titled To the well-organized mind
pair *light* prussia/austria, cameos from everyone
warnings his name is Rick. where'd you ever get the silly notion that it was Roderich? this is amurrrrca.
summary I'm just another face in your chapel hall.
notes ~1600. this is actually a very srs fic about mortuaries. written for sonofon. which just about dissolves all that srsness.
as smooth as piano keys
They start hearing the music come on and off around the middle of August, when the heat wave drifts back for a second pull at the land and somewhere above-ground there are flies buzzing over the carcass of the last thing that death had skipped across. And there's no rotten flesh here, not exactly, just a pile of excuses lying next to the wooden chairs and the mossy rocks and the willows near the stream. No motion in the air, the bodies are at rest, no greetings exchanged between the weeping family members, no hello no kill or be killed no goodbye, just a song.
"He's still here," the undertaker informs him sometime after his second shift.
"Is there a problem?" Gilbert wipes his hands against his pants, "Have we had any nuisance reports?"
"He isn't employed here, Schmidty. That's the problem."
"And he doesn't have any reason to be here?"
The undertaker shrugs. "See if you can do something about it. Can't have Mozart buzzing around my ears forever. 'Specially not while the plaster sets in. Wrinkles the face. Dang, Schmidty, even John Cage is better 'n him."
"Are you sure he's not a ghost?" Gilbert asks.
"Nope," the undertaker says solemnly, "His name is Rick."
So Gilbert approaches Rick on Monday.
(After all, his profession dealt with dead people on a regular basis. Sometimes he would hear whispers crawl in from the older marble in the backyard, and other times when it was raining the windows might moan a tune slightly higher than supernatural. And it was all of the fine and genteel variety, no mean spirits and lonesome shower stalls and dreams escaping from broken taps, but his profession dealt with dead people on a regular basis, after all.)
He's supposed to introduce himself by his first name for geniality, and then he's supposed to offer them a drink from the bar counter at the back end where they sold chocolate bars to the children. He's supposed to offer them a drink and maybe a cube of sugar and then pretend he could sympathize and pretend that the better man didn't know that he was pretending he could sympathize. That was how it went with the widowers. To the widows and the mothers and sisters, all he can do is guide them by their elbows to a couch and pull out a packet of tissues from the back of his pants and hope that the tears and snot don't splatter on his jacket.
My condolences, he'll say solemnly, and even the medicated ones don't give him a second look back.
My condolences, he'll say to the pillars on either side of the room and the leather sofa with the packets of Kleenex in the place where there's usually a coffee cup. My condolences to the marble mausoleums halfway beneath the stars and the gardenias in the sidewalk and the sniffles underneath the bathroom stall. My condolences to the world in grief, the caretaker bent double on her back cleaning the window panes and the abandoned dog wandering around the flower gardens. Condolences to being alive, to dying, to being left behind, to the sad smile you wear on your face like a badge of honor. My fucking condolences.
See, there's this guy.
He likes to play the piano that they kept in the chapel by the fields.
He's there every Monday, Thursday and Saturday, cuts into the silence of the place like it's sitting on a candle wick and he's only a single blow-of-the-breath away. Slips in through the staff entrance looking like one of those furry rabbit-things from Watership Down. And he carries a brown briefcase, a really big one that could probably fit three Gilberts inside; he carries the briefcase everywhere, but he never takes out any long trappings of sheet music, simply folds himself down on the piano bench and curls into the ivory like a caterpillar. Poises fingers over the cover of the keys, pauses for a flickering moment or two, and then they're open the covers are open the windows are open and he's open and the skies are open; the choirs begin their song. He plays deep into the night, bends over the piano keys, hair falls into his eyes so Gilbert can't really figure out any concealed identities and unforeseen conclusions, just knows that there's this guy who plays the piano in the middle of the chapel in the middle of the fields in the middle of the night every Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
"The people who sit here, they listen to the music and they appreciate it for what it's worth, for respect to the dead. At my house, it's different," Rick tells him, "I like this place because it's quiet."
"But what are you really here for?" Gilbert asks, feels the words crunch under his tongue. He winces when Rick winces.
"We were married for only a year," Rick says quietly, "And now she's gone."
Then she's been dead for a year, Gilbert thinks, and he wonders how long you can really mourn someone before they're completely gone.
("I'm here to b-bourn the death of by d-dearly-d-departed brother," Mr. Jones blubbers into a Kleenex from the leather sofa with the coffee holder, "I can't b-beliebe I never g-got to h-hang out with him p-properly!"
"But I'm not dead," Gilbert hears a small voice tug at the edge of his peripheral vision. He looks around and up and down and sees nothing but a chewed-up stuffed animal and a bucket of vomit; so he settles back down on the corner of the sofa and pats Alfred on the back, instead.)
"She sounds like a wonderful woman," Gilbert tells him on the second Thursday.
Rick doesn't say anything.
"She probably wouldn't have wanted you to stay unhappy for so long," he tries again.
A pause. Rick takes a deep breath.
"It was a boating accident."
Saturday night, there's Mendelssohn. Confidence.
(Sunday morning, there's a phone call placed from somewhere in the Republic of India. Woman's voice, tenor growl in A-minor. Something about not being dead and having half a mind to snap Roderich's dick in half, arsenic and public radios and shame, have you no fucking SHAME, then the phone line goes dead, and Gilbert is suddenly craving that last bottle of peach-flavored Snapple somebody had left in the refrigerator of the staff lounge.)
"My name isn't Rick," Rick says on the third Monday, and his voice is taking on this kind of peevish, slightly-lacquered quality, as if he's trying to prove something. "It's Roderich. And about my ex-wife. She's still alive. I think she's sitting around with one of her horses. I was notified of her existence last from our mutual acquaintance in London."
"Why the hell are you here, then?"
"I rather like the piano here."
Gilbert can only stare.
(Later, he brings the bottle of Snapple from the lounge and leaves it on the steps of the side entrance.)
They don't have a routine for it here. The window washers take care of the lunch and the lounge-chairs in the lobby are disinfected twice a week because the smell of death doesn't sit well with anybody, the air-conditioning is on full blast during the day and the night and all the way into the next ten years. The undertaker tells Gilbert to handle the customers while he plumps cheeks and fills bullet holes and mops up blood, but he doesn't really need to say anything because he knows that Gilbert would do it anyway, just like how he knows that the bartender sitting in the back of the lobby only speaks in single-syllable sentences and the Hispanic gardener has a little plot of tomatoes sitting in the southern corner of the wall and that Gilbert has a secret hidden in the chapel in the middle of the fields.
Their mortuary is very good at dealing in the business of silence. So even if the undertaker can sometimes smell a whiff of Chopin and Liszt sailing through the evening air, he can still write it off as one of the tomb sweeper's Grecian-flavored cats climbing the fence.
He's that good.
"Our mutual acquaintance in London has a friend."
"His friend told me something in 1997. 'To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.'"
"Aw, man. Is he a wizard or somethin'?"
So there's this guy who's really not supposed to be here, who takes advantage of the mortuary's silence and tranquility free-of-charge, whose fingers freeload on the piano keys in the chapel and mooch cookies from the bar in the back of the lobby. My condolences, Gilbert says to him everyday, my condolences for the death of your wife and your friends and the servants in your house, for having to put up with you day-in and day-out, bring you ill-tasting food and a case for your viola, condolences condolences condolences but most of all condolences for the death of my sanity when I hear you speaking through the piano keys.
Sing along with it, Roderich simply tells him, sing along with it so he does and they do.
lolol if you can guess the quote, you can have my soul. |D
thanks for reading. feedback is a wonderful thing. =)