Listen to me Marvin, and listen good: black is not a June color. Black goes with January. In June, give me taupe. I would have looked good in taupe. In black, I was completely invisible. I looked like a widow. Which I am. Thanks to you. Very nice, Marvin, very nice. This I needed like a bad perm. Your sense of timing was never your forté.
Dr. Vineman, he tells me it wasn’t your fault. When the heart goes, it goes, he says. I don’t know about that. Seems to me you could have waited. If not until the fall — I would have worn maroon if you died in October — couldn’t you at least have waited until you got home? Keeling over at the gym, Marvin? What were you thinking. You don't even exercise. You can be very disappointing sometimes, you know that?
I brought you some flowers. You like? They’re yellow. You look good in yellow. Not everyone can wear yellow, but you can. That should make you happy. It’s almost like an accomplishment. I buried you in the yellow shirt. It went good with your complexion. Your poker friends, they noticed. Benny, that bum, he gave you a compliment. Said you looked radiant. Don’t let it go to your head.
Okay, enough with the idle chit-chat. Now I want you to listen to me, I’ve got something important to go over. Are you listening, Marvin? Don’t just nod your head and go on reading the paper. I want you should listen with both ears.
Your sister-in-law, Rita, she’s really done it this time. Right here in the cemetery, before I’ve got you in the ground, she comes to me bold as candlesticks. She’s confused, she tells me, about the lay-out.
“Maxine,” she says to me, “My Leo, he’s lying over there next to his father. Your Marvin, he's going in by his mother?” “Of course,” I tell her. 'Where else would he go?” “Maxine,” she says, “that’s what has me worried. If Marvin goes in by his mother, then where am I going?” “Rita,” I tell her, “you’re going next to Leo. Your husband. What is there to discuss?”
“Maxine,” she says to me, “I want you should look over there next to Leo. Tell me, what do you see?” “I see a fence,” I tell her. What could I say different? Next to Leo there’s a fence. So sue me.
“Now look by where Marvin is going,” she tells me. I look. “What do you see?” “I see a tree,” I say to her. Between you and me, Marvin, it’s more like a bush, but I didn’t want to get technical, my feet were killing me. I had on those pumps with the little silver buckles, very nice leather, but they were always tight on me. I wore them for you, Marvin. After all, you only die once. For you, I wore the best I had — in black.
Rita’s still talking. She says to me, “Maxine, I will not be happy over there by the fence. I need greenery all around me.” What is she, a salad?
“Rita, listen to me,” I tell her, “if you need a garnish, we can plant you something over there by the fence. Okay?”
“Noooo,” she says to me. Just like that. “Noooo.” She says a little something isn't enough for her.
Marvin, are you following this? Your sister-in-law, Rita, your brother Leo’s third wife, she wants to go by you, by you Marvin, over by the tree. Me, I should go by the fence. With Leo. You hear what I'm telling you?
By this time I was hungry, my feet hurt, whatever the reason, my resistance was low. I didn't give her the clop on her head that she deserved. I took pity on her.
“Rita,” I said, “if it means that much to you, okay already, I'll give you the tree. Can we just get on with the service?”
In my opinion, this was mighty big of me. I’d promise her anything if it would get me out of the sun faster. Did I tell you it was a hot day, Marvin? Not only June, but hot. The air is always sticky in a cemetery, did you ever notice that? Well, it is. So I promised Rita the tree. That should have been the end of that. Right? Not right.
“Maxine, that’s very good of you,” she says to me. “But I still have a problem with the arrangement. If I should die first, what’s my guarantee that you’ll keep your word? You could always change your mind after I’m gone and leave me with no shade. And me, with my porcelain skin that burns so easy.”
You hear, Marvin? At your funeral this is, in front of your dead mother and your dead father and your dead brother, the woman accuses me of the very worst. I’m telling you, Marvin, the rabbi himself had to hold me back, that’s how crazy she made me.
So I said to her, “Rita, for that remark, you get the fence. No greenery. No nothing. Just the fence.”
And I wouldn’t say another word to her. Not at the cemetery, not when we came back to the house, not a word. A whole platter of chopped liver she ate, it was disgusting. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t even look at her. That’s it, Marvin. I am standing firm on this. She questioned my honor, she gets the fence.
There’s only one thing that concerns me now. What if, God forbid, I should go first? It isn’t likely, I know. I’m healthy. I’m tough. But stranger things have happened. Who knows what that Rita is capable of? You better start worrying, Marvin. If I go first, Rita will put me by the fence and take the tree for herself. Mark my words, that woman is sneaky like a rotten herring.
Watch yourself, Marvin, or you might end up with Rita for eternity. And you know how much you hate her cooking. Nobody can dry out a pot roast like she can. You better pray for me, Marvin. Pray I live a long life.
On second thought, don’t overdo it, I don’t want to be bored. I just have to live longer than her. You think I want the fence sticking me in the ribs, and Leo with his farts and his dirty jokes?
Pray for me, Marvin. That’s all I ask of you. You owe me this.