Here I am, gutted and trussed up like a Christmas turkey. Carnations everywhere. Easter lilies at my feet and, thanks to my old friend Eustace, calla lilies at my head. Just like that Diego Rivera painting—why did Eusie have to spend so much money on this, closing the barn door after this horse has left?
You could say that I have committed a mortal sin. According to the Church fathers, that means the sin must be of a “grave matter.” (Indeed.) You must commit it with full knowledge that it is a mortal sin. (Of course, I knew what I was doing!) You must do it voluntarily. (Well, no one twisted my arm.) However, I do feel a bit guilty that poor Mother was so beside herself with grief—after all, I had been her brilliant one, her educated, carefully raised, hothouse plant. I, Oscar, after my maternal grandfather, who also chose the same grand not-entrance-into-but-exit-out of this vale of tears. You might argue that I should not have given in to despair—to be honest, I was in a fugue state. No, that’s not right, it was a toccata of ratcheting rage. The fugue was merely the release. Then the “voluntary.”
The feast I had prepared for my friends was the occasion: several racks of lamb, rare and seasoned with rosemary, stuck with garlic cloves, given a slight dusting of cinnamon and turmeric. Duck confit. Squab wrapped in grape leaves, seasoned with sage, drizzled with grenadine. The crowning glory, goose—Wafna!—crisp skin, never greasy, achieved with generous pokings and baptisms of a good French burgundy. We had mountains of greens, baby onions, caramelized sprouts, saffron rice with currents, carrots and parsnips in butter and dill. Lovely olive bread twisted into knotted rolls. Wine for every course.
Flaming puddings. Perfect pears—now that was a meal!
I wore my best suit, a white silk scarf draped carefully around my neck. I had cut my hair for the occasion and besides the invitations, printed out the menu, the courses and the course of events, right down to a “Grand Finale & Denouement–The Final Toast”
It was a bit unkind, the last entry, as no one had the slightest idea what that meant, except that I noted that it would be accompanied by chocolates and a lovely Hungarian dessert wine that I had been saving for just such a special occasion.
Having then taken my special “aperitif” just before the guests arrived, I knew that the drowsiness I felt as I stood up and raised my glass for the denouement presaged an irrevocable sleep. I tapped a glass with my silver fork. “My dear Friends! I will be leaving you all, going to a place where you cannot, but before I do, I have some things I have been wanting to say for a long, long time.”
I turned to Eusie, my best and dearest friend:
“To you I entrust the job of overseeing my Mother when I am gone—” I handed him an envelope in which I had enclosed a long and loving letter written to my dear Mater before the meal— ” Simply make sure that she is comfortable and well and doesn’t tipple too much. Get rid of that damn bloodsucker of a maid she has and find someone new; don’t let her run through too much money—”
“Oscar-r-r-r-r, how long will you be gone?”
“Stop trilling the ‘r’ in my name—you know how I hate that. Besides, I know you don’t think so, Old Man, but your attempts at Spanish have always been wretched!”
I turned to my next closest friend. “Denis, for all the years we have known each other I have always wanted to tell you that, though you have been in some ways quite socially generous, you are one of the most miserly, mean-spirited men on earth…”
I went around the room, which was now sepulchrally silent, naming friends and telling each one precisely what their strengths and characterological weaknesses were: Maude and her friend, Daisy, had spread malicious gossip about me only five years ago: Harold had deliberately cut me out of important social occasions; Dean, when I was a journalist, had gone behind my back to take the art column away from me; Jane filched a silver spoon from my kitchen (at least, she had never, ever, returned it); and Charles had forgotten to feed the cat for a whole day when I was away on vacation. Then Madelene had yelled at me, because supposedly, I had neglected my cat: she, in fact, I said, had the patience of dog in heat. Hugh and his third wife who was not there, thank god! Hugh had terrible taste in wives, second only to his egregious failure to take responsibility for the character of his child when, upon its only visit to my house, had pulled my beloved’s tail and reached in and not only took the goldfish out of its bowl, but swallowed it whole—That child is a monster, Hugh, I said. Only Eusie was spared but for that one earlier, milder reprimand; for, after all, I had entrusted my dear mother to his supervision.
No one around the table seemed to have the wherewithal to respond, and so I turned, finally, to Father Jack. “Father Jack, I said. Father Jack while you are brilliant, fun at a party, and debonair, you are morally reprehensible and a discredit to the priesthood. You—”
“Hold on,” Father Jack bristled. “Judge not, lest ye be judged, Oscar.” And he stood up, immaculate in his collar and clerical black and, with his belly bulge, looking not unlike the proverbial priestly penguin, dropped my good linen napkin on his dirty plate and turned to leave the room.
I realized that people were stirring and would leave soon if I did not hurry up my final toast. “Friends, friends, please sit down. You must know that just before this meal, I took a slow-acting poison and shortly after the last of our dessert, I shall be no more. There is no antidote.”
Even Father Jack stopped in mid-escape., He whirled around. “Sinner! You’re playing God, Oscar. You do not have the right! Only God can decide when your hour has come.”
“And YOU? Father Jack?” I replied. “Just like a priest to mind my business.” I could feel myself fading. “I’m on my way out.” And I lifted my glass of special Hungarian dessert wine. “Hear, hear! I don’t have to put up with you any more!”
The voices of my friends all murmuring in dismay (that will fix them! Go ahead, feel guilty!) became a buzz which turned into a loud sound of fluttering, as if a thousand hummingbirds were hovering in the air, and lights came on and the most comforting feeling, brilliant, warm lights glowing, as if from a bank of candles that had been all lit at once, orgasmic release from this weary old body of mine as if I were being bounced from one side to another of a channel of some sort, I fell down, so slowly and easily I went down and down and down, and I could see the candle flames leaping higher…I passed through a ring of cool fire, cool as though it were the false flames of an electric heater made to look like a hearth—and I distinctly remember thinking why all the fuss as there was really nothing to fear…
As I drifted away, like a helium balloon let loose from the grip of a child, I thought I heard someone say, “Just like Oscar. I bet he’s just dead drunk, as usual!”
I promise you: I shall be in touch…