – and gazed on a familiar audience of half-familiar faces. But there was one new face that caught my eye. My god what a face!
I hadn’t seen her before. She was young, certainly young, and she had a devout set of shoulders, meek and frail and drooping. Her hair was straight and black and her skin dark but trying hard to remain fair and pure and noble. The girl had the countenance of a liar but she was honestly beautiful! As in, her beauty was sincere. Her eyes were big and round like the dome but sensitive like olive oil that constantly threatens to slip through your fingers. She was dressed in black – but I needn’t have said that! – and she was sat between what looked to be her parents. I was sat in the front pew, as befitting a close relative, she was near the back of the small church and I looked at her through a rubble wall filled with prickly pears and saintly faces. Oh the saintliness in churches got to me bad! It was like being aroused in a brothel – so narcissistic you wouldn’t believe. I wished then the War would start again and a bomb – maybe not a Nazi one, though – fell on the church burying everyone alive, naked, so they could die with hypocrisy on their face and then, then they would have to greet the Lord! Oh but I wished no ill on that mazza, that black jade.
She looked at me, finally, after having my neck craned looking back for ten minutes. I winked at her. She smiled, blushing, and bowed her head with a modesty so false I could feel it for real. Then her mother looked at me. She had an elegant face but wrinkles were starting to bloom as if the surface of her face had begun to unravel. She looked at me with eyes like a knife. I, in turn, winked at her, too. I winked at her to congratulate her for the fruit of her loom, after all, one can only respect a woman whose interior balloon could develop and then shoot out as if from a labyrinth of trampolines, such exquisite beauty. Well done to you and your tubes!
The church bells began to ring. We knew what this meant: the hearse had arrived outside and my grandfather was on his way. (But how could bells mean anything other than bells ringing?) All of us stood up like the world’s most unlikely brigade. The priest was waiting for my grandfather at the foot of the altar. He looked like a Christmas tree with a small head and a ballooning body. I remembered him from my Holy Communion – it was him that gave me permission to receive the Lord. Him that conscripted me to the faith. He gave me permission to join the Lord’s army and now, the only way for me to be a deserter is if I flung myself over the tallest cliffs I could find. But here he comes, my grandfather, death’s bride.
The pall bearers that carried my grandfather looked focused and most of them were good at it: they either worked as fishermen or quarrymen. My grandfather was receiving a real worker’s send-off. Death had made the hard-working man, finally, into just another job to be done and dusted. One of the oldest pall bearers, my uncle, had a moustache like a prawn and his face was halfway between toil and sorrow. And I didn’t want to think it – but he looked like I looked when I was in the low room. The auberge. The office. The loo. And the thought of me sitting on the white throne carrying my grandfather aloft filled me with a booming, billowing roar of laughter. Now I looked like the pall bearers. They were carrying death and I was holding back a torrent of laughter. But laughter is its own genocide, it keeps on piling up victims until you begin to find everything murderously hilarious. You become addicted to the laughter as a soldier committing genocide becomes addicted to the slaughter.
I had to look away from the coffin and its faeces-itious toilers. I crossed my arms and put my hand over my mouth. My body began to shake even as my lips remained sealed. I was standing next to my parents. My mother was stoically trying to hold back her own tears at seeing the tree that her father had become. We were all united as a family in holding something back. But I had more to lose. Too much to lose. And then they set down the coffin in front of the altar. Right next to me. I was on the edge of the pew only a few feet away from the light wood coffin with the wooden crucifix lying on its arboreal torso. And the proximity would prove to be fatal. I tried to think of serious things – like a lover thinking of his grandmother when trying to maintain his performance – but what more serious a thing could I think of than that which lay beside me?
Now I was finding it funny that I found it funny, my plague had become one of meta-humour. I held my hand tightly on my mouth. My father looked at me with silver eyes and then looked away, believing that I too was on the verge of tears. How funny – my father thought I was about to cry! I expected him to find my predicament funny if he had known it and then the thought of him laughing further intoxicated me. I could only compare the welled-up laughter to vomit – it kept going up and down my throat making me dizzy, gassy, sometimes sick sometimes not. What is it they tell you when you feel sick? “Get it all out.” To do that I wouldn’t even need to stick a finger down my throat. The priest would do it for me – he was the sanctified straw that broke the nauseous camel’s back.
“In the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit.” I had forgotten what his voice sounded like. The priest that would be beseeching god to let my grandfather through the pearly gates sounded like he had overdosed on helium and then got a nasty flu!
And just when the entire church made the sign of the cross – I had been looking for ways to avoid that awkward moment the whole time we were waiting, but not like this – just when everyone was surrendering to the silence of mass and to reconcile their grief with their faith, there I thundered: “Oh god!” And thus their waterfalled my drunken, uncontrollable laughter – “Haha- HAHA-haaa!” oh it felt good, I take it back, I do, this felt nothing like vomiting; this felt like a virgin’s first orgasm. It felt like I hadn’t laughed for twenty years and now it all came out and I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t: can a man stop a bushfire, can a man stop an earthquake? No, no, no. Yes, oh god yes!
The entire church – that is both the fleshed out one and the building itself – I don’t need to tell you, looked at me with the fear of god in their eyes. You must understand, I really was the only one laughing. I had no hope of being forgiven. Inside a church, during the funeral of a beloved, laughter – god’s greatest gift to his children, no? – became a sin maybe not as original as Eve’s but as damnable as Cain’s! And the faces of the people, who looked as though they had been turned to salt, did nothing to assuage my ecstasy. I wasn’t happy I wasn’t sad I was just laughing, for god’s sake! It’s like when a man sleeps with a woman even though he neither fancies her nor hates her. My soul was laughing, I was possessed, there, will that do?
Seeing that there was no hope of the laughter dwindling or fizzing away anytime soon I saw no recourse but to leave my pew, walk down the aisle like some jilted bride, and leave the church. I said to myself, “I’ll go outside until I calm down.” But I knew I would never be let back in. I had burned my bridges with the flock and its pen. As I ran out covering my mouth, my eyes watering, I felt the boot of Jesus up my backside. I knew then, I knew full well, that you could be excommunicated from the church for voting Labour – but I had no idea you could be excommunicated for hysterical laughter.
And by god did I deserve the excommunication! Mea culpa mea culpa mea culpa. I was sure as day that my soul was damned down the slippery slide to hell. But, hell, I would go down laughing.
As I reached the back of the church I looked to my left and saw the face of that petite girl looking at me just like everyone else. Her parents looked more angry than horrified – there were two types of righteous souls: the ones that take offence and the ones that give out beatings. Her parents certainly fell into the latter camp. But what could they do to me that I couldn’t do to myself ? Ha-ha! I looked at her as I ran and I saw the same scornful, disgusted stare as they all of them bore me. She hated me, she was scared of me, she felt morally superior to me. They all did! But she had something none of the other almost-ghosts had: she was exquisitely beautiful.
It made me laugh all the more, as I reached the light at the end of that long aisle, to imagine the scornful look her parents would give her after she returned home from seeing me. And she had to see me. By god, just as sure as I was a blasphemer, I was sure she would be mine. Now, in the light of day, in the silent air, I laughed for a reason. I laughed with a belly full of optimism. May god give your soul peace, grandfather, and may I never know such a thing!