Once I wrote fifteen thousand words of a novel over the course of a few days because the idea wouldn't leave me alone. This was a few months back, and I haven't written a word of it since, mainly due to 1) time limitations (I do have a novel I am supposed to rewrite) and 2) There is a huge gap between where I stopped writing the story and how I think it will end, and I have no idea what to put in between. Perhaps it will work better as a shorter story.
Here is an excerpt! It's written from the perspective of a girl called Andy. She's very organised, particular and logical. She catalogues her entire life. She's an aspiring scientist. She's a big fan of rationality and predictability. Her grandmother is her closest friend, and her exact opposite (crazy and fun and unpredictable), and the novel begins with her funeral, and occurs over a span of an exceptionally weird 24 hours in Andy's life. If I keep working on this I will come up with a better title. Tell me what you think.
How strange to make up someone’s face and dress them in their best clothes when no one will ever look at them again. Perhaps this is just a tradition left over from ancient times, like the Egyptian kings and queens thinking that all the treasures in their tombs would go with them to the afterlife. Maybe in the future, when everyone in our society advances to the level I am pretty sure I have evolved to now, we will be a bit more realistic and bury human bodies under crops or something, because I hear they are a very good natural fertiliser. I would not mind eating food that has been fertilised by people who are already deceased, or people eating food fertilised by my corpse. As long as no one was specifically killed for fertiliser and no one ate a stray limb, I feel it would be fairly all right and a lot more sensible than what we are doing currently.
‘I want to be a cremated so I can’t come back as a zombie,’ Grandma told me once.
‘Cremation is terrible for the environment, worse than burying people. It causes a lot of pollution,’ I told her. ‘And also urns are a bit creepy. I always see in movies that people accidentally eat the ashes or something. Apparently it’s common.’
‘I’ll be dead! I won’t care about the environment. I don’t care a whole lot now, to be terribly un-PC. I’ll be cremated and you can paint me into a portrait of myself.’ She tilted her chin up and placed a hand underneath, gazing up at the wall clock of our kitchen thoughtfully. ‘Make me look like a fascist dictator, would you?’
‘That’s even creepier and I can’t paint.’
‘You’ve got plenty of time to learn. Miserable people live forever – you’re stuck with me until I’m at least a hundred.’
I don’t know whether or not Grandma was serious about this, but she didn’t have anything in her will about it, so Mum is burying her and having a big church ceremony. The part where everyone gets drunk at the wake in an RSL is probably the only part Grandma would actually agree with and, if she were here, enjoy.
Of course I have a will and very detailed wishes, kept in my filing cabinet, but I cannot legally file them until I am eighteen. If I die between now and then, everything goes to my mother and she will probably bury my body in a casket like she has done with Grandma, and that is not very environmentally sustainable, is it? Eventually we’ll run out of places to bury people and wood to build coffins.
Grandma did not live that long, by the way. Grandma lived to seventy. This is statistically significantly lower than the average lifespan of a woman in this country. That is four times the age I am now. Grandma could have had a quarter life crisis when she was my age. Sometimes I am thinking I am having a quarter life crisis or a fifth life crisis, and then I remember that I feel like this all the time, and I probably felt as if I was having a fourteenth life crisis when I was five. I don’t think I knew a lot of fractions then, though, as bright as I was.
Grandma is looking at me from the cover of the pamphlet in my hand. I gave this photo to the funeral director. It is her face and shoulders cropped out of a group photo – she hated being photographed, we do not have a single photo of her on her own – and she is smiling and shiny-eyed and it’s a nice photo and I think that is the photo she’d pick, if she were here. I have a photo album on my computer labelled ‘Photos to use in the event of my disappearance or death for print materials and other paraphernalia’ to avoid Mum having to go through the difficult selection process while grieving or searching for me. Someone will have to know my password in order to get onto the computer, though, and they will also have to know to go to the right subfolder. I have to put these instructions in my will.
This is the logic I am using: If I am prepared, this will not happen to me. Bad things always happen to people who think that bad things will never happen to them. If I think that bad things will happen to me and am always prepared for every negative outcome, bad things won’t happen. This is not science but I wish it was because then I would be invincible. Unfortunately, the universe does not work this way.
Inside the pamphlet, there are the hymns, there are the prayers, there’s my name. We’re most of the way through. I focus on little blocks of time, always, to keep going. If I think of everything at once – my whole life, or two hours of Grandma’s funeral – it’s too big. I like this schedule. Five minute reading, ten minute speech. Funerals have an order that death does not have, like it’s trying to make up for it. I don’t even need this. I got my closure the other day. I have seen Grandma dead, and I have known her my whole life, and I am much better at remembering her on my own. I am trying to be present in this moment but there are too many thoughts in my head. Grandma would whisper, ‘Come back to us, Andy,’ if I got too far away in my head. She could tell. She would be amused. But she is not here. I wish I could at least believe in her being here figuratively. That would make it easier.
And then someone is saying, faintly, ‘Andy? Andy.’
It is not Grandma. That would be nice, to be deluded enough to imagine the dead speaking to me. That would be a comfort. Though it would not make me feel any less crazy. It would probably make me feel crazier. Most definitely. Thank God I’m not hallucinating Grandma.
It’s just Mum. Her mouth widens, like she is attempting a tight-lipped smile, but the edges of her mouth seem as if they don’t know they’re supposed to turn up. She is grimacing. We’re filing out of the church now, family first. Everyone behind us standing and waiting. And I’m looking at everyone as I walk past, shoes squeaking. I don’t really see a point to funerals at all.