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Zur Originalfassung: »Statt Karten«

August 27, 2005

Meike Haberstock

Translated from the German by Elisabeth Carlson

In Lieu Of Cards...

My friend Bert is dead. A few columns ago I had written about a lemon in his head. In other words, a brain tumour which was, when first diagnosed, the size of a lemon. For many months, we laughed, we cried, we screamed over this and sometimes we just sat in silence. Oh, and other times we drank. Mojiten, as he liked to pluralize his favourite drink. Now he is dead and I drink alone. To him. On my balcony, in the sun, with some mint from the neighbour's garden. But this is not a solution.

In the last few months before his death the lemon grew to the size of a grapefruit and then on to a whole fruit basket. At the end Bert called himself »the plantation« and he was not sad that death was near. Though he started to slowly lose his mind, his sense of humour never left him.

It's a good thing that one does not necessarily follow the other.

In his clearer moments he would take my hand and assure me that Courtney Love would do a whole lot in front of rolling cameras for his free medication – and then he would work on formulating his death notice.
»Only the best die young, that has some weight, what do you think?«
»You are 37 years old, what are you saying?«
»Good Lord, in today's demographics anyone under forty is literally still an adolescent. And besides, I have yet to matriculate and Cap & Capper still brings tears to my eyes. But okay, how about I fought, I hoped but lost?«
»That's where I start to cry.«
»Bert is dead, next tenant wanted.«
The following laughter drowned in the oxygen mask.

Years ago I saw an obituary in the »Hamburger Abendblatt« for the noble Elisabeth From Behind. So far so dead. Ahead of her name it read »Today the Good Lord took ...«. So far so tragic, because the phrase »to heaven«, which followed her name, only came later.
Many faxes later. I had also sent one with that obituary to Bert at the time, we still laughed about it.

In his last weeks, I searched for a funeral home for Bert. He had wanted the director to come and see him at the hospice.
Bert had wanted to leave his family as little money as possible and lessen the work for me, therefore he took care of »the arrangements« as Mr. Süverkrüp called it, ahead of time. Mr. Süverkrüp was in his mid fifties, of slim and rather short stature, the managing director of »the institution« in the fourth generation.
He wore a dark grey double breasted suit, was discreet and professional and during all the time it took to transact the business at hand he was somewhat irritated only once:
»I want an expensive funeral. Finest wood for the coffin, with black lacquer, satin pillows, lilies in obscene quantities, and an orchestra.«
Twenty one, twenty two...
The remaining points were resolved within an hour and a final price was agreed upon.

Two days later Bert wanted to test that Mr. Süverkrüp – as promised – was actually on stand-by day and night, so he asked the night nurse to wake him at 3 am. Filled with analgetics and rum, he dialed Mr. Süverkrüp's number to tell him his demise would probably not be for another two or three weeks. He wanted to be sure that this was alright since the summer season was about to start and he had just wondered if the refrigeration until the funeral would be included in the price. Süverkrüp informed Bert he could die whenever, in July or wait till fall, the price would remain the same and the refrigeration would always be included. Just like the black lacquer casket and the flowers. Bert asked for a Mojito but Nurse Maria denied him that request. She had held the receiver during the conversation and hung up at 3:12 am.

Days later I did some »grave spotting«. Bert wanted me to find a nice spot in our cemetery. This turned out to be definitely the most bizarre undertaking of my life, surpassing even my dark-room experience in a gay club.

A choice of eight grave sites was available which I had to catalogue in notes and with a digital camera. The gardener led me through the southern section to the former soldiers' cemetery, past the old section and the plots for the anonymous urn graves, and back to the little chestnut grove.
Eight little plots of earth which were more or less ready and waiting for a new – what? – resident/corpse/guest/tenant. After eight emotional questions of »how big«, »what direction«, »what neighbours«, »how close to the road«, plus taking pictures – I was sick and just made it to the next refuse container while the gardener discreetly raked the path.

I chose a spot in the chestnut grove because just before I returned to the hospice, Bert had fallen into a coma.
»Just as I had figured! If you don't wake up now and look at these shitty photos which I took for you, endangering my life and reputation...«
Bert never woke up again and three weeks later the brass band played »My Way« in a sea of lilies while the black lacquered coffin disappeared under the chestnut trees. I threw a lemon into the grave and remembered his request to »write this down for the internet blog. This story is much too funny to just keep to yourself.«

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Meike Haberstock

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