He's off: " I want the invitations on cream embossed card, not white, it's tacky, and the lettering, well, the centred scroll work, is in gold and white. Is Stephen still doing the ... what's it called again?"
"Calligraphy. He is. As far as I know. Why wouldn't he? He's your ex- lover, not mine. Why not ask him." Derek points the pen: "Are you having your period?"
I will not play ball: "That is tasteless."
Derek puts pen to lips, paper to chest. He knows it makes a pretty picture, especially with the blue striped jim-jams and wall of pink pillows rising behind: "No, it can't possibly be that. If you were having your period you would be bumping into the occasional tables, sending all manner of objets d'art to the floor." The pen points again: "That's how I lost the Faberge egg, remember? Gone. Forever. Like. That." Derek sighs: "And I'll never lay another."
I study my fingernails, then stare at the ceiling, which, like Derek, could do with a fresh coat of paint.
"Come, come, John. If you can crack a Faberge egg, you can crack a smile." No reaction. "What's your problem?"
"This. This is the problem. You preparing - nope - you revising your funeral arrangements all the time."
Derek keeps making notes: "And what else do I have to look forward to, pray?" Derek says things like pray. " I want a big send-off. I want the best send-off. Why shouldn't I? I've got to top Gordon."
"Gordon has been topped," I say mournfully. "It's his funeral you're talking about, after all."
"Miss Sauce and her Amazing Performing Semantics," Derek fairly sneers, and continues to scribble, or sketch. Sketch, I suspect. Yesterday he asked if I thought ostrich feather would be too much on a shroud. I put my head in my hands.
I speak up: "It's not a competition, you know."
Derek's laughter is what Jeffrey Archer novels call hollow. "Oh yes it bleeding well is. Gordon had live jazz, a poetry reading, a custom-made coffin and Bette Davis movie clips on a home cinema screen." Derek intones the last 10 words with awe, and I flashback to him, beside me, weeping as the stranded Bette does her big All About Eve speech about nothing counting, nothing mattering unless a girl could turn around in bed, or look across the breakfast table and he was there: he, the man you loved. Without him, what were you? Just something with a book of clippings, an office full of French provincial furniture, but not a woman.
Gordon had lost Brian two years previously, and that's when the heart left him, and the illnesses came. Gordon wanted out.
I look at Derek, he looks at me, reaches over, hands me a tissue and a movie quote: "Scarlett O'Hara, in all the time I have known you, you have never had a handkerchief."
Gently: "Oh, you're too quick for me."
Comfortable silence. I say: "I can remember when coming out was the big event in our lives. Now death is the pivotal moment in our lives. When we get the respect we want, when our lovers and families finally understand one another."
Derek presses the buzzer: "So you've said before."
The nurse appears: "Yes, what is it now?" "This man's being maudlin - throw him out." The nurse does hard-boiled: "Of course - as long as it's an emergency ...."
Derek and I crack up. Disgusted, she leaves. "Another gay man trapped in a woman's body," Derek splutters, and I spoil the mood by saying, "I don't want to become like those bitchy queens in Jeffrey, putting down the dearly departed because the room's been used before, they've had the food, and the waiters aren't cute enough."
"Waiters!" shrieks Derek. He has fine lungs for a man with pneumonia. "How could you have let me forget! They have to be devastating!" Pause. "I could start auditioning them now. That would cheer me up ... remember the Italian one at Carl's going-in? [Derek calls them going-ins]. That child should be cloned and made available on the National Health. What's left of it."
"Dying isn't an industry, dear," I say, belatedly getting into the mood. Besides, it is: gay and gay-friendly funeral directors, caterers, DJs, decorators, designers have made it so. Celebration is the key note, and it's pitched ever higher.
"A cottage industry ...." Derek begins, then switches to "It's an art ... I do it very well."
"Plath" I say automatically.
" 'Rock N Roll Suicide.' " Derek hisses through disapproving lips. Then, sweetly, "I've changed my mind about the Tennessee. If I hear one more speech from Streetcar ...." His Southern accent is all molasses: "Don't stand up, I'm only passing through."
He falls back on the pink pillows: "I know. And I'm definitely being carried out to the Dubstar."
Derek begins to hum: "Is it asking too much to be given time/to know these songs and to sing them/is it asking too much of my vacant smile and the laughs and lies that bring them/but as stars are going out and the stage is full of nothing/and the friends have all but gone/for my life my god I'm singing/we'll take out hearts outside/leave our lives behind/and watch the stars go out...."
He looks over, pauses, tut tuts, reaches me the tissues again. "Scarlett," Derek says, "I love you like the brother I never wanted, but, honey, you gotta learn to put a sock in it."Reuse content