The curtains were closed in Kafir's house and the lighting was appropriately muted. Thankfully, I was not the only attendee. There was a heavy set man and woman Kafir introduced as "Professor." The man had a puffy moon-face and a sweaty handshake and the woman smelled like cloves. They were vaguely middle-aged, although it was hard to tell exactly how old they were because of their weight.
The other guest was someone I recognized. Mrs. Rubios is my Spanish-speaking next door neighbor. She lives alone and speaks very little English. I know her name because her house is constantly teeming with a large extended family and her son helped me shovel snow one day in winter.
Mrs. Rubios was standing by herself in the corner holding flowers. She seemed completely detached from the world around her. Like a London telephone booth on a beach or an anachronism in a movie about the civil war. Abraham Lincoln answering a telephone.
Mrs. Rubios eyes were half-closed and she was unconcerned by the tiny open casket Kafir had set on the table. I briefly wondered how he had coaxed her into attending. Mrs. Rubios' puffy floral-print dress had the look of her Sunday best, so I assume she had at least some idea of what she was being asked to attend.
There was one more detail critical to the atmosphere of the wake. Kafir loves his iPod. He constantly listens to music on it. He has a huge stereo system that goes unused because he spends all of his time wearing earbuds around his house. For this occasion Kafir purchased one of those lame iPod boom boxes where you plug your iPod into speakers.
The iPod was blaring out a single song on a loop throughout the entire evening: Donovan's Atlantis.
Several times, as the song looped and Donovan went into his introductory spiel about the "antediluvian kings," Kafir paused in conversation and said, "This was his favorite."
There were snacks and drinks. Honey-drenched baklava and humus you had to eat with these thick pita chips that had the texture of dehydrated rawhide chews you buy for your dog.
Kafir was not doing well. He was using the excuse of the wake to get trashed on Irish whiskey. As the evening wore on he began to stagger and slur. His English eroded until he was babbling in Arabic and interjecting the occasional word I could understand.
"Maybe we should go ahead and bury Donovan," I suggested.
Kafir's reply sounded like, "Achabach aba salaba hachab achem dead. Harab acheb salama Donovan."
I patted him on the shoulder and walked him over to the open casket. Donovan was gone. Horror shot up my spine. My first inclination was to suspect Donovan playing possum to escape his dusty terrarium. Then I saw the black claw on the table next to the small wooden box.
"Why don't you go sit down," I suggested. "I'll take care of this."
I doubt Kafir heard me, as he had fallen to his knees to wail with anguish beside the table. Tears streamed down his face as me and both halves of Professor searched for the missing corpse of Donovan. Professor's better half found Donovan, or the majority of him, in the jaws of Missus Marple.
Despite her weight problem, Missus Marple could move quite quickly. Something we all learned as we chased the cat through Kafir's house. Each time we thought we had the cat cornered she would scamper between our legs or juke around us, her head held high and the mangled black carapace of Donovan tucked into her mouth.
The pursuit ended with a yowl from the living room. We arrived to find Mrs. Rubios standing in her corner, her foot on the tail of the grave-robbing cat. I tore the remains of the scorpion from the cat's mouth and deposited them in the wooden box. The cat gave us a parting hiss and scampered beneath Kafir's futon.
Don't let the winter dryness destroy your sinuses.
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