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1 July, 2009 / Erik

The Fuller Equation, Chapter Five

5. Fuller Goes to a Funeral

This is easy as long as the movements stay mechanical. Pants on. Shirt cuffs buttoned. I approach the tie with some ambivalence. It was the imagemakers who added it to my wardrobe and this is my last official appearance with the campaign. I’m all in black and here’s this red tie. That used to be me: the Man in Red.

Even at my grandmother’s funeral, I wore a red shirt.

Scanning the hotel room, I see the sum total of things. A life transformed by processed air and too many salmon dinners. I wonder what kind of disaster Valerija made of my apartment. When was the last time I was even there?

There’s a knock at the door. “Room service!” I open the door and a young man places a tray on the nearby desk. I reach into my wallet for a couple of bucks. He nods and says, “That won’t be necessary. Just sign for it.” He says. I can see the edge of a tattoo reaching from the color of his shirt. He hands me a bill to sign. “My friends … we’re going to have a memorial of our own. If you’d like to come by,” he says. He leaves a card next to my breakfast and leaves.

Ms. McKenzie knocks on the door next. Her sound is distinctive. She hits the door with caution; always afraid the thing might break and her hand might shatter in the process. I let her in and she immediately eyes the toast on my breakfast tray. “Feel free. There’s too much for me,” I tell her as I pour some coffee. “I should have another cup around here.”

“Oh, that’s okay. Just toast.”

I sit down next to her and contemplate the choices in front of me. “What’s next for you?” I ask.

“I’m switching back to publicity. Movies are easier than this,” she says.

“Heh. Nice to have that option.”

She spreads some jam on a slice of toast. “Make sure you don’t get that shirt dirty. It’s the only black one we have for you.”

“Noted.”

#

Shortly after first meeting Garland, my grandmother finally succumbed to her cancer. She was eighty-some years, but didn’t look a day over fifty-eight. Well, at least until her malfunctioning body began to eat her alive.

Uncle Charlie called to tell me the news. Valerija tried to run interference, but eventually, she said I needed to talk to him. He told me the news and the earth collapsed.

“When you come by, bring your mother some flowers,” he suggested.

“Why would I do that?”

“To show her you care.”

“Since when do I care?” I looked up at saw Valerija wince.

“Look, Fuller, just … can you try to be comforting?”

“I’ll try to be nice.”

I switched off the phone and handed it back to Valerija. “When do we need to be there?” she asked.

“We? I think I need to go it alone.”

“Why?”

“This is a family thing and—“ Crushed under fourteen pounds of atmospheric pressure, I sat down at the small kitchen table Valerija insisted we get. I felt her hands at my shoulders; an anchor from my own thoughts.

“You sure?” she asked.

“Honestly, you met my grandmother. The rest of them will just make you cry.”

#

I glance at the TV while Ms. McKenzie ties my tie. “I don’t know about this tie, Fuller,” she says.

“You taught me to maintain image at all times.”

She smiles to herself. On the television, they’re talking about the funeral. This is the public one; the fancy ceremony that simultaneously anoints the Fuckhead as Garland’s successor. The newsman mentions him as people start to arrive.

“Are you going to be good?” she asks.

“With the Fuckhead? I’ll be an angel.”

#

I took to visit my grandmother those last few months. Well, at least before I started working for Garland. The first visit, I was still attuned to school system time: up at 5AM with nowhere to go. However, I knew she’d be awake. She, like me, was a creature of habits.

A knock, a “what a surprise” and a three minute argument about her making me eggs, I’m sitting in the kitchen with her as she fried up some food and told me she was into the routine of Cream of Wheat, so this is a nice change.

“And the Parentals?” I asked.

My grandmother sighed and looked over at me from behind big bifocals. The arch of her eyebrows said it all.

“What fear of God did Granpa put in them?”

She told me the right kind.

“Even if they hate each other?”

She said yes as the scrambled eggs fell into the plate from her skillet. She sat down and pulled a cigarette from her pocket. She also produced my grandfather’s lighter. An old gold Zippo dinged up from years of use. I suppose he had it since Korea, but he died before really telling me anything about himself.

“I thought you were supposed to cut those out.”

She looked off through the hallway toward the TV room. She said it’s too late for it to matter before lighting. She pushed the ashtray half way between us.

“I don’t smoke in this early in the day.”

She nodded and took a drag. She’d lost a lot of weight over the past year. For a time, we sat in silence as she enjoyed what would be one of her last cigarettes.

She got up to clean the skillet and let it be known she’s proud of me.

“For? I’m a jerk.”

She’s proud I haven’t back down on anything. She put the skillet in the sink and held onto the edge for a second. I leaped up and helped her stand.

“I’ll take care of it when I’m done,” I told her.

She said I’ll do no such thing and batted me away.

The kitchen in the family house always seemed to be an afterthought the way it slid along the side of the house from the dining room to the service porch. All the other houses I’ve been to in Haverbrook seem built around them, but in this house, the planners must’ve hated food.

I stayed near her, just in case.

#

In the open air, I see Garland’s casket in the distance. The insect sound of camera shutters flattens out into a constant hum. I don’t know what people expect me to do, but there is a great interest in my every footfall. Up at the dais, Garland’s wife places a flower on the casket. They couldn’t have kids and the party believed this would be something he could not overcome in a general election.

The Fuckhead stands nearby, still smiling even as he attempts to appear somber. He helps Mrs. Garland back to her seat. I take the seat Ms. McKenzie told me was prepared for me. Just a few rows behind Garland’s other family members. The Fuckhead spots me.

He comes by and offers his hand. I take it and attempt contact. Since discovering a way to know people’s souls, the Fuckhead is the only one immune to the insight. I don’t care to know how he is protected. “Well, Fuller. It is a sad day, isn’t it?”

“For some.”

“You don’t think someone is overjoyed at the Senator’s death do you?” His attempt at concern is admirable.

“Somewhere, there is a Man in White toasting the event with a champagne breakfast.”

“There’s no evidence of the man you claim to have seen,” he says, now showing actual concern.

“No, of course not.”

Now it’s time for his sales pitch. “Fuller, I would hope we can put the differences behind us and show the country a united front. Will you come up to the dais with me and say a few words?”

“Sure. Here’s some: kiss my ass.”

He pulls back slightly. “Well, I don’t know if Senator Garland would appreciate that sentiment.”

Heh.

He walks away and talks to one of his advisors, a hawkish-looking man in a white tie.

I sit down, wondering where the bullet will come from.

#

I make five feet into the house before it started. “Where the hell have you been?” shouted my mother from the kitchen. “He doesn’t have time anymore. He’s an important person now,” my father said.

“Yeah. I have airs about me now. Why associate with the likes of you?” I responded.

The house was invaded by children; the spawn of other uncles and aunts. Charlie stepped in from the family room. I nodded. The whole place hummed with life. At some point I heard Aunt Nellie crying from her room upstairs. She never left the roost despite breeding two of her own little hellions.

“Can you just be good?” asked my mother. She’s not angry. If she was, she’d call me by my full name. I learned to hate the sound of my own name as consequence.

“Maybe I can’t.”

Something fell into the sink. “You little bastard,” shouted my father. He got up and came into the living room fixing for a fight. He throws and awkward punch that I manage to avoid. Charlie pushes him back.

“Ed, this isn’t the time for this,” he said in that reassuring manner he mysteriously possesses.”

“Tell the little shit that.” My father pointed at me. Charlie looks back at me.

“Fuller, can we go outside?”

We walked out to the front yard. I could hear my father complaining about me to my mother.

“Is it always going to be this way?” Uncle Charlie asked.

“Yes.”

“Fuller …”

“Listen, Charlie. You know what he’s like. He wants to fight.”

“So you have to egg him on?”

“I have to defend myself.”

Charlie shakes his head.

A crash comes from the house. My mother starts shouting “You fucker!” My father’s patent retort: “Shut up, bitch!”

“Confrontation is how they express love,” I said.

#

The speeches drone on. A former president talks about how he met the junior senator. Garland’s old pastor comes and reads something from the Gospel of John. The Fuckhead talks about their initial confrontation on the campaign trail. Garland’s wife is in tears, despite her best effort to hold it all in. The advisors made it very clear to all of us: no scenes.

Finally, the Fuckhead announces his intention to continue in Garland’s stead. “Though I might take his place, I can never replace him,” he says to applause.

This isn’t a funeral. It’s the crowning of Napoleon. They might as well throw Garland’s embalmed corpse on the floor and fuck it until it disintegrates from the friction.

I get up. Some of the cameras notice and focus on me. I note them as I past the other people in my row. Finally in the isle, I give the slightest respectful bow to Garland’s casket and walk away.

#

The family filed into the church. They all claim to be Catholic despite a deep misunderstanding of what that means. The older ones remember to cross themselves with holy water as they enter. The younger ones have no idea what the little vessels mean.

I stood at the back by one of the confessionals and watch my aunts try to settle their children down. At least a couple of them get smacked.

Charlie sees me and glances at the pews the rest of the family have reserved. I shake a “no” at him.

The ceremony began. The Priest was an ass. He talked about the purifying fires of Purgatory. The last thing I wanted to think about was my grandmother, a good woman before she was a good Catholic, burning because she ate meat on Fridays during lent.

Purgatory is another one of those bizarre Catholic ideas that caused the Protestant Reformation to happen.

There’s also a place called limbo. It’s just like heaven, except you’re denied “the Divine Presence.” They’re both constructs the Church made to collect more money.

The priest continued: “And we can only help her with a stronger connection to the Church and to God.”

With that, I got up, stamped my foot on the marble and shouted, “Fuck you!” My grandmother resides with the angels. With that, I left the church.

Outside, Valerija was walking up in her attempt at funeral clothes. A skirt so short, it would make my comments quickly forgotten. She saw me and stopped. “What happened?” she asked.

I was too busy holding back tears to answer her.

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One Comment

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  1. Erik / Jul 15 2009 11:02 am

    Continue on to Chapter Six: http://tiny.cc/fuller06

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