Console FreakEvery year, the gathering for Ron Winston’s funeral was a bit smaller. At first, it was a novelty that they all chalked up to his infamous eccentricity, but after 20 years the only attraction left was some top-notch food and wine. No one knew exactly why he hosted this annual fake memorial service and Winston always refused to answer questions about it.
The line of mourners passed Ron in his casket, squeezing past more than three dozen sympathy wreaths and arrangements sent by various vendors and friends. After the service, someone could make serious money selling admission to the small room as a haunted floral maze.
“Who’s the woman?” Paul’s whisper was more conspiratorial than respectful.
Regina looked up from her phone and saw her on the far side of the room. The woman was dressed in black, a practice that the rest of the mourners had long since discarded. Regina shrugged and went back to watching YouTube videos.
Father Lynch wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin, then stepped away from the catering table toward Winston’s body. “We have a special request from Ron. He has asked that anyone who would like to say a few words do so here at the memorial gathering, rather than at the funeral itself. ”
Everyone in the room remained glued to their phones, except the woman in black, who studied the faces of the rest of the group. After a few moments, the silence was broken by Ron’s brother Tim, who pushed out of his chair. The largest man in the family, Tim looked down at the heads of his relatives, then across the room at his brother’s motionless body. He turned and headed toward the catering tables.
As Tim refilled his glass, the priest made another plea. “Please, someone, I know Ron really wanted to hear from those he loves today.”
“Ha! Right!” Tim said. “Okay, Ron, you want someone to speak? I’ll speak.”
Tim pushed past more than a dozen funeral arrangements, knocking two of them onto the carpet. The impact with the floor dislodged loose petals, leaving a corona of dust around the dead flowers.
He approached Ron, who was laying still in the silk-lined box. Tim reached in toward his brother’s lapels, with every intention of drunkenly dragging him out in front of the crowd. His fingers curled into fists before he withdrew them and began to yell.
“Why are we doing this AGAIN, Ron? This is the 20th time we’ve all had to go through this for you and none of us know why! Is it so you can hear all of us praise you once a year? You don’t get enough of that at work? We already kiss your ass at the office every day, so this stupid little gag has worn thin.”
Father Lynch reached up to rest a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Mr. Winston…” Tim pulled away from the priest’s hand and turned to face his family.
“Why do we still indulge him? Lorna, Ross, aren’t you as sick of this as I am? Do we just keep this up forever? It’s been 10 years since I started wishing he actually WAS dead in that box.”
“Shut up, Tim.”
Three mourners who still hadn’t looked up from their phones finally did, as Ron rose in the casket and looked out at the group. It was only mildly less shocking than seeing someone actually come back from the dead, because for two decades Ron had always played the part until everyone was long gone. In 2005, he had terrified a caterer who had come in early to clean up.
“You finally showed a little passion. It only took twenty years, but there you go.” Ron flipped the lower half of the casket open. “I was curious if any of you would start to understand at some point. But none of you did.”
He stood up in the pine box and gestured to the priest, pointing to the ground. After a moment of confusion, Father Lynch looked around, then grabbed a step stool that had been placed behind the casket.
“When dad died and I was left in charge, I was lost. I had no motivation to do anything, much less run HIS company. So, I started this little game to remind myself that I’m NOT dead yet, but that it’s coming. Maybe that’s stupid, but it gave me what I needed to push forward in life.”
With the stool in place, Ron climbed down toward the floor. “None of you ever figured that out, but more importantly, you never found your OWN motivation. At home, at work, I tried to get you all involved, but nothing took.”
He paused, looking over the faces of his brother, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles. While they stared at him, saying nothing, he poured himself a glass of red wine. “It didn’t matter to me what you did. I wanted to see you get passionate about ANYTHING, but it never happened. Your families, your jobs, charities, hobbies. You could have painted watercolors of demented clowns playing poker, if you wanted. As long as there was some spark in you.”
His expression softened as he looked at the woman in black, then he faced his family again. “Every year, you lived your lives the way you attended this ceremony. You just showed up.”
Ron walked toward the woman, while pulling a flight confirmation out of the interior pocket of his suit. When she saw the tears in his eyes, she smiled and wrapped his hand in both of hers. Smiling back at her, he raised his glass. “Well, there’s a real death to celebrate this time, so drink up.”
Throughout the room, a mixture of ring tones and buzzing came from the phones everyone clutched in their hands. “I killed the company. And you’re no longer employed.”
Ron Winston kissed the hand of the woman he loved. Together, they turned toward the priest.
“Now, Father, how are you at weddings?”