The waitstaff was on edge. He could sense it and it depressed him, so he had requested a distant table, nearly hidden behind three flowering topiaries. Attention had always shadowed his footfall, only now it had a syphilitic aspect. Could I get used to corners, he wondered, shielded by plants? The blossoms were pinned on, temporary silken inhabitants of the branches. He was pleased with himself for noting the artificiality though it was fitting enough, at a resort.
Ah, I don’t know, he thought, looking at the ombre sky this sunset, getting drunk. Instead of despairing at the finality of this . . . hotel, this end, I could pretend it was a vacation. All I would have to do is avoid televisions. It didn’t seem impossible.
His bodyguards were murmuring to each other. He lit up a cigar, spun the ice in the glass. Mistakes were made, he conceded inwardly, but the biggest was mercy. I was too merciful. Had my iron fist not faltered, not wavered once in 30 years, they would have stayed on their tiptoes or be swinging from them. Shrill notes of a woman chastising her son swelled and spilled over the artificial hedge. Next time, he smiled, next time.
It was strange to think there would be no lavish state funeral at the finish now; he hadn’t realized he’d been looking forward to it. Suzanne and he had planned a great deal. They were never melancholy, but excited themselves with ever more grandiose ideas; both had a talent for it, and would anticipate the thrill of telling the other when an idea came to them alone. He wondered if the thought had crossed her mind in all the furor; she hadn’t breathed word, but undoubtedly it had. His giggle upset a couple at a neighboring table, furrowing their brows.
She had wanted whole avenues of rose petals, garland-draped camels, masked ululators, and a train of sobbing elephants, each grasping another’s tail with the tender grip of its trunk. He had designed special robes shot with gold thread, specially ordered a great mahogany coffin carved with scenes from his rule in a cheeky quartzite pyramid tomb, and choreographed an elaborate ritual purification and symbolic mummification. She left two weeks ago, to stay with family in the UAE. Of course she blames me. He took a long sip. The azure sea extended on three sides of the patio.
What kind of funeral will it be? Who will speak? Could they blight out this final chapter, and instead hold selective memoriam for happier years? It’s hardly uncommon, and why not? He considered the future thoughtfully, pretending not to see a lady discreetly raising her cell phone for the shot.
Elizabeth Youle lives in Baltimore. Her writing has appeared in Deep Leap.