Welcome to the latest instalment of our regular Saturday feature, The Write Stuff, showcasing the best of Scotland’s writers. Today we publish a short story by Anneliese Mackintosh, whose debut collection, ‘Any Other Mouth’, will be published in June
When I die, I don’t want a religious ceremony. I want a humanist service, preferably; just a simple room where a few folk gather together – and cry a little – as my coffin is brought in. I’m not fussy.
The coffin needn’t be extravagant. The cheapest one they do at the Co-op is fine. That’s what I got for my dad’s funeral last year – corrugated cardboard, with a plastic lining – and that was expensive enough. As for coffin-bearers, well, normally there are six, so I suppose my six most recent lovers will do. They’ll probably be quite happy to feel the weight of my dead body in their hands.
Even though I want you to burn me, I still want dressing up first. I’d like to go smart-casual. You know, dressed-down enough to acknowledge the occasion. I mean, nobody’s under any false pretences here: I’m dead, and I’m about to be incinerated. I don’t need shoes. And you can dispense with mascara, since my eyes will be shut. But I’d still like to make a bit of an effort. A nice dress, new pair of tights. Touch of lipgloss. And that silver ring my sister made me in psychiatric hospital, on a chain around my neck.
I’d like to be holding a book. Revolting Rhymes, ideally, but I’m flexible as long as it’s in Roald Dahl’s canon. I’d like a David Bowie CD with me too, and a picture of my family before we fell apart. Oh, and a Swiss army knife, in case I need it in the afterlife. I’m a staunch atheist, so I’m fully expecting to go to hell.
Just before I disappear behind the curtain and – poof – I turn to dust, I’d like Stephen Hawking to give a small speech about the beginning of the universe. I’d like him to demonstrate, in a few short paragraphs, just how insignificant my life has been, in the great scheme of things.
Then I’d like the-woman-who-offered-me-a-bite-of-her-Mars-bar-while-I-was-crying-on-a-train-in-2009 to step forwards and say a few words. I’d like someone to give her a Mars bar.
Finally, I’d like the barmaid I used to say hello to at that vegan place to get up and read a poem. Something by R. D. Laing, about the fraught, fucked-up nature of human relationships. Something about schizophrenia. Something about the relationship between schizophrenia and death.
Once that awful, grinding, coffin-on-a-conveyor-belt noise is over and done with, and my choice of song blares out of the speakers (that tune from the closing credits of Porridge) I’d like everyone to dance out of the room and head to the wake.
And that’s where the real fun will begin.
I want the wake to be held at the house where I grew up. I know there’s a new family living there now, and it might be inconvenient for them, but if they wouldn’t mind giving up their home for this one last favour, then I’d be much obliged. I did live under that roof for twenty-four years, after all. Had my first orgasm there. Played my last game of Pass the Pigs.
So. Here’s how it will be done. I’d like everyone to gather in the kitchen, where cheese and onion sandwiches and cava will be served, and maybe the odd pork pie, just like when my dad died.
I want the Top 25 ‘most played’ list on my iTunes to be put on, and I want everyone to clap along to the music, only to lose the rhythm several bars in, and cross their arms in embarrassment. I want an Ethiopian woman I have never met to jump up and down and start ululating beside the Aga, in the very spot I used to sit, back when I was ten years old and scared.
In the living room, I want a suitcase full of memories to sit on the coffee table. The suitcase will hold a collection of short stories I wrote when I was eight, that pink bobble hat with a bunny rabbit on it, a razor blade, and the Ha Ha Bonk joke book. The razor blade will be caked in blood.
Though I encourage my guests to chat freely, I would like to impose a few guidelines. For example, I want my best friend from school and my best friend from now to sit at opposite ends of the house. They will not get on.
And I’m adamant that people talk about my bad points as well as my good. How stubborn I was. How unreliable, melodramatic. How controlling. I want people to cry when they hear the word ‘controlling’.
I want the one man I have ever loved enough to spend my life with to be there too.
I want him to leave his new girlfriend at home and come out especially for me. I want him to play a song about my eyes, to play a song about our first kiss, a song about the best sex we ever had. I want him to tell everyone that he broke up with me.
I want there to be a moment, just one short moment, where he looks off into the middle-distance and says how special I was to him. How special I still am.
I want him to leave early.
As the party progresses, I’d like new things to happen.
I want all the people who ever got pissed off with me to gather in my old bedroom and throw darts at a picture of my face. I want the girl who told me I was a ‘f***ing bitch’ to hit me right between the eyes.
I want my regrets to be exhibited as objets d’art, scattered around the front lawn and scorned by critics. The accidental threesome. The septic belly-button piercing. The accidental foursome. The two-day hangover. Chlamydia.
I want the man-who-made-me-get-down-on-my-knees-and-beg-when-I-was-thirteen to read out excerpts of my poetry from around that time, while everyone laughs at how wrong in the head I was.
Then I want that version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D – minor – that I heard on YouTube to play as someone sets fire to a pile of all the words I ever wrote. I want the flames to devour each syllable as everyone cheers.
I want fireworks.
Once it’s dark, I’d like things to get a little out of hand. I’d like everyone to run around naked on the driveway, as I did aged fifteen. To get drunk and emotional. To have fist-fights and cheat on one another. To experience blackouts and vomiting and concussion and tears.
To stroke each other’s hair and tell each other it’ll all be OK.
And I want my mum.
And stars to shoot out of the sky.
And I want my mum.
And my dad to come back from the dead, to sing that song about brushing my teeth, the one he sang every night before bed.
And my sister to stop being poorly, to leave the psychiatric hospital, be okay, be happy.
And I want my mum.
I’d also be grateful if – five minutes after my wake is over – the world was to end.
Nothing extravagant. Just one tiny apocalypse.
I don’t need four giant horses to ride in, another world war to take place, or a sudden outbreak of zombies. Nothing that showy. Just a quick, discreet imploding. A quiet conclusion.
Because when I die, I don’t want anyone to feel lost without me. In fact, I don’t want anyone to feel anything.
• Anneliese Mackintosh’s debut short story collection, Any Other Mouth, will be published by Freight in June. Anneliese has a Masters degree from the Edwin Morgan Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Her fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland, published in UK magazines and anthologies such as Edinburgh Review, The Best British Short Stories 2013, Gutter, Causeway/Cabhsair, and From Glasgow to Saturn, as well as US magazines Zygote in my Coffee, Citizens For Decent Literature, and Up The Staircase Quarterly. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize.
Anneliese lives in Manchester and teaches at the University of Strathclyde. Her website is at www.anneliesemackintosh.com.