by Sagan Harris
It was a quiet funeral. I can say that, at least. I didn’t even know the guy, but his sister, the girl I was dating, insisted I come. She’d been looking for an excuse to introduce me to her parents, and I guess she thought her brother’s funeral would be as good an excuse as any. She’d told me precious little about her family, probably in hopes that I wouldn’t be freaked out, and I’d seen all the television coverage of the murder, but other than that, I was a complete stranger to her kin.
First, let me tell you about the girlfriend. Her name’s Rachel and, unlike most of her kind, she actually speaks, much to the chagrin of the rest of her family. Some of the other mimes refer to her (in sign-language, of course) as a “talkie,” someone who speaks, which is the closest mimes can get to a slur. She’s received a few nasty letters, especially about dating another “talkie,” but I wrote them back and said if they had something to say, they’d better say it to my face. I never got a reply.
Rachel is a tad shorter than I, with the trademark pale skin of her kind, but she dyed her hair a shocking purple that, she says, nearly caused her father to exclaim aloud. Other than that, she usually dresses in the same black and white colors with which she had grown accustomed, but not the dopey outfits of old. She gets sick at the thought of black and white striped shirts mixed with black overalls and berets. Sometimes, when she’s feeling especially rebellious, she might wear gray, but never around her parents or other mimes. She says that there are cases of people like her being burned alive for mimical heresy by the old stoic mimes that live out in the European countryside. Everything I know about mimes comes from Rachel, and has produced some very interesting conversations in the past.
“Well, what do they do when they go to the bank?” I asked.
“They use ATMs,” she replied.
“But what if the ATM is broken?”
“Well, then they’d probably go to a different bank.”
“What if the ATM is broken there, too? What if there’s an epidemic of broken ATMs?”
She, of course, wouldn’t answer, giving me the silent treatment. I remember another time asking her about mime funerals and how all that business happens, but she wouldn’t tell me. An old secret, she said, not to be mentioned to any talkies. And that meant me. I asked her about it a few more times before we went to the funeral, but she kept silent every time.
She said her brother, Herbert, was the true mime in the family. Her mother remembers that he didn’t even cry when he was born. The nurses in the hospital checked on him constantly, just to make sure nothing was wrong. He was even quieter than her parents were themselves, wandering the streets and bringing joy to small children everywhere he went, his face decorated with a fixated smile and a wide-eyed mentality, being already born with the makeup birthmarks that are so often featured on mimes. Rachel claims to have a smiley face somewhere on her body, but she won’t show me.
Herbert’s death was completely unexpected and thus came as a shock to everyone in the family. The abruptness and brutality of the murder was unthinkable. As the police would later record, Herbert had been following a man, as mimes are wont to do, mimicking his walk, also as most mimes are wont to do. Apparently, this went on for four or five minutes, and then the man just turned and pushed Herbert out onto the street, where he was promptly hit by an 18-wheeler carrying pickled herrings.
The man was tried for murder, but later acquitted by the jury on the grounds that he was defending himself. As friendly as they are, most people still see mimes as a threat to human life, something I will never understand. That man wasn’t defending himself, he killed a mime in cold blood, and that jury didn’t care enough to deal with it; so they let him walk. I couldn’t believe it, and Rachel cried for days, locking herself in her room with nothing to eat but saltine crackers and ginger ale.
The funeral itself was, as I said earlier, very quiet. It was sometime in the morning, and the sermon was delivered in solemn sign language. The hymns were signed by everyone in the church but me. It was very awkward, I must say. Everyone at the church was decked out in the traditional black and white, and I even took careful precautions dress accordingly, so as not to offend anyone. Rachel said that most mimes here in America were very tolerant of talkies and their ways, but I still didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I can remember a distinctly sweet smell coming from the black and white roses up at the front of the church.
Once the service was over, Rachel told me that I should probably
go home and wait for her while she attended the burial. Apparently,
mime burials are sacred rituals that are only to be viewed by
mimes. She said she would drop by later, once the whole affair
was over. I asked her about meeting her parents, but she said
she’d get to it later when they weren’t in such a
fragile state. I said all right and drove home in deep silence.
Why did Herbert have to die? What did he do in life to deserve
being run over by a Mack full of pickled herrings? What had caused
the man whom he was mimicking to lash out so unjustifiably? From
what Rachel told me, Herbert sounded like a decent fellow, even
for a mime. But I have nothing against mimes. It just sounded
a little absurd. People can be strange sometimes.
I stopped at an intersection outside the church as I saw the motorcade roll by me. On the sidewalks, I spotted a group of children walking and watching in silence. I heard a honk from one of the black cars and looked up. The motorcade had stopped, and a mass of mimes were getting out of their cars and walking toward the group of children.
They began miming and making balloon animals for the children, and the kids were clapping and jumping up and down with joy. I saw Rachel get out of one of the cars and look around. She saw me in my car and headed my way.
“Is this sort of thing common?” I asked, when she reached the passenger’s side door.
“More than you’d think. It’s just an impulse
you’re born with, you know? We see kids, we’ve got
to try and make them happy, no matter what mood we happen to be
in at the time,” she replied. She opened the door and climbed
in beside me, resting her head on my shoulder. I could smell the
faint scent of hair dye and the black and white roses. She sighed
and then started crying. I was beginning to feel pretty down on
myself. She got a handkerchief out of her pocket, and a deflated
balloon fell out. I picked it up and looked at it as she blew
“Can you teach me how to make one of those?” I asked, motioning to the poodles that the mimes were handing out to children.
“Yeah,” she said, taking the balloon from my hand, “I think I can.”