By Chris Callard
“Why so glum, chum?” asked Corey, the personal assistant.
“It’s just so near,” said Claudia, the cook. They sat at a kitchen table inside the estate of Cameron Klondike, each with a mug of coffee, hers with cream, his with Bailey’s. “I can’t believe he’ll be gone.”
“We all go.”
“He’s been such a force, so imposing.”
“Some things are mightier than power and money.”
“*C’est la vie*!” Corey crossed his legs and took a deep drink. “What’s for dinner?”
Later, as he sat beside Mr. Klondike’s bedside, Corey scrolled through his device. “I think we’re in good shape, sir.”
“Good shape?” Klondike rasped. “I’m dying, remember?”
Corey smacked his forehead. “I meant the Dow Jones, sir. Bad choice of words. Crap.”
“Crap, he says! You know what I’d give to take a good crap? You know how glorious a simple, straightforward crap would be? Oh, for the days of a comfortable crap.”
Cancer ran the length of Klondike’s body, from anus to throat. Corey imagined the tentacles extending throughout that body, wrapping around all those organs. While living with the finest healthcare in the world, Klondike had ignored countless symptoms. He’d always considered himself lucky, and assumed that this luck extended to his body. As the disease progressed, he attributed the discomfort to gas, heartburn, and pulled muscles.
So now—after pumping, tearing, grasping, crushing, and bloviating to colossal American success—he was a shrunken stretch of skin and bone at fifty-nine. His permanent scowl had deflated, strangely, into a stoic calm. The hostile, spiteful way of expressing himself, however, remained as vibrant as ever.
Corey couldn’t be happier. Not about the face or the behavior, but about the dying.
“Listen, you vacuous viper,” Klondike hissed. “This envelope is the most important thing that I’ve ever given you.” There was a pause. “Put out your hand.” Corey did, and the envelope was placed in his palm. “My memorial service.”
“Should I open it?”
“Not yet, dickwad! You can’t start planning already. People will think I was behind it. Besides, I’m feeling much better. I might rally.” Klondike tried to scoot his body up in the bed but trembled like a mutt in the rain. “I hate funerals, never attended one, never liked anyone who died. Funerals are for the living, so I shouldn’t give a damn about mine, but I want a grand event, with at least a thousand mourners.”
“Guess I can do that.”
“You won’t have to, dunderhead. They’ll show up. It’ll be me in the box, after all. What you need to do is get the right urologists—”
“Eulogists…dammit, I think the cancer’s reached my tongue. Anyway, it’s all here. Now, I’m tired. Get the fuck out.”
The next morning, finding the corpse, Corey said: “Christ, I never thought it would end.”
He considered pulling the blanket over the face, but decided it would be a nice form of disrespect to leave the withered head exposed.
He went to tell Claudia. She sat down and tried to cry. “He was a great man.”
“He was a pile of poo.”
“He’ll be missed.”
“In the worst way.”
“But not in public.”
“No funeral. See this?” Corey pulled the envelope out. “His final instructions. Going in the shredder. I was his personal assistant for ten years. Nobody will question me when I give my version. Cremation, no memorial, ashes scattered in the backyard. Everybody knows how much Klondike loved his hydrangeas.”
Claudia began to object.
“He was despised, dear. It’ll be old news quick.”
Claudia examined Corey’s face. “Why did you stay?”
“I have limited talents, but I’m a good gofer, and note taker, and have thick skin. I would never have been paid the same elsewhere. Plus, I don’t think I would’ve found such satisfaction and joy in any other job as I’m feeling right now.”
Days later he tossed Klondike’s ashes in the recycling bin and took off for a week in Cabo. Upon his return, he came to the house to retrieve his personal effects. At the top of the stairs, he viewed below his horrid home away from home.
Corey heard the familiar voice but knew it was all in his mind. Surely he was picking up some final vibes as a way to say farewell.
“I said, hey, Baba-fucking-O’Riley!”
Corey turned, and beheld Klondike: his transparent version, leaning against a door, arms crossed. He looked healthier than he had in a year, except for the fact that his body wasn’t solid.
Corey searched for the source of the hologram projection.
“It’s no illusion,” Klondike said, “and you know what?”
Still thinking it was a trick played by god-knew-who, Corey inched backwards.
“I’m pissed!” The shade stepped forward. “What happened to my funeral? My memorial? My thousand goddamned mourners!?”
Corey chuckled nervously. “You said funerals were for the living. I figured they’d have their own ways of grieving.” He shrugged. “I mean, people are busy. Why impose?”
Klondike shook his translucent head. “I discovered that the departed can experience certain things after all. I would’ve had a front row seat. If there’d been something to see!” His thundering voice knocked a painting off the wall.
“Sorry. Is it that big a deal in the grand scheme of things?”
“You bet it is, buddy,” Klondike spit. Then, quietly, staring through an upheld hand, he added: “You better believe it is.”
And with that, Klondike flew into Corey, who, of course, saw right through him, which frightened and depressed the hell out of the perennial personal assistant. After tumbling down the staircase and succumbing to his broken neck, he heard Klondike whisper, “See you bright and early.”