Hello from Poor Yorick! And welcome to our November Double Feature. This month we are highlighting two wonderful pieces: a short story by R.S. MacDonald and a poem by Mercury-Marvin Sunderland. Each of these pieces is reflective of fall, of life and death, of change and transformation. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do. Please join us in supporting these wonderful contributors!
A Country Funeral
by R.S. MacDonald
I don’t know whether I’m going to shit myself or spew as the car bounces over the uneven Midlands Highway.
I empty the enviro-friendly shopping bag beside my feet.
“What the hell are you doing?” Mum yells from the front passenger seat.
“I feel aw—”
I start retching into the bag at the same time my eyes begin watering. Mum’s eyes are watering for another reason – we’re en route to my uncle’s funeral.
My sister, who is driving, starts yelling. Granted, she has directed abuse my way for the majority of the car journey.
“What the fuck? What the fuck!” she screams, as she accelerates violently in an attempt to escape my vomiting.
The abrupt acceleration and shuddering of the car triggers more retching into my bag.
“Slow down!” Mum yells, gripping the side of the car for dear life.
“You shouldn’t have come!” my sister screams, glaring at me in the rear-view mirror.
“Well, it’s too late now.”
My cousin isn’t happy. One of the pallbearers knocked on the coffin while carrying it to the waiting hearse. I’m not sure if the guy expected an answer in reply, or if he simply did it to freak out the others.
People are whispering in disgust. I find it funny. I like to think my uncle would have found it funny too. He had a good sense of humour. I’m still chuckling about a footnote to the eulogy. My uncle apparently had a message for two elderly attendees from beyond the grave.
“I’ll catch up with you two in a minute!”
The service has concluded and we need to get to the graveside burial, reserved for immediate family. The entire day has been a frantic rush and this is no exception.
“We’re barely going to make it,” Mum gasps. It’s not the first time she has uttered this sentence today, despite us arriving an hour before the funeral commenced.
For some reason, we have parked in a nearby field. I use ‘nearby’ loosely. I spent the duration of my uncle’s service recovering from the hike we endured. I should be grateful with the field. Before that, mum incorrectly directed us to a wrecker’s yard. “Oh god, look how many people are already here,” she said, as she caught sight of hundreds of cars glistening under the sun. It wasn’t until she noticed vehicles piled on top of each other that she realised we had turned too soon. I just figured these country people had extraordinarily intense parking skills.
The summer heat beats down on my head, frying me in my all-black attire as we return to the car. My black shoes immediately become scuffed and chipped, as I stagger along the country road and its uneven stones.
Mum keeps turning around to get a fix on the hearse.
No one else is walking this direction. The convoy of cars starts moving, but I don’t know this yet. I’m suddenly about to be rundown by a hearse. Mum pushes me to the side of the road.
“Show some respect!” she commands, as we awkwardly stumble into a ditch.
The show of respect allows me to catch my breath.
The country field is riddled with long grass that fills me with unease.
“Watch out for snakes,” my sister instructs.
“Could you have parked any further away?” I ask, gasping for oxygen and shielding my burning head from the sun.
As we drive out of the field, we suddenly hear a loud clunk, from beneath the car. It shudders through us all. I feel it in my bones.
“Sounds like the guts just fell out of it,” I observe, imitating my grandmother’s response from years prior, when AC/DC started playing in the car.
We awkwardly laugh, acknowledging that our uncle would have found it amusing, given his trucking career and penchant for driving stories.
We arrive at the cemetery just before my uncle is put in the ground. “I didn’t think you were going to make it, Anne,” my aunt later says to mum.
The funeral director starts muttering Roy Orbison lyrics. My mind gets caught in a debate as to whether he is quoting In My Dreams or In the Real World. People around me sob and sniff.
I don’t feel any emotion until I see a small child wearing an Essendon Bombers scarf. I have no idea who the kid is, but I know my uncle was passionate about his footy team, like I am with mine. It was the biggest thing we had in common.
A lady holds out a basket of petals for each attendee to throw down on my uncle’s coffin and say final goodbyes.
Some people verbalise their goodbyes, often followed by more sobbing. Some people internalise them as they stare down into the ground, before casting their petal onto the rosewood coffin.
I’m starting to think I’m a candidate for heat stroke. While I appreciate the significance of the gesture, I’m more preoccupied with ensuring I don’t fall into the hole with my uncle. The wind has picked up, which requires me to lean further down into the grave so that the petals don’t blow down the hill.
My head spins as I kneel down, legs already jelly from hiking across country fields. I throw the petals down onto his coffin and get out of there as quickly as possible – before I end up down there too.
Back at the wake, I’m astounded as to how many people are here. Five hundred people hover in and around the local community hall; a turnout testament to my uncle’s popularity. It’s so noisy inside the hall, that I can’t even hear myself think. It’s like being at a rock concert, with the acoustics magnifying the voices to deafening levels.
It’s 3pm. I’m starting to think my heat stroke is being accompanied by low blood sugar, so I help myself to a spring roll. It has already gone cold.
My aunt is receiving copious amounts of hugs and words of condolences. She is also being cornered by two people I don’t recognise. I sense a kind of terror wash over her face, as she forces herself to be polite.
A woman is hobbling towards her, with what appears to be an assortment of facial deformities. On her arm, she is dragging a man. The man appears to be missing teeth, while a type of antenna protrudes from his ear.
A fresh plate of sausage rolls has just been placed on the table.
This is more like it.
I hear the two people mumble something about ‘Graham’ to my aunt, before they make a beeline to the table, grab the entire plate of sausage rolls and shuffle out the door with it.
I never had a chance.
My body physically struggles with the rising heat in the hall, mixed with the loud noise. It’s an assault on the senses, so I go outside, find some concrete and sit down in the shade.
No sooner have I sat down than an old man starts hurtling towards me in a wheelchair. He’s missing a leg.
Oh god. I survived a near-miss with a hearse, only to be taken out by a pirate.
Sandwiches have arrived inside the hall. I’m not missing out on these. I make my escape from Long John, locate the sandwiches, and find a quiet corner of the hall to sit down and relax.
A guy with orange hair and beard keeps staring at me. I try to ignore it. The staring continues, followed by a puzzled smile.
Shit. He’s coming over. Why? What have I done to deserve this?
“Do you remember me?” he asks. “It’s George. We went to school together.”
My memory is hazy. I vaguely recall George and his friend (also called George) jumping me down a schoolyard alley. It was perhaps the only time in life I came out victorious from a physical altercation. I left the two Georges whimpering against a building and ran away.
“Oh yeah. George. It has been a while,” I awkwardly reply, shaking his hand.
Handshakes are something I wish the pandemic eradicated permanently. It seems such an outdated custom, where men try to out-macho other men with their vice-like grips. I have been forced into many handshakes at this funeral. There is no hand sanitiser in sight and I’m about to eat these sandwiches.
“So, what are you doing with yourself these days?” he inevitably asks.
I prepared for this question. It’s all anyone asks. The dick-measuring contests have begun.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh? Like novels and that?”
He proceeds to tell me about his glowing career and how busy it keeps him, while failing to hide the judgement he feels towards my own life choices.
“Did you see that church on the way here?” he asks. “My wife and I own that. It’s one of our investment properties. We have a few of those.”
I pretend to talk real estate with him, while politely tolerating his constant talk of money, investments and other materialistic endeavours.
His wife suddenly appears, awkwardly shakes my hand, and offers to get me another drink. Her eyes grow larger when she spots a lemonade in my hand instead of the customary beer every other male in the building has.
My mind starts to wander as George continues telling me about the $600,000 profit his older brother recently made on a property deal.
Moments earlier, I had been staring into a hole in the ground. It occurs to me that death is the great equaliser of us all. It doesn’t matter how many houses, cars, boats or other achievements you have in life; the end is all the same. We either end up in a box underground, or a box in a furnace. Take your pick. None of the other shit we dedicate our lives obtaining is accompanying us in that hole. It’s probably already being sold off, or relatives are fighting over who inherits it.
I find myself talking to my cousin. We had once been like brothers and did many things together. Geography and differing life stages caused us to drift apart.
“We’ll have to catch up more often, mate.”
These lines get churned out by various people at all events. People don’t even think when they say it. It has become the cliché throwaway line at wakes.
I smile, unable to help myself with adding the second part to the generic remark.
“Yes, we need to stop only seeing each other at funerals, mate.”
I know we’ll continue to see each other at funerals until there’s no one left to die. Funerals or nothing. The birthday invites long stopped. Things have gone from cakes to wakes, and there’s no turning back. Life stops for no one.
My aunt thanks me for coming. We share a heartfelt hug. My heart breaks. I have never seen her alone and vulnerable before.
“I’ll miss sharing some laughs with him and talking footy,” I tell her. And it’s true.
Laughter and taking the time to actively listen to others are two of the greatest gifts one can give. My uncle gave both of those in abundance. Neither cost a cent.
There is no vomiting on the car trip home and I fall into a blissful sleep, still holding the funeral program in hand. I drift into a different reality. I’m sipping a cold can of lemon squash and riding shotgun in a red Mack truck. My uncle has finished demonstrating how he works through the eighteen gears and is talking optimistically about his footy team’s chances at the weekend. He seems happy and content, cracking jokes and laughing as he drives us home.
The truck radio crackles to life.
“Almost home, mate,” he says. “Over and out.”
by Mercury Sunderland
to light my candle
with a long scrap of paper
because my lighter
wasn’t long enough
& the wick
couldn’t touch my fingers
like adam from clouds
so i set the paper aflame
& dropped it into
a tall glass of yellow
becoming liquid fuel
for one string
in my candle
that this wick
had never encountered
the glass walls were engulfed in flame
& inches upon inches
can only keep up with flame
for so long.
& so from this ring of fire
cracked a ring of glass
& wax came
spilling & spilling
& created waterfalls.
there was no scent.
only the hopes to create
what couldn’t have been accomplished
with current resources.
the glass walls were engulfed in flame
& inches upon inches
can only keep up with flame
for so long.
R.S. MacDonald lives in Australia. His writing has appeared in various literary journals and publications across the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. When not writing, he enjoys spending time with his dog, going on walks and performing in his band.
Mercury Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man with Borderline Personality Disorder. He’s from Seattle and currently attends the Evergreen State College. He’s been published by University of Amsterdam’s Writer’s Block, UC Davis’ Open Ceilings, UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history.