Anna listened to her sister. Her sister had a lot to say. Apparently it was Anna’s job to listen. Sometimes you got tired of listening. The words turned into a meaningless froth, yellow and gummy like the foam on the edge of a wave in water saturated with dead sea life.
“I know you don’t have champagne at a funeral,” Meg said. “It’s not a written rule, it’s one of those things everyone knows.” Meg pressed her finger to the corner of her mouth. “But that’s the thing, this is a pre-death affair, so I will definitely serve champagne. Everyone will tell me how amazing I am while I’m still alive.”
The electric clock on the mantle hummed. Anna waited for Meg to laugh, to point that finger and mock Anna for falling for a joke. The hum continued as minutes passed.
“What makes you think anyone will come to a self-serving event like that? And what makes you think they’ll tell you how amazing you are?”
“At funerals, everyone pours out the things they felt and thought over a lifetime. No matter how much opportunity they have to say good-bye, a fountain of unsaid memories and affection and funny stories gushes out. It’s so depressing that the deceased doesn’t hear any of it.”
Anna folded her arms and rocked her chair — back, pause, forward, pause. “You aren’t dead, so those feelings won’t be there. Trust me, you’re setting yourself up for a huge disappointment. And the champagne is tacky.”
Meg stood. “After Jake’s service, I cried over all of those wonderful things that people never said to him.”
That’s because Jake was a wonderful guy. The thought circled inside Anna’s head, racing to keep up with the persistent humming of the clock.
“Do you want to come shopping for a coffin with me?”
“You’ll probably outlive me,” Meg said. “I’m saving you a lot of trouble.”
“How are you going to get people to show up?”
“Oh.” Anna stopped the movement of her chair and stood. There was no arguing. Meg was always right, even when she was wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
* * *
Meg proceeded unhindered. She set the date, delivered her e-vite, complete with instructions for a free-form eulogy, the responsibility of all. She’d invited three hundred people. She’d reserved a meeting room at the Hanker Hotel.
Anna felt a strange mixture of disgust and morbid fascination, rage at her sister’s hubris, and despair that when it all flopped, she’d have to listen to the rants and witness the tears.
Two weeks before the event, Meg texted a picture. What do you think? Top of the line. Air tight.
At first, Anna couldn’t make out what it was. She turned the phone sideways. Her stomach heaved. A coffin? Anna deleted the message.
Meg was so caught up in herself she didn’t notice Anna pulling away as she babbled on about a professional make-up artist and stylist to make her look dead, but not hideous. Just peaceful. It had always been like this. Meg’s drama was center stage. Even when Anna’s son died, drowned in Meg’s swimming pool, the despair belonged to Meg. She felt so guilty, she couldn’t bear that she’d been so selfish . . . speaking to the person at the door collecting for a disastrous hurricane. She’d only left Ryan alone for thirty seconds. He knew the rules. It wasn’t as if he was a toddler without the ability to speak. It was so dreadful, she would suffer forever knowing she’d been the last one to see him alive.
* * *
The eve of Meg’s pseudo funeral arrived. She’d tacked on a new bit — a wake from 7-9pm the night before.
Why not, thought Anna. She could wail at the side of her sister, resting in a coffin as if she were taking a car for a test drive.
The Seaside Room was on the mezzanine level, tucked at the end of a long hallway. Meg was there, the champagne glasses were lined on a table with a thick white cloth, and champagne sat in a bin, waiting for ice. The coffin was at the front of the room, surrounded by an enormous display of floral wreaths and bouquets in vases. How had she persuaded the funeral home to deliver it? Was that even legal?
Meg went to the front of the room. “I’m going to try it out. You can talk to me, tell me all the things you regret about our lives as sisters.” She smiled.
“Let’s have a glass of champagne first,” Anna said.
“Champagne makes me sleepy,” Meg said.
“Just one glass.” Anna moved to the table and picked up a bottle and two glasses.
“It’s not chilled.”
Anna shrugged. She removed the foil and untwisted the wire. The cork came out smoothly with a satisfying pop, but still under her control. She filled both glasses and walked to Meg’s side. They didn’t toast. They drank in silence.
There was still a bit of champagne left when Meg handed the glass back to Anna. Meg climbed the steps to the small platform designed for lecturers and lowered herself into the large coffin with platinum trim. She laid down, smiled beatifically at Anna and closed her eyes. She folded her hands on her ribs.
“Get one of those roses and put it in my hands,” she said.
Anna complied. She jostled the pillow under Meg’s head.
“What are you doing?” Meg murmured.
“Making it more comfortable.” She slid the pillow out and placed it over her sister’s face.
“Get that off me. I can’t breathe.”
“I’m just getting it arranged, be patient.” Anna reached up and slowly closed the lid.
Anna sat on the chair her sister had appointed for her and poured another glass of champagne. The sounds from inside the coffin were not as loud or violent as she would have expected. It was indeed, air tight.