Despite protestations to the contrary, Bobo knew the deceased was less than upstanding. Hortense read his mind. “What did you think?” she asked.
“Fine,” Bobo replied.
Said she: “It’s a funeral. What did you expect?”
“You want people to say bad things about him at his funeral?”
“Something a little more accurate would have been nice.”
“I don’t know.”
The server approached and dropped a plate of Greek salad and an order of garlic fries on the table. Hortense took her napkin and unrolled it, releasing a fork and knife. “I liked what Trevor had to say,” she said.
“Which one was Trevor?”
“The guy who talked about the ski accident. He was funny.”
“Which ski accident? There were two. ”
“The chairlift accident.”
“Heh-heh” said Bobo, remembering. The chairlift accident. When the dead man had alerted the lift operator that a safety bar on one of the chairs was cracked, leading the operator to strand several dozen riders in the air while he called up to his partner to look for it. A child suspended over the slopes panicked and fell twenty feet to the ground. They never did find the cracked safety bar.
Everywhere Corky Robertson went, disaster followed. Hortense had only met him once. Bobo knew him for the better part of thirty years. He put a garlic fry in his mouth, thinking how much he had come to dislike Corky. By the end the two men had grown estranged. Hortense speared a piece of feta with her fork, “Was his mom really too frail to come to the funeral?” She jiggled the feta around as she talked. Bobo kept an eye on it, thinking it might fly off and land in his beer.
“How do you know?”
Maybe Bobo’s right. The thought of a dead man’s mother missing her son’s funeral did raise a red flag in her mind. During the ceremony, an elderly lady, close friend of the Robertson matriarch, had claimed she was too feeble to attend. In lieu of attendance, the elderly friend had read a prepared statement from Mrs. Robertson that described her son’s selfless personality. Bobo wasn’t convinced she couldn’t make it. It’s true, he hadn’t seen her in nearly five years. She’s 87. Granted, the health of an eighty-seven-year-old could be a good deal more precarious than a woman of 82. He still wasn’t convinced. You make your son’s funeral, even if they have to wheel the hospital gurney to the cemetery.
“How do you know?” repeated Hortense.
“Because she’s a pig.”
Mrs. Robertson was the definition of a nasty lady: venal, controlling, manipulative. She hails from a plantation family in South Carolina. He’d heard her refer to the hired southern help as monkeys. One of the more notorious pieces of decoration on display in her San Francisco mansion is a pair of fake human skins. As a kid, Bobo remembered inspecting the ghoulish oddities, running his little fingers over the dark rubber profiles, while Mrs. Robertson hovered nearby, holding her 4th or 5th glass of Sauvignon Blanc. In hindsight, this stuff doesn’t necessarily make someone a monster. But his interactions with her over the years had reinforced the conviction that her character was as tasteless as her taste. Her absence from Corky’s funeral wasn’t at all surprising.
“Why would you say such a thing?”
Does it matter? he thought to himself.
“Maybe she is too frail,” he replied.
Hortense speared a cube of feta, a slice of cucumber, and an olive. She pointed them at him, tines curved toward the floor. “How did you like Sheri’s story?” Again, Bobo couldn’t remember. He tried to place Sheri. Which one’s Sheri? The one in black or the one in purple? Or maybe she was the one in a skirt and dark green pantyhose, with a leather jacket that appeared too small on her, which made her look real good. He took a guess. It was her, and he vaguely remembered her story. She met Corky at Narcotics Anonymous, and he saved her life.
“It was nice.”
Hortense spit out the olive pit; “You don’t remember her story.”
“I do. Narcotics Anonymous. He saved her life.”
“Okay. You do remember.”
“She forgot to include smoking heroin in his apartment.”
“He supplied the smack and she moved in and helped him smoke it, until she had a heart attack and the doctor told her dad that his daughter would die if he didn’t get her out of there, which he did. Corky was very angry that her father insinuated himself in their lives the way he did. Thought it was terribly rude.”
Hortense was silent. She speared more feta, stuck it in her mouth, along with another olive. Bobo ate some fries. “Funny,” he said, standing up, “I guess they think you don’t need ketchup if you order garlic fries.” He took a detour to the bathroom before going to the counter. As he relieved himself, he read some graffiti on the wall behind the toilet:
– love covers a multitude of sins –
Hortense watched him return to the table with a bottle of ketchup. She watched him flip it upside down and shake a bright red dollop onto the edge of his shiny white plate. He stuck the tips of five fries in the sauce and shoved them in his mouth. She thought of the time they had visited Corky. His health wasn’t too good. He was recovering from brain cancer. He had recently returned to his San Francisco apartment from his brother Ned’s Salt Lake City house, where he had been treated. He was weak, with a depleted T-cell count due to all the chemo and radiation he had gotten in Salt Lake.
Half of his scalp was still shaved, from an operation to remove a tumor. The other half sported curly black hair, making him look a bit ridiculous. Why not shave your whole head, she had wondered. She enjoyed the visit, at least at first. Corky had welcomed them warmly. For a while he was gracious. Once he grew comfortable around her, he grew vulgar, throwing lewd insults Bobo’s way. Before they had left, he had given her a present of a seashell she had admired in his apartment. In spite of all, the impression had been favorable.
Hortense spit out another pit. “You think Sheri should have shared the other stuff?”
Bobo swallowed his food, “Huh?”
“Should she have stood up there and talked about the dope?”
“You don’t say that sort of thing when you’re standing next to someone’s ashes.”
Hortense smiled, “I said something to Sheri.”
“Oh, yeah? What did you say?”
“I mentioned Corky had given me a shell when we visited him.” Her eyes light up; “Oh, yeah? That was my shell!”
“His brother could have mentioned the lawsuit.”
“Their lawsuit, against the folks.”
Now she remembered. Mr. and Mrs. Robertson had raided their children’s trust, successfully diverting a million dollars. Corky and Ned and their lawyers clawed most of it back from them, courtesy of a judgment of the court, affirmed on appeal. Bobo had told her all about the lawsuit on the way home from seeing Corky. She got ready to say something. He beat her to it: “Sweetie, I know. I’ll stop. It isn’t the right time. It was a nice funeral. Ned was so happy to meet you. Did you enjoy meeting him?”
“Yeah.” The way she said it. She didn’t enjoy it.
Her shoulders shuddered. “He gave me the creeps.”
“I don’t know. Something creepy there.” Bobo frowned. She’s right. He is creepy. Everyone in the family is creepy. A kind of oiliness. It comes from wealth. The dolce vita. A sinister pretentiousness. It’s what he sees, too.
“His eyes,” she adds; “They’re the eyes of a fish.”
“Ha-Ha-Ha! Fish eyes?”
“Ned’s a fish!”
“Stop. We shouldn’t. Not right now.”
For a while the two ate and drank in silence. Funerals are weird. Death is weird. Especially an unexpected death, from Covid 19, at the age of 54. Not entirely unexpected, of course. With such a depleted T-cell count, Corky was a ripe candidate for the plague. Lungs scarred from years of free-basing and heroin and cigarettes also contributed. Bobo and the other close family friends figured something like this would be entirely possible. Nevertheless, it still felt out of the blue. One minute he’s here, breathing, boorish, stoned, cursing the thieves who birthed him. (That was a favorite topic of Corky’s: railing against his mom and dad for taking the trust money.
The two men had argued about it. Bobo told him he should drop it, because he had finally acquired access to the trust, finally gotten his hands on millions of dollars, so it isn’t worth it. Corky got mad when Bobo said that. It isn’t about how much money they took. It was about the principle. The parents needed to pay for their behavior. Replenish the million dollars, plus interest, whether they had it or not. Mr. Robertson died of a stroke several months after the successful outcome of the lawsuit.)
Hortense got up, “I’ll be right back.” She went to the bathroom. There it was, drawn on the wall in gothic font with a black felt tip marker:
– love covers a multitude of sins –
After using the toilet, Hortense pulled her phone out and took a picture of the message. She sent it to her fiancé.
“You’re right, Honey,” Bobo said, upon her return; “He was a good friend. I’ll miss him.”
“You mean that?”
The pair finished their snack and headed for the exit.
Cedric lives in San Francisco. His story Merry-Go-Round took First Place at the 2022 Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival Short Story Contest in Pennsylvania. He has published fiction in overseas and domestic literary journals including the Eunoia Review, Raven Review, and Iconoclast Literary magazine.