The flip chart in the hotel lobby catches my attention; somebody has drawn a tombstone on it, as well as a fairly well-rendered skeleton. Bold block letters of red and green read, “Cadaverpalooza!” Scrawled underneath in blue is, “Party on, life is too short to do otherwise!” Below that in black is “Everyone welcome: living, dead, or in-between.” The muted sound of rock music is coming through the door to the Founders’ Room.
I’m in town for the night; tomorrow morning I’m driving the late Jorgen Vandermeer back to Dayton, where a pine casket and twenty square feet of real estate are waiting for him. Until then I have some free time.
About forty people are here, mostly between the ages of fifteen and twenty. A deejay is spinning tunes and several people are dancing; a small table of food and drinks rests largely unattended to one side. I would have said 'youth club dance' except for the three people in scrubs at a table to one side. They’re either the world’s weirdest chaperones or something is up.
A girl of about seventeen in a tie-dyed sack dress and bare feet grabs my hand and pulls me onto the floor. We make quite the couple; her a pretend hippie and me in my black three-piece with the polished shoes. Thank God I haven’t totally forgotten how to dance.
As the music fades she looks up at me, “Little early for the funeral, aren’t you?”
“Huh?” Not the most eloquent response, but she laughs. It’s musical.
“Mom made me pick out a fancy dress for my big day. I told her to bury me naked; that way lots of guys will show up for the funeral!”
“Funeral? Am I missing something? Is this some kind of wake?”
“No, silly! Wait, aren’t you from the ward?”
“The Palliative Ward. Me and some friends organized this party as a last big blast before… you know. What brought you here?”
“I’m in town to pick up…” I realize it’s a bit silly being nervous about it, “…a body.”
She giggles a moment, then shouts to the room, “Hey! Anybody call for a hearse?”
Lots of no’s and general laughter.
A slower song starts and she pulls in close. “I bet you think we’re weird.”
I consider it. What would I be like if I knew I was going to die? Probably not this. Even so…
“No, you’re not weird.”
She flashes me a thousand-watt smile and we dance some more; about halfway through the song she motions for us to sit down. “Metastatic cancer. My lungs aren’t what they used to be.”
Once we sit she pulls her chair up close and leans on me. “So what’s your name, Mister Driver?”
“Kelly. You can kiss me if you want; act now before it’s too late.”
I take her up on it. All I can think of is how fantastically full of life she is, especially considering.
Three weeks later I get to drive her to Dayton.