How Not to Survive

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Thursday is Grandma’s funeral. I manage to get permission to miss class for the day from Jerk Jackson, who acting weirdly nice to me since our chat and hasn’t picked on me once since then. On Tuesday he even tells me my delivery style is ‘bold’, which is about as close to praise as you’re ever gonna come with him. Even weirder he actually smiles at me when I come in, which is a bit like getting smiled at by a rattle snake. It’s not like I’m not grateful to have him on side, as it definitely makes a nice change from wondering how he’ll go about humiliating the hell out of me this morning, but it’s a bit like having Lucifer as a friend. I feel like a big fake. I’m sorry to hear about your Gran, he said when I told him why I couldn’t be there, and then he reached out again and I had endure him death-gripping me by the shoulder again while he advised me to make sure I stayed emotionally engaged – and under no circumstances to stop myself from crying if I felt the need. It’s like, Thanks!

I get to Mum’s at ten o clock, a little worse for wear since Eli and me finished off half a bottle of vodka the night before – kind of like my own little funeral party for Grandma. Mum and Teresa are already dressed and sitting waiting in the living room, and Teresa’s got Mum’s hand in hers and is holding it and looking at her all saintly like she’s the reincarnation of Princess Di or something.

You were meant to be here half an hour ago! is the first thing Teresa says when I arrive, no Hello or How’ve you been? She’s been down for the last two days to take care of Mum and help organise the funeral and make sure she doesn’t go and get plastered again, which all sounds very selfless but is actually the kind of thing Teresa delights in.

I ignore her and go over to Mum, who’s looking very white and nervous, though I can’t tell if it’s because of the impending service or just the stress of having Teresa fawning all over her.

I’m like, Hi Mum.

Mum manages this weak smile.

She’s like, Hi Jaz.

And maybe it’s because she’s remembered to call me Jaz, even though she’s not drunk or trying to get me interested in a career in law, but I suddenly have this overwhelming urge to hug her. I figure why the hell not, since we are meant to be grieving etc. Mum looks surprised when I like, stretch out my arms, and for a few seconds leaves me standing there like a dork. But then she tears up and like, launches herself at me, and as she does it occurs to me it’s probably the first time we’ve hugged since I can even remember.

The moment’s totally spoiled by Teresa who’s watching jealously and is like, We need to get going or we’ll be late! all furiously, and then practically pulls me off Mum like I’m this unnecessary distraction or something.

We get in the car and head towards Hayes, which is where Grandma used to live before Grandpa died like, six or seven years ago. The whole town is like, populated by geries. We used to visit them a lot, and Grandma’d always take me and Teresa out with her while she did her rounds of the town, collecting gossip and going on about how many gold stars we’d got at nursery school like this was proof her genes were much better than everybody else’s. She’s being cremated then buried alongside him in the churchyard, which is nice, though also kind of weird since I guess it’ll mean digging up his grave to get her urn in beside his.

The first people we see as we pull up outside are Dad and Barbie who’re like, arm in arm and inspecting the graves like they’re out shopping for a nice plot. For once Barbie’s not dressed pastels and is wearing this long black dress that makes her look spookily skeletal. Dad’s wearing an actual suit and looks so uncomfortable you’d think he was a drug mule or something. I shoot Teresa this dark look, and she gives me one back that’s all defiant and goes, Well he wanted to be here and I couldn’t exactly say she couldn’t come too, could I?

I’m like, Why not? all savagely for Mum’s sake, but she lays a hand on my shoulder as if to say she doesn’t need me fighting her battles for her.

There’s no reason we can’t be civil, she says calmly.

Civil is a pretty fucking hilarious way of putting the passive aggressive face off that takes place between Barbie and Mum as soon as we get out of the car. They like, look up and down at one another like two cowboys out of a Western each assessing the opposition for the best places to shoot them.

Hello Lois, says Mourning Barbie without a hint of sincerity, pushing Dad to one side and giving Mum this big smile that shows off her luminous bleached canines, I’m so sorry for your loss.

Thank you for coming Julia, goes Mum, not to be outdone, It’s so nice to see you.

Their eyes lock and the atmosphere like, fizzles. There’s a few seconds of silence while me, Dad and Teresa look back and forth between them while we wait to see who’ll blink first. Just as it seems like their eyes are all going to simultaneously bulge out of their sockets Barbie glances at Dad and grips his hand tightly, pulling him towards her. Then she looks back at Mum and you just know the subtext here is, Back off bitch he’s mine. Mum responds with a slow smile as if she’s mentally replying, Already had him fuck face, and turns to go into the church.

Right, she goes, Let’s get this show on the road.

We fall into line behind her, Dad and Barbie hanging at the back. Teresa quickly flanks Mum’s side and takes her arm as if she’s this crippled widow who can’t even walk on her own, greeting the various locals who are sitting with these big nods like she actually remembers what their names are. I don’t know, knowing Teresa she probably does, though none of them ring any bells with me. I give them all quick nods, and when this old woman who looks so ancient it’s like she might keel at any time tells me how she remembers me when I was this high, holding her hand at hip height, I give her a smile like I remember her too, even though she looks identical to all the other geries around her.

Thank you for coming, Mum’s going on repeat, She would’ve been so happy to know you were all here.

She looks a bit overwhelmed, and she turns like she’s searching for something. I notice Dad giving her this supportive smile, and I swear it’s like this current of electricity shoots between them and she smiles back like he’s the exact rock she’s been waiting for. Luckily Barbie hasn’t noticed, too busy advising some crustacean beside her what sort of dye won’t make her remaining hair fall out.

Just then there’s this burst of loud notes from the old lady at the organ, who’ s probably a frustrated concert pianist or something judging from the way she hammers at the keyboard. Me, mum and Teresa shuffle into the front row while Barbie escorts Dad to a pew near the back of the church.

Dear family and friends of Annabel Gable, begins the vicar in this voice so deep and perfectly level it’d give Jerk Jackson a hard on, We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of a very special woman...

Teresa is already shuddering away like she’s sitting on one of those new micro pleasure pads that’re supposed to make you orgasm by simply shooting all these electrical pulses up your bottom. Meanwhile Mum’s completely rigid and still though, her face like, devoid of expression.

I’d like to start with a few words about Annabel from the few times I met her, continues the vicar as if this service is all about him, Straight away I sensed here was a woman who was truly content with her place in the world – a woman of God...

He goes on and on and after about five minutes I’m kind of bored, no matter how sexy his voice is. That’s not because I’m heartless, it’s just that none of it rings true. I know Grandma would’ve hated it as well, since she wasn’t particularly bothered by religion as far as I know, no matter what this vicar thinks. Looking around I can see the whole church is like, festooned with white lilies – Mum’s gone totally overboard, no doubt encouraged by Teresa, who probably wanted a whole choir and a professional team of mourners too. Once the vicar’s done with his own opinions there’s hymn after hymn followed by psalm after psalm, interrupted every now and then by the vicar again to talk about death and what it means, like he’s got all the answers hidden down the front of his cassock. And no sooner is that over then everybody has to go up the pulpit one by one and say how much she’ll be missed and they all have these super-serious expressions, like they’re on some twenty four hour no giggling challenge or something.

That’s the real trouble with these big services if you ask me. Everyone makes these grand displays of how well they knew the deceased and what an exceptionally wonderful person they were, as if they never pissed anybody off or make someone want to slap them, and a lot of people just end up going through the motions, which when you think about it is the exact opposite of how it should be. I reckon the little private send off Eli and I had for her last night was much better. I even lit a candle for her at Eli’s suggestion, though a few minutes later he almost set fire to the house by splashing vodka over it. But it was good to take a moment to toast her and her life, and to tell Eli a few stories about her, such as the time she spewed coleslaw all over the dinner table right in front of this bigwig client Mum was trying to impress. When I die I think that’s all I want for me too – just for whoever knew me to sit around and have a drink and a reminisce. I don’t care about the rest of it, the whole ceremony and burial thing. Not like Teresa, who no doubt plans on being martyred or something.

After the service is finally over, which feels like a whole lifetime later, we have to stand with Mum outside and shake everybody’s hand and thank people for coming. Most of them look like they’ll soon be hosting their own services. The vicar stands there shaking hands too, like a superstar accepting congratulations for his sermon. Just one look at him at you can tell he’s a total fag, and I’m almost tempted to give him the eye just to see how he’ll react, though I don’t in case the reaction is like, interest.

Last out, though don’t ask me why, are Dad and Barbie. As she takes Mum’s hand Barbie leans in close and for a second I think she’s about to whisper some threat in Mum’s ear about staying away from her man, but instead she goes, Laurie and I would love to take you and the kids to lunch – if you’re feeling up to it.

I’m expecting Mum to be like, I’d rather sunbath in hell, but instead she looks from Dad to Barbie and goes, That’d be very nice, thank you Julia.

And that’s how we end up squeezed in beside one another at this pub restaurant around the corner, Mum and Barbie directly opposite each other with these warrior-size grins frozen across on their mugs and looking everywhere but at each other. Dad sits next to Barbie and mostly looks at me and Teresa with this hopeful expression on his face. We both ignore him.

What a lovely service it was, goes Barbie for about the tenth time after another bit of intensely awkward silence. Mum’s tapping her fingers up and down and eyeing the bar like it’s salvation, and I’m thinking I could do with a stiff drink myself.

So... Teresa – how’s university working out?

You only have to express like, the vaguest curiosity in Teresa’s life these days to get a full on dissertation out of her, and even though it’s Barbie doing the asking she launches reliably enough into a chronically uninteresting speech about how wonderful she’s finding it, how much she’s learning and how character-building the whole experience is. At one point I was secretly hoping after she started there she’d like, develop her wild side a bit, get into partying and start dating a drummer or something, but typical of Teresa she straight away located the Christian Union and became their like, deputy commander or something. Catholic school has a lot to answer for.

Well, goes Barbie when Teresa finally pauses for breath, obviously a bit taken back, That sounds lovely. And how about you Jaz?

I’m like, It’s OK, non-committal.

Dad and Barbie exchange a meaningful look.

You know, goes Barbie, I still have a couple of friends in theatre land. If you like I could make a couple of calls, see if someone’d be interested in meeting you. I’m owed a couple of favours, and I happen know Bob Phillips has a space on his books...

I practically swallow my own tongue. Bob Phillips runs First Class Rep which is basically the biggest agency around. Get on their books and you’ve basically broken through the first hurdle, the one most actors never get beyond. I’d love to see the blood running out of Jerk Jackson’s face as he finds out I’m signed and realises I did it without him.

Would you like me to have a word? goes Barbie.

I’m like, totally without a clue how to handle this. Dad’s grinning at me all pleased, and it’s totally obvious it’s something they’ve already discussed together. I glance at Mum who’s looking way beyond miserable, as if she’d like nothing better than to cheerfully murder Barbie in the most gory way possible, then drink the bar dry. The only people she could offer to introduce me to are lawyers, which is about as useful as meeting lumps of rock and a hell of a lot less interesting. Mum looks back at me and in her eyes I can see this desperate light, like she’s willing me not to go over to the dark side. I look back at Barbie, smiling away like the Devil in Faust and suddenly it’s like I can hear a clock above me going, Tick Tock Tick Tock in loud strokes like the gong of doom. It’s obvious there’s only one right thing to say here.

I’m like, That’d be amazing! in this super-excited phony way that’s the voice of puke.

Barbie smiles like I’ve just agreed she’s the best mother at this table and goes, Marvellous! looking at Mum instead of me. In response Mum seems to kind of slump, like all the spirit has just been sucked right out of her. Teresa gives me a dirty look, like I’m this total traitor, and I feel pretty bad about it, even though I know if it had been Teresa Barbie was offering to help out she’d have said yes without a second thought, and probably offered to throw in head.

Marvellous... echoes Dad, taking in Mum’s expression and apparently completely unable to work out why she isn’t jumping over the moon for me. He looks around for something to change the subject with. I don’t know about anybody else but I’m starving! is what he comes up with.

Nobody replies to this earth-shatterer, since Mum’s too busy being unhappy, I’m too busy feeling guilty, Teresa’s too busy glowering self-righteously at me, and Barbie’s too busy gloating. He gives up and we return to awkward silence until our food arrives.

We’re just finishing the meal, which Mum has basically shifted from one side of her plate to the other in this way that’d make The Terminator feel sorry for her, when Barbie lets out this little shriek. Mum looks up with this little gleam of hope in her eyes like maybe Barbie’s choking to death on a fish bone.

Oh look – it’s Paul, Barbie cries, leaping to her feet so she can flap her hand around in his direction like a hyperactive bird, Paulie! Paulie! Over here!

She catches sight of all our faces, like, the opposite of pleased.

Oh, goes Barbie all breezily, Silly me I forgot to say – Paul’s in town to receive a prize for something or other! I didn’t think it would appropriate for him to be at the service since he didn’t know your nan, so I told him to meet us after!

She resumes shrieking and flapping, totally seeming to forget that she didn’t know Grandma either. We all look at Dad, who like, shrinks into his seat like he wishes it would eat him, which is pretty much what we’d all like at this stage too.

Paulie approaches with a big fake smile that’s even more bleached and toothsome that Barbie’s. He’s wearing this immaculate shirt and blue blazer, and looks uncannily like a Ken doll. Together they should totally like, make horror movies.

Hello, he says, leaning over Mum and grabbing her hand before she has the chance to hide it under the table, I’m so very sorry for your loss.

Paul doesn’t stop smiling as he says this, probably because he can’t, and Mum says thank you and he looks at me. His face kind of ripples, kind of like he’s just remembered who I am and is trying not to crease up about it.

He’s like, Hello Jarold.

I give him this quick nod of hatred and start hatching a plan about how I’ll accidentally flick Bolognese sauce in his eyes. Meanwhile Teresa’s like, Hi Paul, all coy and smiley because she’s got this big crush on him, even though he’s like, spawn of Satan’s sister.

Paul’s like, Hello there Teresa – you’re looking very lovely, all suave like he only has to walk into a room for chicks to cream themselves.

Teresa emits this giggle that’s so piercing the glasses like, vibrate. I’ve met Paul twice in the past and both times he made a big deal out of being nice to Teresa and looking like he gives a fuck what her opinions are. She’s like, so totally starved of attention from the opposite sex (turns out Christian Union is not a turn on, who’d have thought?) she basically flirts back like he’s her last ever chance of getting impregnated. It’s a bit extraordinary to watch to be honest.

Anyway we all have to shuffle up so Paul can get his lanky body in. He immediately turns right away from me and makes the mistake of asking Teresa a question. She launches right on in like a carnivorous predator that’s scented fresh blood, and he nods like it’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever heard. Meanwhile Barbie’s looking at them both like some evil arch baddie whose mega-plan is coming together nicely, and suddenly I realise what she’s trying to do. She’s basically seized control of this deeply emotional situation of Mum’s and is using it to try and turn us all against her.

The rest of the meal is painstaking, and it’s totally obvious that Mum, Dad and me are all desperate for it to end, only no one’s able to figure out how to like, extract themselves without seeming like a callous jerk who didn’t give a toss about Grandma. Teresa on the other hand has clearly forgotten all about her, and she and Ken-doll are getting on like a house on fire, watched over by Barbie who inserts the odd Ooh and Yesss! like she’s included in their conversation. Finally Mum can’t take the sight of this anymore and stands up claiming she’s got a headache. She resists all our offers to go home with her, saying she wants to be alone, and after she’s gone I pretend I’ve got work to do for school (well, this is actually true, only I’m not planning to actually do it) and beat hasty retreat myself.

I get home nearly two hours later, like, terminally pooped from whole experience. I can hear Eli in his room tapping away at his laptop, but I don’t even have the energy to go in and moan about how it all went. Instead I put on some Plan B, roll a spliff and sink back for private reverie.

I’m just about to spark up when my phone goes. It’s an unfamiliar number and stupidly I answer it, as if it’s going to be some amazing bootie call from god’s gift to the gays or something.

Oh hello there, goes this deeply posh woman’s voice, all clipped and strained like she’s had ever such a trying day pointing out to the maid all the places she missed with the duster, Am I speaking to... Jaz?

She pronounces my name like it’s some obscure form of endangered species.

I’m like, Yeah baby.

Oh good, neighs the woman, My name’s Kate. I’m Andrew’s wife. I was wondering if you could come right away, because he’s standing on the top of our roof saying he’s going to jump off?

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