I once read an article in a waiting room about how the secret of life is to enjoy the passage of time. The article only meant that you should buy a certain brand of wristwatch; that you should look down at the same gadgets, rotating interminably as the pulse behind it slows.
How cruel it would be to bury an old bastard with a wristwatch so that the worms will know to feast on the hour – crueler still to slap one on a young corpse, irony aside.
I wonder if all of these people were buried in their finest suits and dresses, adorned with their most elegant peals and cuff links – I wonder if the quality of the fabric preserved their mortal souls.
AGAINST YOU I WILL FLING MYSELF,
UNVANQUISHED AND UNYIELDING,
Tom Stokes must have been one hell of a man. His epitaph is my favourite. He seems to have been a stubborn bloke, only lived to 57. I’d like to think that he was stolid and stoic, that his family was surprised by his final poetic sentiment.
I’m not really one for sentiment, but I’ve thought a lot about what I’d want engraved on my stone, although I’ve never settled upon any one saying. The problem is that I keep forfeiting my ideals for new ones. I figure I’ll stumble upon the best set eventually.
The tortured squeaks of skidding tires break my concentration, and instinct swings my body towards the sound. The cat looks at the fuming motorist as if to say: Go on, do it! I dare you!
Defeated, the driver waits for the feline to make its way across the road. He must’ve realized how much power a potential victim wields over a potential threat.
After a bit of mindless walking, I find myself at Tory’s. The thing you ought to know about Tory and me is that we really can’t stand each other… I guess that’s why we came to be friends – because we both needed someone to disagree with.
Tory’s mother opens the door. Poor Mrs. Pike is the poster girl for systematic abuse. She’s smiling and wearing an apron, as always. She smiles as if she’s trying to convince you that she means it, as if she can assure you of your happiness if she smiles hard enough.
Glued to the screen in front of her, Tory asks blankly, “How long this time?”
“Only about an hour,” I reply. She knows I only visit the graveyard when something’s bothering me. She’s said she can tell when I’ve been there because I wreak of death, but all she smells is fresh dirt and old flowers.
“What’s the matter with you now?”
“Nothin’s the matter. Just needed to think.”
She talks about how I think too much, and how I ought to do less of it. She says my thinking will take me to hell. She’ll pray for me though, because that’s what Jesus would do.
Mrs. Pike interrupts before I can retort. She brings up a tray of snacks, laid out with the precision one would expect.
“D’you reckon a person can think too much, Mrs. Pike? Tory seems to think so.”
Ambushed, she smiles sheepishly and says, “Well dear, I do remember seeing this man on Oprah… and he said that thinking is what makes us human… and I… I think that really speaks for itself, honey,” with that, she leaves.
“See – Cogito ergo sum – even your mother agrees,” Tory scoffs and nibbles on a cookie. “Do you get a kick out of going to that place – like some sort of psychopath?” She asks accusingly.
I’d like to tell her about the serenity and the purity of it; how the air feels fresher above disintegrating flesh; how liberating it is to walk among the imprisoned. She wouldn’t understand how I stop feeling useless when I walk through a human wasteland; how important it is that I stop feeling useless.
“No – I just – it helps me think.”
“What makes you think so damn much? Same nonsense?”
“Always different, nonsense none the less…” I pause indecisively. “How do you do it? Go about without thinking?”
“Blissfully,” she says, without hesitation.
On my way out, I see Mrs. Pike in the living room. She’s watching trashy reality TV, her hands moving rhythmically with the thread of wool. Even her tears roll with exactitude. Poor Mrs. Pike, the poster girl for a victimless crime.
At the intersection before the graveyard, a grotesque, misshapen creature lies motionless. My shoulders drop and I can’t help but curse at the stubborn cat. I suppose the driver was in control after all.
I sat there until I forgot why I came, and then an almost-epiphany scraped past me, just as the almost-alive cat had outwitted the driver.
I realized how brilliant Tory and Mrs. Pike are. All these years I’ve pitied them, and their shallow happiness and narrow minds; all these years I’ve been obsessed with the dead, I guess it was because I hadn’t known how to live. They’ve cracked the enigma: the secret of life is to live so thoughtlessly and convincingly that you are happy. God, they had it right all along.
Living is easy with eyes closed – even John Lennon knew it. I’ve struggled with philosophy and science and my ego, but these battles were as futile as any war has been. Truly, all I have to do is feign a smile and strike a pose, and that’ll be enough for me, like it is for everyone else. I’ll keep smiling and posing until I’m sure that I mean it. Someone ought to tell the priests and philosophers that salvation lies in the hands of the gullible, but I guess they already know that.
Now all I have to do is buy a wristwatch and admire how the years will peel the leather and stop the hands from turning. Then, they can leave me to rest as I lived: with a busted old watch and with my eyes closed.