Joseph Pfister’s work has appeared in Hidden Chapter, A Few Lines Magazine and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, among others. He is currently working on his MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College.
The wake for Roger’s father is in the three-hundred-person banquet hall at the Best Western. There have been an unusually high number of deaths this year, and the funeral home is booked solid through next month. Just this week, there were two decapitations, an electrocution, and Mrs. Moeaki accidentally hanged herself while stringing up her Christmas lights. Mr. Johansson was run over by the Bergmanns’ girl while she was learning to ride her two-wheeler, and Mitch Marks—the high school gym teacher—fell down the bleachers following a triple-OT win over Halstead. The circumstances of Roger’s father’s death are much more ordinary: he choked on a pistachio while watching The Price Is Right. When Roger told me how his dad bought it, I imagined Drew Carey pointing a finger at the TV camera and calling Roger’s father to come on down.
Considering how many funerals there’ve been lately, there’s still a decent turnout. I found one of my dad’s musty old suits at the back of my closet and planned to ask Roger if it’d be all right for the wake, but he never came home last night. He said he was going out to catch a movie—that remake they made of Footloose. At present, some old geezers who look like they’re about thirty seconds away from kicking the bucket and joining Roger’s father at the front of the banquet hall are milling around with solemn looks on their sagging faces. For a moment, I wonder what would happen if one of them did croak. I doubt there’s a fresh casket waiting in the next room, but at least they’d already be dressed for the occasion. There are murmurs when Roger arrives. I can see his bowed head through the crowd as he pinballs from one cluster of well-wishers to the next.
A frail woman with white hair places a hand on my arm and asks me how I know Roger.
“He’s my roommate,” I say. “We’ve been best friends since grade school.”
The woman nods, and as Roger makes his way over to us, I see he’s not wearing anything other than a pair of dress socks and his newly polished dress shoes, which he hasn’t worn since prom, when Lucy Chavelli puked all over the inside of the limo. Roger’s exquisite farmer’s tan glows like a beacon among the sea of gray faces. Everyone makes a concentrated effort to maintain eye contact.
A man with a preposterously bushy moustache offers Roger his condolences, and his hand floats above Roger’s bare shoulder for a brief second before he brings it down in a sympathetic gesture.
“Thanks for being here,” Roger murmurs, his eyes focused on the carpeted floor.
The white-haired lady tells Roger that she’s sorry for his loss, and after what seems like an appropriate amount of time, he excuses himself. I drop an arm over his shoulder and steer him away.
“How’re you doing?” I ask.
“Dude. Dying is kind of a drag.”
I nod. I mean to ask him what he thought of Footloose, but someone bursts through the door of the banquet hall and announces that the valet ran over Mr. Picuri in the parking lot.