It’s unclear whether Barbie is a cool, older sister or a mother. Because Barbie can be anything she wants to be: a stewardess, an astronaut, the president, a bride. You can buy Barbies in a wheelchair and Barbies on rollerskates. Barbie as a bride is timeless. The only thing Barbie doesn’t have is a funeral outfit. She can be any woman, but can’t go to a funeral. When I left the house wearing a black, lace dress, mama said, “It’s not a fashion show.”
In the chapel, hardly anyone was wearing black. I realised too late that I didn’t want to see the open casket but there lay Rico, in a sea of roses and frosted leaves. The cooling system was whirring, his mother crying silently on the first row. The blue from a broken vein dripped out his nose, his lips were blue and the stripe around the back of his neck was too. Half of the population of the world’s favourite colour is blue. Halfway down the chapel, between Isadee and Louis, there was a free seat. Even though it was the summer holidays, it was so busy that some people had to stand at the back.
“His parents waited to have the funeral until certain people were back from their holidays,” Isadee whispered. “Really, he’s been refrigerated for too long.”
His parents hadn’t prepared anything because he was only fifteen and seemed happy. Whoever wanted to say a few words or sing something was invited to come to the front. A man, whose curls were stuck to his head despite the air conditioning, headed up to the stage. His unbuttoned shirt made him look shifty. “I’ve had lots of contact with Rico Vermeer over the years. As his dermatologist, we worked together to find solutions for his acne and in the last few months, we’d found the perfect balance between medication and diet.”
“It’s true,” Isadee sighed next to me, “his spots were just starting to fade.”
“I’d like for us all to listen to a song that comforts me whenever I think about how unfair this all is. The lyrics are under your chairs.”
There was a footprint on the sheet of paper under my chair. The stained glass windows cast Mondriaan-shaped shadows onto the stage and the dermatologist spread his arms, like he wanted to embrace all of us. Laura Pausini’s clear voice echoed in the chapel, but I’d always preferred the English version of ‘La Solitudine’.
“Oh god I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not feeling very strong. I’ve been so up and down. So sad, so happy. Feeling good and bad. I’m young, I’m old. I laugh, I cry. I tell the truth but that’s a lie. I’ve been so in and out. So wild, so well behaved. So pure, defiled. Oh solitudine”
It seemed to me like a song you’d listen to while going through a divorce. On stage, the dermatologist was hugging himself tightly. I listened to Laura and thought about Louis next to me. I would do anything for him, but at the same time, I knew that this would, one day, no longer be real. Fourteen felt just as long ago as five or ten, all in the past, just like my time at school that seemed so important at the time, but in retrospect meant nothing. I couldn’t stop crying and reached out for Isadee’s hand. One Monday at the start of high school, Rico had come round to visit me; I was bed bound and I hid further under the covers, scared that I stank. He dragged the office chair over and sat right next to where my head was, I could see right up the leg of his shorts. Leg hair, red boxers, I tried to get a look at his dick. He was talking about Harry Potter.
“What’s wrong with you then?” he eventually asked.
“I’m always sick for a week every year,” I said. “This is that week.”
“Can you just skip school if your dad is a doctor then?”
“My dad called in sick for me, actually. He likes knowing where I am.”
“I’m never sick,” Rico said. The tip of his nose was raw from scratching. The craters of red and black scabbed-over spots decorated his cheeks. Not blue. Sitting on my bed, he asked if I just didn’t feel like going to school.
“If you can’t even get excited about school, what are you supposed to do later with your family and your job?”
“Are you good at that, getting excited about that sort of thing?” he asked.
“I don’t know how else I should spend my time.”
“You could be a call girl?” he asked and blushed from underneath his spots. “I mean, they always say that they’re always excited to see you, at night on the television. Does anyone get you excited?”
“I’m sick,” I said, “I’ve got to sleep.” And when he didn’t move: “This isn’t getting me excited.”
I ducked under the covers and waited until I heard him get up. After he’d left, there was a rose in the pen pot on my desk.
It was silent at Louis’s house. The funeral had also been silent, even though everyone was talking quietly to each other. They said “I’m sorry for your loss” but what they really mean is ‘this is bullshit’ or cried silently, and constantly. Rico’s mother had offered me the weakest handshake ever.
“Room full of weaklings,” I heard mama on the phone, telling her friend from her post-cancer support group. She was still angry about the cancer and liked to share this fact with strangers. Rico’s mother wasn’t weak, just an open wound. The pre-programmed sympathies seemed to both exhaust her and give her a reason to go on because, as Rico’s death proved, anything could happen. He wasn’t even my child and I had that sinking feeling. Rico is blue, the sun doesn’t rise, great. Death doesn’t compare to anything, except with death itself.
“You alright?” Louis asked again. We were laying on his bed.
“No,” I said
He undressed me, the black, lacy dress slid over my head, the Burial Barbie was becoming sexless. He kissed between my legs and I looked out of the window. The neighbour across the road was watching porn on his flatscreen. One girl was sliding a pink dildo into a smaller girl. Louis licked and kissed between my lips. ‘I’m getting wet,’ I thought and the miracle happened. One by one the switchboards went out, the lights stopped blinking, I smelled his scent, bit his shoulder, he thrust into me, I felt the edge of his dick and his fingers in my pussy, the girls on the flatscreen were moaning silently.
“Hi,” he said and breathed in my face. Waterfalls flowing upwards, panties fraying, blue faces, the sun shines sideways, mothers crawl back into their children, blue is a shit colour, Louis, uhh, Rico’s mother’s eyes, black as if someone had painted eyes onto shutters, his breath sour, my vagina wet, everything that could come, came, I cried, ssssh, ssssh, hush now hush.
Silence. A rare occurrence.
Always colours and movement and people and words. Always thinking, feeling and jotting it down, interpreting it. I’m not a robot. Everything happens at the same time. No, time prevents everything from happening at the same time. I’m scared.
Louis whispered: “You alright?” but it could have been Rico. I don’t differentiate between boys.