The Social Aid & Pleasure Club Prepares for Earl Bourbon’s Funeral, August 7th 1977

by on June 8, 2024 :: 0 comments

photo "Awake for a Wake" by Tyler Malone

Grace is standing on the captain’s chair, working her fingernail under a thumb tack, & there’s New Orleans outside the window, stretching its spine like a cat in a puddle of sunshine. “Don’t break your nail, Sweetie,” says Annie. “I gotcha some flower decals to put on ‘em.” Something hilarious is boiling in the kitchen (as always), but hilarious doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. “Let’s trade plums,” says Grace, and I have no idea what that means or even to whom it is addressed.

While I am focusing on the pie crust (specifically on the steam swirling out of the vents, which Annie cut to look like the f-holes on a violin), Grace fixes the new calendar to the wall & flips through it, circling birthdays and doodling little sunbursts on All Saints and such. “I’ve heard,” I say, “rumors about the painting for July, it’s all just shades of blue but it’s a girl, seen from the proper angle, or if you’ve eaten a proper appetizer. Is plum a euphemism?

Then Miz Clay strolls in, with a bone to pick about Grace’s crab cakes. “I love that you wrap them in the Picayune. Fried foods taste best on newspaper. But when I spread the tartar sauce—”

“Well, Miz Clay, I told you about the tartar sauce.”

“Yez, but…”

“Yez, but,” repeats Grace.

Something is up at the hardware store across the street. “Sounds like somebody dumped a box of machine screws in the paint mixer.”

“No, that’s just Benny tuning up for Earl Bourbon’s funeral. You got to tune your percussion instruments just as careful as any other, though most folks would be surprised to hear that.”

“I have to go,” sez Miz Clay, but no one seems to hear this but me, & I do not mark her departure because I am thinking: why not dump a box of machine screws in the paint mixer? & the empty bird cage, as if perceiving this thought, rotates 3 or 5 degrees on its eye hook. & no one seems to see this but me. The last time the bird cage moved like that poor Gladys Greenbird was shedding her green feathers by the bushel. Grace said that. She must’ve liked saying it, she said it at every opportunity.

Anne meanwhile brushes a new crust with a new emulsion (mostly sugar by the way it browns, although this knowledge is still a long way off). “What time is Earl’s funeral?”

“Dunno,” I say.

“Because I’m trying to figure out should I put the next pie in now, which I would do if the funeral is not until this afternoon, or if they’re starting up in the next hour or so, in which case I would stick it in the fridge and bake it when I can give it my full attention.”

“Go ask Benny when they’re gonna get going before Annie’s head blows up,” Grace tells me.

“And get me a pint of strawberries from Parkside Pickers, if they look good,” Annie says. She pulls a couple of dollars out of her purse and folds them up intricately, like a cootie-catcher, before she hands them to me.

“Parkside Pickers is such a stupid name,” Grace says to my back, which (since I’m now sunblind for a couple of ticks) must be a jet black silhouette in her doorway, like a monster movie poster. And then I am ambling across Bluestone Street, for the five thousandth time. But you can never step in the same river twice, and in that spirit today’s street has new tar bubbling in yesterday’s potholes. Next week the odd blade of grass will grow in those sticky bubbles, impossible and yet.

“Benny,” I call from the hardware store entrance, “What time is Earl’s funeral?” Benny looks at me more quizzically than usual. He removes his glasses and sets about cleaning them with a red bandana, patterned with clocks or perhaps robots.

“First I’ve hear tell of it. Earl, what time is your funeral?”

Earl, who is painting ‘Tulip Bulbs 79 cents a bunch’ on a piece of white washed plywood, pauses.

“I haven’t given it much thought,” he says. “Who wants to know? Ah, young Master Sebastian.” Earl has been calling me that since I was eight years old. Sometimes I am still eight years old although very rarely do I let on.

I am a little nonplussed (as the saying goes) by the apparent fact of Earl’s not being dead. “Annie’s making a pie. She needs to know.”

“She does, does she.” Earl deposits his brush in a tomato sauce jar full of turpentine & wipes off his hands. Benny passes him a seed catalog.

“What am I ‘sposed to do with this?” says Earl.

“Miz Beckett wants some more of the blue paint we mixed up. I wrote the mix number on the back of the seed catalog because it was to hand.”

“You wrote it across the apron of the lady in the ad!”

“Yes.”

“She thinks she’s selling orange juice, but she’s selling our paint.”

“That is one way to look at it,” Benny agrees.

“Who told Annie I was throwing myself a funeral, Sebastian?”

“Dunno. Miz Clay was in this morning, and Big Pete and Little Pete, but I wasn’t paying attention to all the jibber jabber till we heard Benny tuning his one-man-band kit.”

“Tuning,” says Earl, casting a cold eye at Benny. “Haw. Well, tell Annie the funeral is scheduled for 11 AM Tuesday, June 30th, 5 or so years into the 21st Century, whichever year June 30th falls on a Tuesday. And to plan her pie baking accordingly.”

Earl was to jump the gun on his funeral by a good dozen years, which I am unaware of as I return to Annie’s with a pint of strawberries. Grace is pressing the last flower decal on her thumbnail, a big yellow daisy.

“Alive?” says Annie. “Well… good for Earl. But Honey, I was looking forward to that funeral.”

editors note:

Ah, the excitement of a sold out funeral! The envy of everyone, living and dead. ~ Tyler Malone

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