by S.L. Kerns
The dingy light bulb flickered on and off. The tap water was running in the rusted-out sink. Sunsanee tore off a piece of toilet tissue and dampened it. In the restroom mirror, warped from the extreme heat that people struggle with day in and day out in Thailand, she stared at her reflection as she wiped away the mascara that had run down her high cheekbones and down through her smile lines. Pitiful, she thought. The jokes on me, God. Smile lines? I can’t even remember my last genuine smile.
Her hair hadnʼt evolved much since the fifties, the popular beehive style she wore in her younger years had thinned and the brown hid the gray.
In need of cooling down she splashed her face with cold water and turned off the faucet. Searching through her black Gucci handbag she grabbed her black Lush mascara and purple eyeliner. Her appearance took more and more precedence the older she aged. Taking her time to look her best, she reapplied her cosmetics and headed home from the funeral.
At her Egyptian-themed condominium, she shut off Miss Mercedes—the name she had given her black Honda Jazz—and made her way up to room 513.
As the door opened, she set her keys on the top of the fridge that stood guard next to the door. After unlinking her gold necklace, that held an expensive amulet of the Buddha, she gently placed it next to her keys. Moving further in, she nearly tripped over her Yorkshire terrier. Nang Fah, was her little angel both in name and appearance with her painted claws and blue ribbon tying her hair up. The overjoyed yorkie ran circles around Sunsanee’s legs, and so she indulged her by picking her up, squeezing her tight to her chest, and rubbing her wide jawline across the dog’s face; then Sunsanee gave Angel a peck on the head and sat her back down.
She made her way to the bathroom and checked herself out in the mirror. A harsh diet ensured that her body stayed young and lean even as her face aged; it gave her a great sense of pride.
After toweling off, she tossed on a long t-shirt with a Red Bull screen-print. She walked to her cabinet near the fridge and grabbed a champagne glass, then poured herself a mimosa. She flicked on her TV to Channel 3. Nothing helped her unwind more after a day’s work than watching some over-the-top melodramatic Thai series and her current addiction was Pee Mee Kwaam Rak, or Ghost in Love; the absurd plot, cheesy special effects and anticipation of how over the top the show might get kept her tuning in.
She laid on her bed with her glass in one hand and her Angel snuggled up next to her. Stroking the yorkieʼs head she said, “A rock could act better than these young whores.”
Eventually, she dozed off while reflecting on how actresses had needed talent, not only pretty faces, back in her day.
Her ringtone blasted Maroon 5′s latest single.
“Hello. Sunsanee speaking,” she muttered in a dry voice. She let out a few uh-huhs and yes-sirs before ending with a see-you-soon.
A thunderous knock on the door of room 513 interrupted her brunch hours. She opened the door with a bright smile as sincere as the ones she had seen performed by the talentless hacks from her TV program last night. She had already fixed herself up in burgundy lipstick, purple eyeshadow, and a black dress for the day.
The stranger at the door was in a yellow polo and blue jeans. He had a smooth face, but really showed his age in his posture. Sunsanee glanced at his gold rings and neckchain; she conjectured he was at the heart of a midlife crisis. He had a soft gut that weighed his back and shoulders down. She made a mental note about his failed attempt to hold onto his youth by his use of jet-black hair dye. His hairline was fading and, it was obvious to Sunsanee, he had dyed it himself recently because the skin on his forehead was stained black. Poor sap is trying too hard to cover up those white hairs.
She greeted him and offered him a seat at her large desk. They sat down on opposite sides. Angel jumped on her lap and kept her eyes on the stranger. The whole room was spotless and rather elegant except for the massive desk covered in a clutter of papers.
Sunsanee grinned as he let his eyes wander about the room and stop at the plaques on the wall behind her. Each plaque was an award for acting. She sat up proudly as his eyes moved towards the photos hanging next to them, photos of her on various stages and sets with many successful Thai actors; her personal favorite with Ananda Everingham hung dead center. On her desk there were no pictures of family or friends in the frames, instead there was a young shirtless Marlon Brando in black and white, a beautiful shot of Audrey Hepburn, and a close-up of Angel. “So it looks like you are the real deal,” he said pointing at her awards.
“Oh, those silly things?” her eyes lit up, “They donʼt tell the half of it.”
“Cute dog. What’s its name?”
“Her name is Angel. She is my baby.” Angel stood up in Sunsanee’s lap and began licking her on the mouth. “Yes, my wittle baby, aren’t you, girl?” she said to Angel.
The now-somewhat-uncomfortable man tilted his face to the ground and said, “Look, I am not proud to be here. What kind of a low life doesn’t have people to mourn for him at a funeral?” He raised his head back up, made eye contact with her and said, “My damn father, that’s the kind.”
Sunsanee sat unaffected. “What was so bad about him?”
“He was a selfish prick who only cared about getting his kicks.”
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Life is short. We should all get our kicks when we can.”
“Not at the expense of our families,” he said with narrowing eyes.
“There must have been some good qualities about him.”
“There was one good quality, only. He was the hardest damn worker I’ve ever known. The shitty thing was that he blew all of his money on whores and booze.”
“Too impulsive,” he said.
“Some of the most successful people are just that,” she said as she picked up her framed Brando. She studied it, her eyes lost in his sexiness.
“I am sure the majority of them are among the least successful. We just don’t get to hear about all the failures.”
“Fair enough,” she said and put the framed Brando back on her desk. I am not one of those failures. I refuse to be!
He paused, not sure if he should go on.
“My father was extremely handsome. I believe he used up all the good looks and left me with nothing. He-”
Sunsanne interrupted him with laughter.
“Sorry. It’s just that he really left you a shell of a man, didn’t he? You poor soul. You aren’t that bad,” she said.
“Tell that to my wife,” he said in reflection.
“See! You at least have some humor in you,” she said. She stood up and asked, “Would you like to have a whiskey on the rocks with me? It seems like you could use one.”
“Sure,” he said, his complexion turned white. “One of the only things I learned from my old man was how to drink.”
Sunsanee walked to the kitchen counter, just a few short steps away from her desk, and began pouring drinks. Angel stayed on her heels during the process, tail wagging.
“She thinks she has to protect me at all times,” she said referring to her dog, “my little guardian Angel.“
Sunsanee walked back to her desk, handed him a drink, and sat down. She raised her hand in a toast. “To life’s many failures,” she said. The man nodded. Their glasses clinked together.
The man continued, “As I was saying, he attracted a lot of female attention and ran around on my poor mother. God rest her soul. She was sweet, but she was stupid for letting him mistreat her.” He pointed at the picture of Marlon Brando. “He was like a young Brando. Then he became more like the old Brando, like his tragic decline, good-looking one day and a disgusting pig the next. After my father lost his charm with the ladies, he turned to hookers, really started drinking heavily and blew his hard-earned cash.”
“That’s exactly why I’ve never needed a man. They can be more trouble than they are worth. Angel is all I need in this world,” Sunsanee said.
“He was such a sleaze that he began thinking everyone was the same as him. Then he began accusing my poor mother of cheating. She denied it. But he never believed her, of course,” he paused his speech. Sunsanee took in the sadness in his eyes. He forced out the next few words, “That is when the beating started.”
“Are you married?” she asked in an attempt to change the subject before having to witness a grown man cry.
“Why do you need to know? Interested?”
“Hardly,” she said and took a second to get her mind straight. “If I am going to pass off as a friend of the family, I need to know about the family, wouldn’t you say?” I actually just didn’t want you to cry in my presence.
“I suppose that makes sense. But you first?”
“Are you married?” he asked.
“Interested?” she retorted.
“Perhaps. Unfortunately for you, I am a married man.”
“That’s a shame,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“I am kidding. I wouldn’t cheat. I hate goddamn cheats, like my father,” he took a drink and continued, “My pathetic mother. It took her years to work up enough guts to leave his sorry ass.”
“What about his friends? Doesn’t he have any?”
“Not a one that I know of. I suppose he double-crossed them all at some point. Probably he borrowed gambling money without returning it or fucked their wives. Excuse my dirty mouth.”
“Alright. That is all I care to hear. Sounds like a damn melodrama special I saw on Channel 7.”
“Definitely not Channel 3 worthy,” he said. “So, anyway, you’ll do it?”
“I am not really sure why you want me to. Don’t you despise the guy? Wouldn’t my services be a waste of your money?”
“I do hate him, but no matter what he did, the old fucker was still the man that gave me life. I guess I ought to do at least one thing for him. I wouldn’t want my funeral to be empty like his is sure to be.” The man’s eyes widened. He asked, “Do you believe in karma?”
“I see where this is going,” she said unamused.
“So anyway that’s why I need you. We need a weeper,” he paused and stared at the ceiling, “I donʼt expect anyone else there to shed a tear for him.”
“I will go against my better judgment and do it for your sake. Only yours. Not your father’s.”
Sunsanee opened up her planner. She flipped through it and pretended that she might be busy. All the pages were completely blank.
“When did you say it was?” she asked.
“It begins in two days at Phra Ram 4 temple. Be there by six.”
“I can squeeze it in,” she said as she marked it down.
Sunsanee believed it wasn’t her first time to attend a funeral service at Phra Ram 4 temple. It didn’t make a difference to her where the services were held anymore; after nine years of being the Weeper they all started to blend together.
On the red carpet there were rows of aluminum chairs, nearly all of them empty safe for Sunsanee and few distant cousins of the deceased. It was the usual kind of company she had gotten used to over the last 9 years. The whole thing had become depressing for her with the death and the garage-like rooms. Three metal doors to the left were raised and hung like bats in the gloomy night sky.
Sunsanee’s attention shot to the right as the monks began filing in on the narrow stage. They sat down on their knees and ankles. Their orange robes clashed with the huge blue ceremonial fans they used to cover their faces as they chanted, a Thai ritual she had grown bored of witnessing. A white piece of thread wrapped around their fingers and ran from monk to monk, linking them all together. They chanted in and out of chorus and left her in somnolence. She had lived through this charade so many times that reciting every chant while allowing her mind to fade elsewhere became an easy task; most of the time she reflected on her glory days as an up-and-coming star. Sunsanee chanted in Pali-Sanskrit along with them; this was her calm before the storm.
She was dressed completely in black minus purple eyeshadow and a little red string tied to one of her buttons; she had always been taught it protected her from an unwanted haunting by the deceased. Her client, the dearly-departedʼs son, had yet to arrive. Sunsanee was the only one weeping.
The tires of a black Honda CRV were melting to the pavement in the traffic jam. The male driver check the dashboard clock. “Dammit!” he said as he changed the radio station.
“Hey! I was listening to that,” the boy in the backseat whined like the three-year old he had stopped being eleven years ago.
“Listen, little Benz. We are already 20 minutes late and stuck in the goddamn traffic. I can’t handle that noise right now,” the father said as he looked at his son in the rearview mirror.
Little Benz rolled his eyes and stared out the back window.
The father went on, “I think we all could use some nice easy-listening. A little peace and quiet out of respect for your grandfather, ya know?”
As the traffic inched forward the boy chimed in again, “Why do we have to go to this stupid funeral anyway? I can’t even remember the man.”
Shit! he thought. “Benz, you know why. We’ve gone over this already. It’s called respect,” the father said with his grip tightening on the steering wheel. He had had enough of the never-ending traffic, the distorted noise on the radio, and the failures of his own parenting he was witnessing firsthand from his son’s bizarre behavior.
He knew his wife wouldn’t say a word, not to him and not to their son acting out in the backseat. She had grown quieter over the years like she was terrified of confrontations of any kind. Most of the time he embraced the silence, but every now and then he looked at her and wonder if he had broken her.
The traffic started to give a little and the disgruntled family rolled along a bit faster.
The monks had finished chanting. There was a very short line leading up to the body. Sunsanee had been to many of these things and was familiar with the routine.
It can’t be right for a person to attend more deaths than births, she thought. What kind of lowlife oddball has become so accustomed to the services that she could close her eyes and perform the rituals without flaw? Let’s see, first the line forms and then one at a time we reach the dead, refill the pot of water and pour some over his or her palm, pass it on and return to the seats. Some people cry, some hold it in, and some completely lose it; however, none could ever outperform me. A horn honked from the street outside the hanging metal doors and snapped her back to the present. Her face contorted with rage at the driver. She was considering marching over there and putting the driver in his place when an important detail struck her mind and sent her patting at her clothes as if she was on fire.
Thank the gods I have it, she thought as she caught her breath.
She was always careful not to forget to tie that red string on herself. Sunsanee squeezed the string and checked behind her to make certain no ghosts had followed her.
At the front of the line, it was her turn to pour water on the deceased man’s hand as it hung over the edge of the casket. In her research, this was the point that people started saying goodbye to their departed; meaning, this was when the real waterworks began. The pouring water ran off the body’s fingertips as the tears rolled off Sunsaneeʼs chin. Her performance had begun.
After a short break, the funeral staff and a few of the departed’s cousins lifted the closed casket and began to carry it outside. Sunsanee kept her tears flowing. Every time she joined a funeral, she reminded herself of all the years she dedicated to acting and how it never panned out. All the nice plaques on the wall were true, and they were quite impressive to those that had never gone through the struggle, but those were small jobs, and that’s all they were. She never got her breakthrough.
Now I‘m stuck in this miserable profession, she thought. When she joined a funeral, big or small, she was reminded that she had no family, an only-child with her parents long gone, a life absorbed by a career that kept her single and childless, left her with no one. It wasn’t so hard for her to cry. In a strange way, it was funny that even her tears tried to escape from her.
The small crowd reached the most extravagant building on the temple grounds. Long narrow stairs led to marble walls and a small square steel door. The golden roof pointed towards heaven and signified the end. Sunsanee glanced around her. No one else was crying yet she had worked herself up so much that stopping was not an option. How dare anyone say that she couldn’t act her way out of a parking ticket! She would show everyone that ever questioned her talents. This was real acting where the body takes over, and the mind is no longer needed. Her legs shook underneath her and she had trouble keeping her balance as she carried herself up the stairs following the body.
The steel door opened. Heat raced out of the crematorium. The body in the wooden overcoat had one final moment before the flames. Taking turns for the final time with the body, they small group gave their final goodbyes. Only Sunsanee shed a real tear for this man. Somebody had to, she thought, he’d be gone forever in a few minutes and no one seems to care. Everyone deserves to be properly mourned, but even his own son hasn’t shown up for the funeral. All of this weighed on her mind like the ground from six feet under as she stepped up to say farewell.
Sunsanee got weak in the knees. She fell against the wall as she bawled her eyes out. She started making her way down the steps never letting go of the wall or railing for fear of falling. She grabbed the flowers from a fellow mourner and ripped them away from him. The man didn’t dare call her out on this incredible action, even as she tossed the flowers to the ground and began stomping on them. She had lost all control. Her eyes were glazed over, no signs of consciousness left in them.
A CRV turned left onto the temple grounds and came barreling down the driveway. The driver shut off the radio and spoke, “Get ready to get out.”
The boy in the backseat crossed his arms, not budging.
The father caught the act in his rearview mirror and glared at his son while he shouted, “LISTEN, YOU LITTLE SHIT, YOU WILL GET OUT AND SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR GRANDFATHER!”
“HE’S NOT MY GRANDFATHER! I donʼt even know the asshole,” Benz said.
The father turned his face back towards his son and began to release his fury while the CRV kept its course, “Where did you learn how to talk like that?! Donʼt you EVER let me hear that word come out of your mouth again!”
The wife sat in the passenger seat, her eyes reached ahead. She watched the small crowd at the crematorium and a woman in black crying out of control as she ran down the long narrow stairs.
“I mean it! Do you understand me?” the enraged father glared at Benz.
“I understand that you’ll have to drag me out because I’m not moving,” he said.
In an instant, the father reached back over the seat and smacked the brat on the face.
The wife finally willed herself to speak, but it was too late. Out of necessity she shouted, “LOOK OUT!”
As if in slow motion, the startled husband slammed on the brakes and after a loud THUD the black CRV came to a stop.
Next to the coffin, where the body was deep in eternal sleep, a portrait faced a few monks chanting to a nearly empty room. A little dog ran up to the portrait and started howling, but it was barely audible over the booming Pali-Sanskrit.
“At least the little yorkie is entertaining,” commented little Benz with a smirk.
His father and mother sat restlessly on the foldable aluminum chairs near the front of the room.
“Isnʼt it strange that there is no one else here except for that lady with the dog,” Benz said as he peeped over at a woman trying to pick up and shush the hysterical yorkie.
Only the dog wept as the body was carried out to be cremated, leaving nothing in the room but a portrait of an unpleasant woman with a beehive hairstyle and purple eyeshadow.