AN INADEQUATE MAN
I recall the episode with alarming clarity; an attribute quite contrary to my character. It was the beginning of spring and in a moment of almost childish joy; I had decided that my friend had to die. Do not believe me to be a Montressor, reader, for I do not drink sherry. Doubtless, insults had been exchanged from the very start of our friendship, but this was of little consequence. The singular reason for my desire in his demise was that he was completely inadequate, and yet he possessed the arrogance to believe that his half-baked ponderings held an authoritative weight.
It is quite true that I was a little hurt when he branded the theatre café – a charming little place and a frequent haunt of mine- as pretentious. The label was an unjust one. In truth, the old place is deliciously shabby. Wing-backed chairs with marbled leather waltz the warmly-lit room, the couches have stuffing spouting from their seams, and one can sit with a book for hours after purchasing the single coffee and thickly cut chocolate cake.
He was not a great reader but he possessed a certain knowledge and talent for the names and dates of publications. One afternoon, he wished to view my modest library; in particular, he desired to look over my collection of Russian Literature. He flicked through them idly and had an air of boredom about him.
“Not bad editions,” he said, finally, “But if you had waited, you could have purchased J.H. Plums new translation. His Gogol cannon is of particular interest; they are heavily annotated and include his early Ukrainian stories. This edition must be - what? – ten years old now? - before the discovery of the Turgenev letters, of course.”
I could not allow these sentiments to go unpunished and, to begin with, I flirted with the concept of torture before murder, but I do not hesitate in expressing a certain squeamishness when it comes to such matters. Psychological torture became a possibility but this demanded a certain amount of planning and imagination that I could not commit to.
Finally, a rather charming little idea came to my mind; I was viewing the event through the wrong spectacles. Drama was not key. My friend’s death had to reflect his irrelevant character. He had to undergo a very unremarkable demise.
I had an acquaintance, a doctor with a dubious moral code, who educated me in the properties of a certain poison; one which stopped the heart and was infamous among the well-versed in apothecary as being virtually undetectable. My good doctor friend showed me a small bottle of this syrup which lay behind the glass of his curiosity cabinet. He then left the room. I worry about him, frequently.
My friend who had to die agreed to accompany me to my “pretentious” little café. He had annoyed me already that morning by expressing indignation at my passion for green tea and remarked, after I had ordered a particularly unique, Japanese blend, that it was merely an affectation.
“I’m beginning to think,” he said, “that you are afraid of taste. You are effectively drinking water.”
And so it was that an ancient art and ritual had been dismissed for its results in weak beverages.
During a brief episode in which my friend was engrossed in cleaning his teaspoon with his napkin and making certain that I heard his “tut’s”, I was able to slip the poison into his coffee undetected. After an initial sip, he remarked: “This tastes rather odd.”
“Perhaps it is merely this pretentious café,” I replied, “they must have served you an ironic coffee.”
My friend then slumped forward into the sugar bowl. By recalling an incident at school in which I had missed the deadline for my Divinity thesis, I was able to convey quite accurately the feeling of panic and horror before the café staff.
A few days later, the instilled calmness and stoicism that I felt after my friend’s death (which was due, in part, to my having been responsible for it) came to be a great advantage as I was able to seize control from grieving relatives and plan the arrangements for his funeral. I regarded it as an honour and a privilege; parents were indebted to me, uncles shook me warmly by the hand and work colleagues thought it noble of me in overcoming my grief in order to organise the appropriate remembrance.
I was to organise a pathetic funeral for a pathetic man.
Firstly, I booked a lovely little chapel for the service and decided to invite too many mourners; exactly double the seating plan. The capacity of the chapel was completely inadequate.
Secondly, I created two very distinct and separate invitations. One was conservative, sombre - perhaps even tasteful - with a thick, black border and very fine quality print. In the second, I reminded guests that the deceased was a man who enjoyed frivolity, and so please arrive, it stated, please arrive in a cavalcade of colour and laughter. “Formal, black mourning dress simply won’t do,” it read, “that is not the way in which our friend would have wanted it.” I sent each invite to exactly half of the guests.
In truth, I felt a small pang of sympathy for the old school-chum who arrived in a canary yellow three piece suit. The orange fedora complete with peacock tail in the band was a stroke of genius. He was crammed onto the pew between leg of mutton sleeves and one of the deceased’s many uncles; this particular uncle was red with rage and looked as if he could kill the yellow fool. The said fool trembled intolerably; his peacock tail brushing the noses of those mourners behind.
Despite the limited seating, everyone had managed to squeeze into the nave. “Cosy” is the word that I should like to use.
The weather that day was monstrous; the heat was quite unbearable. And so it was that by the first five minutes, guests were wilting noticeably in their starched collars and black jackets or their gaudy ties and floral shirts. When one adds the heated temperaments of anger and embarrassment into the mix, one can quite imagine an uncomfortable and irritable inferno.
I remained hidden and cool by the vestry, until that is, the eulogy, in which I had planned something rather special. My deceased friend was of the opinion that poetry was impotent at conveying meaning; it was an archaic and moribund art form which had, as he saw it, neither edge nor force. In my eulogy, I expressed my friend’s admiration and enthusiasm for the medium.
“I should now like to read his favourite poem; a piece from which he sought comfort in times of stress. It is entitled: “Autumn Musings.” It was composed by Matthew H. Hamilton and appears in its unabridged form in his collected works with a foreword by J. H. Plum.”
I then began to read from the poem which I had penned only the afternoon before. Running water was a strong motif. I read slowly and with precise diction.
Myriad forms in eternal splendour,
A lake lies here, an azure sky.
The first few stanzas were quite conventional, but during its composition that long afternoon, I had gotten bored and had simply picked words at random from newspaper articles. My delivery became erratic and I began to pronounce words strangely.
When a quarter of an hour had passed, I had finally finished my epic. It had had the desired effect. The chapel was untainted my tears. Faces were soporific, vague and bewildered.
The vicar thanked me for “those kind and beautiful words,” and proceeded to tell the congregation of the deceased’s generosity of spirit and his many charitable works; all of which had been fabricated by myself.
Bribery was required for one particular part of the performance. During the Lord’s Prayer, the organist piped up and played with such tremendous force that the congregation sat up in fright and in the resulting confusion the vicar was unable to communicate with the happy musician. He decided to simply finish the service as the pall bearers had already proceeded to take up position. The congregation looked around wildly and under the oppressive cacophony they rose clumsily; falling over each other being in such close proximity.
My friend left the church in a very undignified manner.
I could have quite easily turned the funeral into a pantomime; a farce if you like. I could have committed much evil. I pondered on the idea of getting one of the pallbearers drunk, but this would have made for too memorable a funeral. It had to remain quite unremarkable.
At a disappointing Funeral Tea, in which I had endeavoured to hire the very worst caterers, I regaled the bereaved with kindly anecdotes of the deceased. I told Emily - a clingy little girl who my friend detested – how much she meant to him, and, on the day that he passed, we spoke endlessly of her. My deceased friend confessed his love for Emily and subsequently spent the rest of that day in accentuated sighs and an inability to finish sentences. Emily’s dark little eyes filled with tears; it was a pleasure to create such profound truths on illusion. Like temples built on dust, or perhaps, just temples themselves.
The deceased was cremated and it befell unto me, the role of choosing where the ashes could be scattered. I told the bereaved of a place that my friend held very close to his heart; a place that he found tranquil.
The staff at the café were very obliging when I expressed my wish. And so today, after a miserable week of battling food poisoning, I can sit in a favourite haunt of mine with a coffee or perhaps some green tea, with my feet firmly on the old boards of the place and I know that my friend will always look up to me.