The Sayonara Memorial

by Brett Kaplan

Young_Man_with_a_Skull,_Frans_Hals,_National_Gallery,_London
Frans Hals, Young Man with a Skull, c 1626. Public Domain

 
“Listen,” Delores said. “After breakfast, I was thinking we could go pick out that cemetery plot we spoke about.”

“But why?” Gil said, looking up from the Sunday paper. “I mean, why now? We’re active, we’re healthy—”

“And we’ve also been to three funerals in the last eight months. What makes you think we’re gonna be around forever? Our friends are dropping just as fast as your stock portfolio.”

“But we’re different,” Gil said. “Remember last week? We were thinking about training for that marathon?”

“Gil, that was you. You see a guy in the paper cross the finish line, and all of a sudden you have the ability of an Olympic athlete. You’re seventy-four. You’re not gonna be here forever.”

“Yeah, well neither are you.”

“That’s right, Gil. Neither will I.”

Delores was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the two of them: eggs and bacon with a side of toast for Gil, and sliced fruit with a bowl of oatmeal for her. Of course, Gil had to make things extra difficult by the way he liked his eggs over easy and his bacon done well. But then again, Delores would be the first one to admit that she wasn’t exactly the Barefoot Contessa.

“Let me understand something,” Gil said. “You want us to go and pick out the place where we’re gonna die?”

“Not where we’re going to die, Gil, where we’re going to go after we die.”

“You mean the ground.”

“Or, maybe even above it, because I was actually thinking a mausoleum could be nice.”

“My mother always used to say that those were for gentiles or celebrities. And guess what—we’re neither.”

“Listen, I’m not the one who told you to get that tattoo. Now none of the Jewish cemeteries will take us, so our options are limited.”

“Oh, so, you’re putting that on me?”

“There’s no one else to put it on.”

Gil didn’t respond.

“I’m just asking you to keep an open mind, all right? Is that so much to ask?”

The eggs were ready and her oatmeal was ready, but the bacon looked like it still needed more time. No wonder they won’t let us in, Delores thought.

She brought Gil’s eggs to the table and told him to get started. In the meantime, she went back to the kitchen and sliced a banana for her oatmeal.

Gil sat at the kitchen table and began eating his breakfast. “How much do one of these things cost anyway?”

“From what I understand, they’re pretty affordable.”

“That’s what you said about the sofa,” Gil said, walking to the fridge to get some orange juice. He opened the door and said, “I want a nice casket. Nothing too fancy, but you know, something with taste.”

“Since when do you care if something has taste? You have no taste.”

“I have taste. Sure I do. Who says I don’t have any taste?”

Delores flipped the bacon over in the frying pan and decided it was ready—perhaps not the way Gil liked it, but she didn’t care, it would have to do.

Gil poured two glasses of orange juice for them and sat down at the table.

Delores brought over the bacon, and Gil took a piece right from the tray she served it on. But that was okay, since he didn’t seem to mind the way it was only properly cooked and not burnt to a crisp.

She said, “So, after we eat, we’ll head over to the cemetery?”

“Oh, c’mon, what about the game?”

“It’s only ten-thirty. Besides, the place is right around the corner. It’ll be quick. I promise.”

“All right, fine. I’ll go,” he said, but only because I love you.”

“Gil, shut up and eat your breakfast.”

When they got to the front office of the Sayonara Memorial Gardens they were greeted by a young, hip-looking salesman who Delores had been in contact with over the phone. He wore dark sunglasses and had his hair slicked back with gel. They introduced themselves and walked towards the grounds of the cemetery.

“You guys are gonna love what we have to offer,” the salesman said. “We’ve got some great specials going on now, too.”

Delores said, “You actually sold a plot to friends of ours a few weeks ago—the Flickers.”

“Oh, they are a lovely couple. I don’t know if they mentioned it, but they actually ended up buying this big, walk-in mausoleum for their entire family. And it’s funny, because not too long ago mausoleums were totally passé. I’m not sure why, but they seem to be coming back in a big way—can’t get rid of ’em fast enough.”

“That might be nice, Gil,” Delores said, nudging her husband of forty-five years.

“Eternity with your brother? Forget it. Could you imagine? The guy would never shut up about all those bargains he got at the flea market.”

They came around a bend and made their first stop at an ordinary side-by-side plot for married couples. Each grave was marked by a simple plaque in the ground. It had their names and marked the dates of when they lived and died. There were a lot of them, too, almost an overwhelming amount. They ran in rows, one after the other, after the other.

“This is our standard offering,” the salesman said. “A modest plot for a modest price.”

There weren’t many trees around, and shade was hard to come by. Delores figured this was part of the reason why there weren’t many flowers left on top of any of the graves or any people around visiting. She moved her gaze around and began to feel uneasy. The grass wasn’t nearly as green here as it was by the entrance. She found it all to be sort of barren.

“Gil, what do you think?”

He looked at his watch and said, “Seems fine to me.”

Delores said, “I just don’t think anyone would want to visit us here. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is,” the salesman said. “And if it were up to me? Let me tell ya, I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those things. Let’s move on, shall we?”

They walked over a small garden bridge and entered a much better manicured area of the cemetery. Unlike the other side, there were plenty of visitors here, moving about, paying respect to loved ones, leaving various mementos atop people they used to know. There were also plenty of big, sprawling trees that provided the area with much-needed shade. However, despite the improved surroundings, neither Gil or Delores seemed to be swayed by what they saw. Gil continued thinking about the game he was about to miss, and Delores started to think about what it was like to be dead.

“So now that we’re in a better neighborhood,” the salesman said, “how are we liking things?” When neither of them responded, the salesman said, “How ’bout you follow me, I think I’ve got something might like.”

They walked towards a large, marble columbarium made up of different compartments that held the remains of the structure’s many occupants. Each niche had the deceased’s name engraved on its front, and most of the compartments had an assortment of flowers left in the vases that were attached to the wall.

Out of nowhere, Gil came alive when he noticed a name that looked familiar. He moved towards the marble and ran his fingers across the plaque.

“Alas, poor Borowitz! I knew him, Delores; a fellow of infinite cheapness, for he never once offered to pick up a check. He burned me at lunch thousands of times, and now look at him, how he’ll never again enjoy a free pastrami on rye!”

“That’s terrible,” the salesman said. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Delores looked at the plaques and thought about the nothingness that awaited her. She couldn’t get herself to believe that one day she’d be confined to a box, with a complete loss of her senses, nothing left but her cold, bare bones.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s enough room here. You know how I get in tight spaces.”

“My thoughts exactly,” the salesman said. “How about we take a look at one of our private, walk-in mausoleums, similar to the one your friends bought.”

During the walk to the mausoleums, Delores noticed a burial in progress where she watched a grieving woman weep while members of her family sprinkled handfuls of dirt on top of a casket before it was lowered into the ground. Delores felt for the woman and the people around her, as they were being forced to say goodbye to someone they loved. It was a haunting image, reminding her that one day she too would be in the very same position, the one who was covered in dirt, forced to cut ties with the living.

They approached a classical-style mausoleum that was white and made of granite. It was distinguished, with its large, Doric columns and its pediment roof. In front of it there was a garden area with benches where family members could sit and reflect on the dead.

“All right,” the salesman said, “so this is it, the Big Kahuna. It sleeps six, with the option to add two more.”

The inside was big and open. On the four walls there were six plaques, each of which was covered by a niche for the casket that was inside. Beside each plaque was a vase and a bouquet of fresh cut flowers, much nicer than the ones outside. The most unusual aspect of the mausoleum, however, was a flat screen TV, accompanied with a plush viewing area.

“Are you kidding?” Gil said. “A television? This is great.”

“It’s ridiculous is what it is.”

The salesman said, “The entertainment center was an addition requested by the customer who happens to be the son of a former football player who wanted to come here and watch highlights of his father’s games and be by his side.”

“You know,” Gil said, “I dabbled in a bit of football myself. Now I kick myself because I know if I would’ve stuck with it I could’ve been a huge star. Then who knows, maybe my kids would be coming to visit me in a place like this.”

“How many children do you have?”

“Two daughters, and five grandchildren.”

“My goodness,” the salesman said. “That’s wonderful. They’d love to visit you here.”

“You know what I like most about this place?” Gil said. “Gives you the sense that there’s a way out, you know, if you happen to wake up one day.”

“That’s a good point,” the salesman said. “I never thought about it that way.”

“Hey, hon?” Delores said. “What’s it like to say something dumb every five seconds?”

Gil looked to the salesman and said, “You think I could check out some footage of the guy’s old man? I’d like to see how I’d stack up to him.”

“Certainly,” the salesman said. “That’s what it’s here for.”

Delores watched him turn on the TV and asked him how much a place like this cost.

“Well, I have the details of all the pricing in my office. I’d love to go back and look over some of the great specials we’re running.”

“How much is it?” Delores said. “I know you know. Just tell me.”

He looked away, and said, “Fifty-thousand.”

“Fifty grand,” Gil said. “Are you kidding me?”

“I know it seems like a lot, but you can actually take out a mortgage—a quick one, you know, if you don’t have the thirty years.”

Delores was enraged at his attitude and the blatant disrespect he had for her and people in her position. She charged out of the mausoleum, took a few steps, and tried cooling herself down, but her attention was immediately drawn to the weeping woman whose head faced the ground as her family said their last goodbyes to the dead. It struck Delores that regardless of how well she ate, or how hard she exercised, or how much she accomplished, she would have no choice but to face death. The lack of permanence in life made her stomach reel. She struggled to come to terms with the fact that she lived in a world where nothing lasted forever.

Gil came out of the mausoleum and said to her, “You know, I have to admit, you were right once again. At first I thought you were crazy about wanting one of these things, but now that I’ve seen it, I absolutely want one, too.”

Delores stared across the graves and reflected on the insignificant amount of time she’d spent being alive. She thought about the billions of years that stood before her, and the billions more that would continue after she was gone.

“Did you hear me?” Gil said. “I wanna buy a mausoleum for us. I don’t care how much it costs. The only thing that matters is that we’re together forever.”

Delores brought her attention to Gil and wondered if he ever even once took a moment to consider the implications of what it meant to die, to vanish and never be heard from again.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Gil said, “it’s expensive. But maybe it’s time I cash in on those stocks, or at least what’s left of them.”

“Have you lost your mind? Those are our savings—money we have a responsibility to leave for the girls. Besides, all we need is something simple where they can find us.

Maybe we’ll just end up getting cremated, because, really, what difference does it make?”

Gil said, “What about the TV?”

“We’re not getting the TV.”

“But why not?

“Gil—please.”

The salesman came out of the mausoleum and said, “I was thinking we could go back to my office, hammer out a deal—I’ve got some popcorn waiting for us—and then who knows, maybe once it’s all done we can open up a bottle of champagne and celebrate.”

“C’mon, Gil. We’re leaving.”

The salesman said, “Woah, woah, woah. Stop the clock. There’s gotta be something I can do. How about a Sayonara Memorial t-shirt, or a complementary ride in the company hearse—”

Delores thanked him for his time and said goodbye. She started walking towards the car with Gil trailing a few paces behind, taking one more look at the mausoleum.

He looked down at his watch, picked up his step, and said, “You know, if we hurry, I think we can make it home in time to catch the rest of the game!”

 

 

Brett Kaplan lives and writes in South Florida. He received his MFA from Florida International University where he recently completed his thesis, a collection of short stories entitled, Existential Bebop. His work can be found in Subtle FictionAdeliade, and  The Scarlet Leaf Review.

 

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