by Claire Hopple
Claire Hopple is the author of four books. Her fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Hobart, The Rupture, HAD, and others. More at clairehopple.com.
Let’s say we’re all summoned to our uncle’s house to figure out who gets what in his estate. Nothing special, really. We’re called to the drawing room by Nico, his lawyer or executor or whoever, but the drawing room is really a corner of the garage.
This summoning yields a fraction of the funeral attendees. Rows and rows of acquaintances had just finished swallowing their ancient resentments in a dim sanctuary.
Some of us are taking our sweet time getting here. One is forced to wait for a train to pass. One of us is here but keeps proposing to another one’s wife and it’s getting uncomfortable. And one of us materializes in the nude saying, “I wish you would concern yourselves with me.”
The most responsible of us was tasked with spreading our uncle’s ashes in the drive-through line of the Dunkin’ Donuts, as requested. He’d completed the task already, and with a styrofoam coffee cup in hand, starts pestering another sitting atop a stationary bike in the garage. He’s pretending it’s a normal bike that’s broken.
“Looks like you’re stuck. Do you need a hand?” he says.
Someone rummages in bathroom drawers to figure out what brand of deodorant the old guy used.
Nico sips from his personal two-liter. The bottle pops under its own pressure. We take to the sound like a dinner bell.
He reads us a message from beyond the grave. Through Nico, our uncle tells us, “I’m dead, you big sickos, and it’s just the way I imagined it.”
A scoff punctuates this statement. The one hunkered in the bathroom has closed the door and is doing who knows what, but is still listening, we guess.
“Let’s cut to the chase,” he says from behind the door. “Who gets the monkey?”
The People’s Liberation Army of China enlisted macaque monkeys to prevent birds from taking down military aircraft. They were real-life monkey commandos. And somehow our uncle had retrieved one.
“The monkey commando is the only reason we showed up,” our stationary bike correspondent shouts.
Nico continues reading aloud.
“From time immemorial, you all have coveted my garbage, you know that. I have codified this will and testament so that only the most qualified family members will get the goods. For starters, remember that time Denise removed a kidney of mine in the beverage aisle of the gas station down the street? Well, I jarred that sucker. And Peter deserves my jarred kidney.”
Peter looks up, shakes his head, and backs into some fishing poles hung against the wall.
“No? You sure? In that case, I’d like to buy it from you,” says Nico, through what we estimate is his actual personhood rather than the will-reading-automaton version.
Nico picks up where he left off.
“It’s not that Elaine has earned my esteemed ship in a bottle, but she’ll at least dust it regularly, unlike the rest of you.”
He hands her the ship in a bottle, which appears to glow in her hands.
“Nobody will hold it against you if you hold it against you,” he says, and this time we can’t tell who’s really speaking.
“Don’t gloat, okay? Something’s seriously wrong with your bike. You haven’t gotten anywhere. And you heard what he said. You shouldn’t even be getting this thing in the first place. I know about that time. The time a stranger kept insisting he lived in your college dorm room so you caved and let him have it? Yeah,” says one of us.
“That was me,” says the bathroom door.
Nico’s face looks more and more porous with each second we’re here.
“In theory, deceased people have no use for land. And so with this great rigamarole presented to you in the confines of my quaint drawing room, I bequeath my countryside property to Marie.”
“You mean the giant sinkhole? She can have it.”
“My beloved family, don’t make me rescind any of these valuables from your grasp. Their powers may overwhelm you. So I leave you with a question only you can answer: If a group of clowns gather in a room, does that make it a circus?”
Nico compiles a few papers.
“Wait, that’s it?!”
“What about the monkey commando? Or even this house?”
One of us grabs the ship in a bottle and smashes it onto the floor. That one has always been especially good at smashing.
“Let me explain,” the smasher says. He picks up what looks to be the ship’s keel. “There’s... minimal damage.”
“The commando has been claimed,” Nico says.
“Cough up the monkey! Where is it?”
“Elsewhere,” he says.
Then we all start smashing things. The garage is full of smashable items. There’s a whole movement that begins, right here in this garage. We exhaust ourselves with the smashing and before we know it we’re asleep.
Nico leaves while we’re still passed out.
The one waiting for the train to pass stumbles in.
“It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your Hot Pockets are?” she says to a somnambulant crowd.
She’d detoured into a bar earlier because she didn’t know how to deal with what she’d witnessed.
“You guys. Guys. I think I saw a monkey hopping a train. Just like a vagabond. Like the—the Boxcar Children,” she says.
We ignore her, same as always.