I approached the old Victorian, filled with a mixture of trepidation and, well, trepidation. Through my fogging windshield, crisp Autumn leaves meandered to the surface in meaningless circles, then scattered into fragments beneath my crunching tires.
I thought…that’s a crappy sentence.
I thought…that’s a crappy sentence.
And I thought of Apple Cider.
I’m a writer, I think like that…really.
"What are you thinking about?" Sal asked.
Sal was my next door neighbor who had insisted on coming along. Not that I minded. I figured I could use the company.
“I was thinking, what a crappy sentence.”
“The one I just wrote in my head.”
“Writers….” Sal sighed.
"And Apple Cider," I said."Apple Cider?"
"It's the leaves...the air...bright blue sky. It makes me think of Apple Cider."
Sal smiled. "It's really just a metaphor, you know, for death."
"What's a metaphor for death?"
"Apple Cider...the fall...decaying leaves, returning to the earth, all that mucky stuff."
I shot Sal a look and feared another one of his paperback philosophies.
"No...actually I was just thinking about cider...apple cider. I enjoy drinking it on days like this."
"Whatever...." Sal said, dismissing me with an all knowing wave of the hand.
A parking space materialized directly in front of the funeral home and I grabbed it.
"Not bad," Sal said. "Today's your lucky day."
"Yeah lucky." I muttered.
"So tell me again how your friend, you know, passed away...just in case I need to make conversation. There might be some cute women."
"Oh great, you're on the make...."
"At a wake," he finished. "That's pretty good...you oughta be a writer."
"I am a writer."
"Well, a funny writer...you know, they make pretty good money."
"Jake was a writer, too," I said. "I knew him from that group I joined a while back. Hit it off pretty good. We thought a lot alike...always said we'd collaborate on a project or something, someday."
"I guess you waited too long," Sal said. He rolled down the window a bit to let some of the stuffy air escape, and I noticed a group of people walking up the broad porch steps.
"So what happened. I mean forty four year old men don't just up and die everyday...well I guess they do, but not as often as eighty four year old men."
"What?" Sal said. He turned back to face me, but I still couldn't take my eyes off the number of people going in.
"There must be a few other stiffs in there," I said. "Jake couldn't be this popular."
"What do you mean his PC...so his apartment's available...how is it, nice...how many rooms?"
"I don't know. Maybe you could ask while you're hunting up a date."
I forced my attention back to Sal. "His computer...it had some sort of freak radiation leak."
"Radiation, from a PC!"
"It was an old one."
"How about that...you just never know what's got you're name on it, do ya. But how much radiation could leak out of a PC? I mean it can't be that much."
"They said it was a cumulative thing. He's been working on this novel for the last five years. Said it was gonna define his life, so every word had to be perfect. I think he sat in front of that thing for days at a time."
"How did he live?"
"He didn't, he died."
"No, I mean how did he make money?"
"I don't know, I never thought about it...I think he sold some corporate stuff...talk about death."
A stream of people exited the building while others still poured in.
Sal yanked on the door handle and stepped out of the car. I did the same, avoiding another swirl of rolling leaves.
"Apple Cider," I whispered.
"Well, maybe someone will publish his book, you know, posthumously, and he'll become some sort of a legend. Sort of like that `Rent' guy. I mean, God has his ways, right" Sal said.
"Right," I said, ready to slay Sal's God with my silver sword of logic. "Well, God arranged it so that when the final curtain fell, as did Jake, his nose hit the select all key, while his thumb hit the delete key."
"What about Undue...they could just recall it."
"Uh, uh. No Un-due. When his landlord found him, he went bonkers and tripped over the power strip....the whole thing just went kaput...."
Sal shook his head, "Ironic."
"Nope, more like Moronic. Jake never backed anything up on disc and always recycled his hard copies when he started revising a draft. Said he didn't like all that paper sitting around when it could be turned into shopping bags."
We'd reached the large front porch and Sal eyeballed a couple of women sitting on some wicker furniture, having a smoke.
"I guess that pretty much sucks," he said, opening the door to the vestibule.
"Pretty much," I replied.
We entered the dimly lit hall and the first thing that hit me was the overpowering smell of fresh cut flowers.
Sal took a deep breath, producing an annoying sniffing sound.
"Mmmmmh, smell that sweet air," he said.
"Smells like death to me," I answered.
"Flowers smell like death to you?"
"Sure...ask any florist where the real money is."
The second thing that struck me was the thick concentration of people. I looked around for a political corpse or dead priest, but found nothing...all the other rooms were empty, except for friends, apparently, of Jake.
"How could a man, who never left his apartment in five years, have so many friends?" I asked
"Greeting cards," Sal said.
"Greeting cards," he repeated. "You send a Christmas card once a year, a birthday card now and again, you have friends forever."
"I did get a Christmas card from Jake, one of the few I did get."
"You don't send cards, I'm guessing."
"Well," said Sal, clearly amused. "Rest In peace, my friend."
An attractive blonde woman happened by at just that moment, her eyes rimmed with tears.
"Yes," the blonde said to Sal. "Jake's with God now...did you know him well?"
Sal produced a wistful smile, while I just shook my head and walked into the main room. I looked around, nodded towards a few familiar faces and realized that I had stopped breathing. I finally inhaled, and then, reluctantly, approached the open casket.
Sal's voice had trailed off, but I plainly heard him reply, "Can anyone say that they really knew Jake...."
The holy rosary society had just completed their thing and the room was slowly coming back to life, so to speak. The bead squeezers huddled around the surviving family members, and offered condolences.
I took the opportunity to confront the deceased, unnoticed, and to, maybe, search for some answers.
"He's with God, now", seemed to be the prevailing sentiment, although in my mind Jake was still in this box in front of me, wearing a bad suit from JC Penny's. Another irony, actually, since Jake never wore anything slicker than a black pair of jeans and an occasional vest, for the real formal occasions.
Staring into Jake's wax colored face I wished that I really could believe in this God that everyone found so comforting. Believe me, life would be a lot less puzzling if I did. But hey, what kind of an artist would that make me.
Optimistic, I'd imagine...but what value is optimism to an artist.
I placed my hand on Jake's shoulder and was surprised by how solid it felt. I don't know why.
It was as if I had thought that death had somehow diminished his substance.
I knew what Jake would have said: that reality went beyond substance, or more like beneath it...that, what most perceived as reality, was only the superficial substance of life, the outer layer. "Peel away the layers...that's where the juice is", he once told me.
You can see why I liked this man. I mean, the guy had either tremendous insight or the next great campaign line for the orange squeezers of
The sound of Sal's voice rattled in the distance, startling me out of my introspection.
"It really is such a tragedy...but I think a large settlement should be in order for the family. You know, I was privileged to have read an early draft...just brilliant."
I turned back to Jake and could almost see him cringe.
Just then, an elderly woman, dressed completely in black, stepped beside me. She dabbed her eyes with a tear stained tissue and spoke with a soft Italian accent.
"Tell me young man, have you discovered the secret."
I turned away from what remained of Jake and scanned the vast assembly of mourners. I wanted to shout out to them, tell them the secret as I had learned it from Jake. Fill their dull edged minds with a real artist's truth and wisdom.
Then, once again, Sal's voice found me like a heat seeking missile.
"So how many rooms did Jake actually have?”
I closed my eyes and turned back to the old woman.
"Apparently, it's greeting cards."