Re My Death Notice

By: Ross Murray

Dear loved ones:

Enclosed is a photograph of myself that I would like you to use in the event of my death. And I do mean “death” and not “passing” or any other euphemism. If anyone refers to my “passing,” I want you to punch them hard in the stomach, even if it’s at the funeral home. Especially if it’s at the funeral home.

This photo is to be used for any death notices you choose to publish. In the event that my death is deemed newsworthy due to either fame or violence, whether this violence is inflicted upon me or by me, this photograph may also be issued to reporters camped out on my survivors’ doorsteps.

The photo’s resolution makes it suitable for enlarging should the need arise to place my likeness in front of a closed casket, which may be required due to said newsworthy violence or in the event that they fail to recover my body from the wreckage.

It’s not that I don’t trust you. I am taking this measure because I know you will have a lot on your minds, what with arranging my funeral, contacting friends and relatives, finding a big enough church, managing the waiting list and embarking on the elaborate six-week grieving process as outlined in my earlier letter. And from what I’ve seen from other death notices over the years, little thought goes into selecting the obit photo. The funeral director will ask you, “Now, I know this is a very difficult time and, believe me, we feel your pain — heaven knows we all loved Ross profoundly — but if it’s not too much trouble, do you think you might possibly try to find a photograph of the departed when you have a minute and can see through the stream of tears?” And then you’ll hand over the first photo you find. This worries me; I know those drag pics from Halloween 1997 are still floating around.

The enclosed photograph shows me smiling gently, my eyes twinkling with mischief in that winning way of mine, my hair neatly combed. You will note I am not chewing food. I am not wearing a ball cap. I am not sporting that regrettable goatee I grew one summer. I am not scowling. I am not in the midst of turning my head, unaware that someone is taking my picture. There is no red-eye. The photograph is in focus. The background is natural and unobtrusive. You can’t see open kitchen cupboards behind me. There is not half of someone else’s head in the frame. I am not drunk.

You will receive an updated photograph at least once per decade. Please use the most recent photograph. My mourners do not need to be reminded of my past choices in eyewear or be given the impression that I was in denial about my age. Using an obit photograph more than 10 years old is acceptable only if the deceased performed military service and is depicted in uniform. I have not served in the military and, no, my high school band uniform does not count.

In addition to death-related purposes, please feel free to use this photograph for any surprise announcements such as “Congratulations on Your Pulitzer” or “Kidnapped!”

Thank you in advance for your cooperation. I know this may seem like a small detail in the context of the colossal emptiness my death will cause all those around me. But a little planning will save us all — especially me, posthumously — some real embarrassment.




Inventory Of The Vaguely Remembered

By: Ross Murray

Desiree McAllister

Grade 9

Desiree was at Roy Emery Middle School for only one year. She managed to get into that gang with Marjorie Thomson and Felicity Wells, inasmuch that she helped pad that little clique so it could legitimately be called “a gang.” She was the one with the bangs hanging over her eyes and who tried (unsuccessfully) to give herself the nickname “Dizzy.” Not to be confused with Darlene Mickelson. She moved during the summer.

George Masters

Senior high

Remember that time we all managed to siphon off some rum from our parents’ bottles and we hid out at the gravel pit and got so wasted? And John Arthur and Debbie Laurence started making out, and Dean Matheson got all pissed off because he liked Debbie and he took off and we had to find him? And Buddy Roy showed up with his truck and we built a fire and played tunes on his tape deck? And I think it was, like, 4 a.m. when the cops came and we all took off? And Dean ended up doing it with Marie Johnson somewhere in the gravel pit, even though she really liked David Petrie? George was there that night. He was the one who kept yelling “Skynard!”

Mr. Drummond

Grade 8 English teacher (substitute)

When Mrs. Orlean had to leave before the end of the year for her operation, Mr. Drummond came in for the last month of school. He made us read Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and we were like, “What the hell is this?” Had a ponytail. On the last day of school when we were all saying our goodbyes and everyone was kind of weepy, he stood off to the side with his arms crossed and a smirk on his face like he was “observing” us, even though if you looked closely you could tell he wanted someone to go over and say, “Thank you. I’ll never forget you.” No one did.

Darren something

Neighbor five houses down

His house was the one Mom said we weren’t supposed to go to. I remember it: there were cement blocks all over the front yard for reasons that still aren’t clear. In the back yard was a big shed filled with empty beer cases. I was maybe eight. There was Darren and his little sister. Darren always had a dirty face that even then I knew couldn’t have been healthy. We played Hot Wheels a couple of times in his back yard, which was good for that because it was all dirt. I don’t remember them moving away. I’d forgotten about him until recently when he popped up in a dream.


Temporary nanny

Babysat when Mom and Dad went away for a weekend when I was five. Had an accent. Smelled sour.

Gina the telemarketer

Summer job after first year of university

She worked about seven cubicles over and had the troll dolls on her desk. If I recall, she was sort of good looking in a squashed-face kind of way. We may have spoken once about “Bloom County.” The other day I ran into someone who worked there that summer. He told me that apparently Gina had a crush on me. Now he tells me!

Mrs. Baxter

Church member

Sometimes sang in the choir at my parents’ church and supposedly taught me Sunday School. I get her and Mrs. Cochrane mixed up. Over the years, she occasionally asked my parents what I was up to. I feel guilty that I can’t remember her better. Mom phoned recently to tell me she died. I feigned sympathy.