There would be pina coladas and a fondue station at Phillip’s funeral. Rachel explained with unwavering conviction that this is “what Phillip would have wanted” as she passed around color-coded maps and itineraries. Even Grace was in on the exchange of glances that went on behind Rachel’s back, the quick nod of agreement that the oldest McGaffey child had finally lost it.
“What are the purple circles for again?”
Rachel groaned. “Those are the tables, Dad. I wrote everything down on the back.” We were huddled in the living room. Our framed yearbook photos and pictures from Cape Cod, the colors saturating and the outfits already dated, fanned the edges of our gathering like a disinterested audience. Grace sat in Mom’s lap (again, too old), Dad claimed the rocking chair, which despite its uncomfortable wicker structure, could subjectively give off the allure of power, and I chose the floor, to assert nonconformity. Rachel paced the edges of a carpet, regarding us with a focused yet manic expression, like a washed-up football coach hoping for his comeback.
“It’s just sort of hard to follow. There are so many colors and symbols.”
“Well Dad, there wouldn’t have to be any colors and symbols if you hadn’t murdered Phillip in the first place.”
“I think “murder” is putting it a bit dramatically.”
“Honey, let her have this one.” Mom said flatly, bouncing Grace’s wiry frame on her knees. “She’s in a vulnerable place.”
Rachel shot Dad a triumphant glance, as if being in a vulnerable place was the greatest compliment one could receive. Dad rocked violently in his chair.
While his weapon of choice might have been unnecessarily cinematic (he also could have gotten dressed), Dad’s reasoning for killing Phillip was completely logical and humane. If anything, he was a hero, an overweight saint in boxers decorated with zigzagged patterns of farm animals, for doing what we all knew needed to be done but couldn’t do ourselves. Phillip never left our yard not because he loved us too much, but because he had a broken wing. Animal control never returned our calls, probably because our town had recently been experiencing a serious gopher epidemic, but also probably because they didn’t care. Phillip was not only miserable, he was dying. He missed his real family and was surviving solely on Frosted Flakes and Lunchables, which while unarguably delicious, were most likely killing him slowly.
Rachel had been ambitiously in denial about Phillip from the beginning, probably, we all agreed, not too differently than her relationship with Phillip the Human. When Mom and Dad tried to sit her down and explain the reality of Phillip the Goose, she refused to listen. She had created a narrative and was sticking to it. Mom always said Rachel would make a great politician some day, and it remains ambiguous whether this was meant as an insult or a compliment.
“The guest list is on page 5.” Rachel pointed out impatiently.
We all turned to page five, our frustration and general apathy making the process longer than it should have been.
“Rachel.” Mom said sternly, her knees ceasing movement.
This was the most emotive Mom got, so I knew it was bad before even reading it. “Rachel, what the hell? There are a thousand fucking names on this list.”
“Language, Nicholas.” Mom murmured.
“There are only 173.”
“Laura Castleman? She hates you.”
“We’ve just grown apart.” Rachel lowered her gaze to the carpet, realizing this would be difficult even for her to rationalize.
“You haven’t talked to any of these people since high school.”
“We like each other’s Facebook photos!”
“This is a lot of people, Rachel. We have a very small backyard.” Mom concluded, as if that was the most pressing issue.
I finished scanning the list and found the name I had been both hoping and dreading to be hiding at the bottom. “Phillip Stewart?” I stood up. Sitting cross-legged didn’t allott for emotive excitement. I was feeling evil, reveling in the daringness to push my teenage male immaturity to its limits. “Of course. How did I not see it? You just want to throw a huge party so that Phillip the Human will come over and be impressed. Honestly Rachel, does this guy have like a mile-long dick or something?”
The silence that followed was both uncomfortable and pensive. The image of a mile-long dick hovered in the living room as we listened to the rhythmic creaking of Dad’s rocking chair. Rachel’s jaw grew slack and I sat back down, embarrassed for her embarrassment. Dad laughed against his will and then regretted it. Grace burped quietly.
“Rachel,” Mom said finally. “Are you sure you want to invite Phillip the Human to the funeral? Didn’t he cheat on you with Vanessa?”
“He said he was sorry!” She stammered, a completely inadequate answer to the question.
“There’s no way Phillip the Human is coming to the funeral,” Dad announced, “I won’t have that chump on my property.”
“Dad.” Rachel whined. She had officially lost her remaining threads of composure. She was begging.
“I just think we had envisioned a quieter, more family-oriented affair.”
Rachel looked at us with pensive desperation, as if this was the first time in her life she was realizing that the four people in the living room were the four people she was stuck with forever. She opened her mouth hesitantly, and the four of us were surprised when, rather than a series of dramatic accusations and assertions, all she said, in an unfamiliar whisper, was “please.”
We sent out the invitations that evening. 149 addresses for 173 names, since some of the guests were siblings. Rachel chose a bubble-esque yet sophisticated cursive font and found an illustration of a goose on the internet, which was printed in the bottom left corner of each invitation. Even Dad admitted that it looked pretty good.
Meanwhile, Phillip the Goose sat in a shoebox atop our washing machine in the basement. We were so occupied with funeral preparations that we would’ve completely forgotten the event’s guest of honor had we not been such a laundry-oriented family. At least one of us glanced at the box every day, moving it awkwardly aside to fish out our jeans and t-shirts. On one occasion, no longer able to suppress her curiosity, Grace even opened the lid and let out a shriek that sent Dad running and caused several neighbors to turn their heads dispassionately.