Last Bites Ken Pisani
The wake held for Sven Müeller at Karloff’s Funeral Home in Queens, New York, was completely unremarkable until a tiny nephew of Sven’s was lifted to kiss his uncle good-bye, but instead bit off the dead man’s nose. Women shrieked and strong men fainted and, when the toddler continued to chew and swallow the nose, his mother dropped him and vomited.
But the boy just grinned and said, “Chocolate.”
Sure enough, on closer examination, the deceased watchmaker proved to be made entirely of Swiss white chocolate. His family pondered this unusual discovery, nibbling absent-mindedly on Sven’s slender, sweet fingers clutched around a crucifix. They all agreed that Sven had been a good and decent man, but who knew he was also delicious?
They decided that further investigation was warranted and, after meeting with understandable resistance in the corridors of the funeral home, it was determined that Sven was not alone in his delectable condition. Across the hall the late Giovanni Marconi, looking every bit as life-like as he did moments before collapsing over the pants-presser in the back of his dry-cleaning business, tasted like saucy meatballs, with just the right hint of parsley. Down the corridor from Mr. Marconi, Ravi Darjeeling was made of Lamb Vindaloo (too spicy for some), while just next door, Nicholas Boskopoulos tasted distinctly of spanakopita. The growing number of suddenly hungry mourners paused briefly outside the room holding the remains of Max Weinberg before bypassing in favor of the Spaniard Francisco Castillo, who offered a sweet-tinged Chicken Marbella flavor good enough for the Silver Palate.
These formerly somber mourners now resembled a festive, roving diner’s club, reveling in each exotic taste and eating off each other’s plates, from the salt-cured gravlax of the late Scandinavian longshoreman Dag Sørensen to the sweet jerk pork of Malachi “Roots” Dekker, taken from us too soon. Even the stolid glazed-ham flavor of the portly Walter Lundgren proved a complete but happy surprise.
However, by the time they’d consumed the wine-marinated remains of Henri LeBeau (especially enjoying the foie gras of his engorged liver), a noticeable change had crept over the group: at first there were tiny criticisms — that this one was “too sweet” or “overdone,” or that the elderly Sheila Taylor “could use some salt.” Perhaps recalling too fondly just how tasty the earlier offerings had been, the dissatisfied gourmands felt that these latest offerings fell short; one couple even lamented how inattentive the service had become. Frowning after a single bite of the late Esther Becker, the young widow of Marshall Johnson (himself tasting of a perfectly seasoned pork loin), took out her iPhone and posted a half-star review of the unsatisfactory fare at the Becker viewing. The goulash that had been Eva Szabó proved a pedestrian disappointment, and by the time they’d reached the soggy corpse of retired schoolteacher Susan Turner (“Meat loaf,” the first taster sneered, and the others shook their heads in shared displeasure), the jovial conviviality of the group and their collective wonder had dissipated like the aroma of a dish left sitting too long.
And so the mourners dispersed and shuffled from the funeral home, stuffed but somehow unsatisfied. They never spoke again of this mystifying, gourmet event, when the delicious remains of loved ones who had once nourished their lives offered a surprising final bit of sustenance, only to disappoint, as they had so often in life.
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