The Dead Don’t Care

A shy anonymous member of D’s team passed around decorated sheets of paper (the kind you buy for formal letters and invitations) to the employees and asked them to “write something to D.” I say anonymous because I still do not know her name and only saw her rarely, as her desk was tucked away somewhere I seldom ventured. She passed the sheets of paper around in long manila envelopes with”instructions” pasted on the inside covers, a sort of starter message to get people’s eulogistic juices running. At first I misunderstood.
“Do you want me to copy the words?”

“Write something to D,” she said softly in poor English.

“To him or to his family?”

“To him.”

“Oh.” I took the folder and stared at her blankly, “Okay.”

She asked me to write carefully and to use the same pen. Heaven forbid the messages be in various colors and that the sheets look like a birthday card. The point, I think, was to make a scrapbook for his family. I don’t know. Maybe at the memorial service tomorrow we will throw it into the ground, atop his coffin. Someone set about gathering photographs. I heard that someone had posted on his facebook a photo of D, sandwiched between me and the receptionist, all of us smiling, D more because he was drunk.

I never added him, so I won’t see it.

I did not avoid his desk this morning – there was no reason for me to other than the fear that I would start crying, but I need not have feared so much. I said hello to the receptionist, who had been at Disneyland when she heard the news. I took the front stairs and did not whistle as I do sometimes, but said good morning to the accountants once I got to the top. It smelled and sounded just like any other day, though slightly subdued. I found to my surprise the executives assembled in the boardroom, though it wasn’t Monday. Were they perhaps convening on D’s behalf? The room was dark and I looked to the projector screen on the wall – bar graphs. Line graphs. Dollar signs. Something about revenues and margins and units – things the living occupy themselves with in dark enclosed spaces. I could not blame them. We were running a show of sorts, and the show must go on.

Around noon HR issued a statement about an employee’s passing, advising the time and place of D’s memorial service. It was a Frankenstein email, copy and pasted from various sources. I wrinkled my brow, thinking the mismatched fonts in poor taste, though I would have done the same thing, only taken more care to hide the hurry with which these things are actually done. Then people began to ask around, not unlike the way people check to see who’s going to a party.

“You going to the service?”

“You carpooling?”

“What time are you leaving?”

I asked these same questions. Stopped in front a friend’s cubicle to do s, and then laughed loudly about something or other right after we established that we were carpooling.

In the afternoon I went downstairs to talk to someone who sat opposite D’s desk. I wondered who’s idea it was to set up the desks like a damn labyrinth. Briefly, I thought, “Here it comes. His desk. Don’t lose it.”

And I didn’t. I walked right by, and on my way back, even stopped for a millisecond to see that someone had left a candle, a vase of white flowers and atop his laptop monitor, a note that said, “Please respect D’s desk. Do not touch or remove anything.” Among other things, that’s one difference between being fired and dying: only the latter warrants turning your desk into a shrine. We are not, it seems, in a hurry to find anyone to replace him – and if we are, the person definitely won’t sit there. And if they do sit there, the rest of us will keep our mouths shut.

Later in the afternoon the head of HR called to ask if anyone had ordered flowers for D’s memorial service. I rolled me eyes. Of course not. I was the person who did that sort of thing because I had the corporate card.

“Could you do that?”

“Sure.”

“Great. Thanks.”

I called the memorial park. They didn’t have a floral service and recommended a local florist who asked me, of all colors, “Do you want blue flowers on white?” I talked at length with the woman on the phone about using white lilies in a standing spray. I was an old hand at this now, having ordered flowers for other employees, both alive and deceased. I thought about adding red roses in the spray, because D seemed to like the color red. Or did he? I don’t know. I saw a few red items on his desk. I shook my head, “No, no. All white.”

“And for the message?”

“From your family here, at the company,” I said, without thinking.

“Okay, great.”

They didn’t take American Express. The clock was ticking. I wanted to go home. I did not want to spend my last few minutes at work searching for florists that took American Express. Not when the show must go on.

I took out my personal Visa and rattled off the numbers. Gave the woman the office fax number so she could send me the receipt. I hung up and finished answering some emails. In a month, I will file an expense report for a standing spray, all white.

 “…there is nothing, once you are dead, that can be done to you or for you or with you or about you that will do you any good or any harm; that any damage or decency we do accrues to the living, to whom your death happens, if it really happens to anyone.” 

– Thomas Lynch,  The Undertaking
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