Home > Anansi Boys (American Gods #2)(6)

Anansi Boys (American Gods #2)(6)
Author: Neil Gaiman

When the onlookers realized what had actually happened they had two minutes' silence, and Fat Charlie's father was carried out and put into an ambulance while the blonde tourist had hysterics in the ladies' room.

It was the br**sts that Fat Charlie couldn't get out of his head. In his mind's eye they followed him accusatively around the room, like the eyes in a painting. He kept wanting to apologize to a roomful of people he had never met. And the knowledge that his father would have found it hugely amusing simply added to Fat Charlie's mortification. It's worse when you're embarrassed about something you were not even there to see: your mind keeps embroidering the events and going back to it and turning it over and over, and examining it from every side. Well, yours might not, but Fat Charlie's certainly did.

As a rule, Fat Charlie felt embarrassment in his teeth, and in the upper pit of his stomach. If something that even looked like it might be embarrassing was about to happen on his television screen Fat Charlie would leap up and turn it off. If that was not possible, say if other people were present, he would leave the room on some pretext and wait until the moment of embarrassment was sure to be over.

Fat Charlie lived in South London. He had arrived, at the age of ten, with an American accent, which he had been relentlessly teased about, and had worked very hard to lose, finally extirpating the last of the soft consonants and rich Rs while learning the correct use and placement of the word innit. He had finally succeeded in losing his American accent for good as he had turned sixteen, just as his schoolfriends discovered that they needed very badly to sound like they came from the 'hood. Soon all of them except Fat Charlie sounded like people who wanted to sound like Fat Charlie had talked when he'd come to England in the first place, except that he could never have used language like that in public without his mum giving him a swift clout round the ear.

It was all in the voice.

Once the embarrassment over his father's method of passing began to fade, Fat Charlie just felt empty.

"I don't have any family," he said to Rosie, almost petulantly.

"You've got me," she said. That made Fat Charlie smile. "And you've got my mum," she added, which stopped the smile in its tracks. She kissed him on the cheek.

"You could stay over for the night," he suggested. "Comfort me, all that."

"I could," she agreed, "but I'm not going to."

Rosie was not going to sleep with Fat Charlie until they were married. She said it was her decision, and she had made it when she was fifteen; not that she had known Fat Charlie then, but she had decided. So she gave him another hug, a long one. And she said, "You need to make your peace with your dad, you know." And then she went home.

He spent a restless night, sleeping sometimes, then waking, and wondering, and falling back asleep again.

He was up at sunrise. When people got in to work he would ring his travel agent and ask about bereavement fares to Florida, and he would phone the Grahame Coats Agency and tell them that, due to a death in the family, he would have to take a few days off and yes, he knew it came out of his sick leave or his holiday time. But for now he was glad that the world was quiet.

He went along the corridor to the tiny spare room at the back of the house and looked down into the gardens below. The dawn chorus had begun, and he could see blackbirds, and small hedge-hopping sparrows, a single spotted-breasted thrush in the boughs of a nearby tree. Fat Charlie thought that a world in which birds sang in the morning was a normal world, a sensible world, a world he didn't mind being a part of.

Later, when birds were something to be afraid of, Fat Charlie would still remember that morning as something good and something fine, but also as the place where it all started. Before the madness; before the fear.



Fat Charlie puffed his way through the Memorial Garden of Rest, squinting at the Florida sunshine. Sweat stains were spreading across his suit, beginning with the armpits and the chest. Sweat began to pour down his face as he ran.

The Memorial Garden of Rest did, in fact, look very much like a garden, but a very odd garden, in which all the flowers were artificial, and they grew from metal vases protruding from metal plaques set in the ground. Fat Charlie ran past a sign: "FREE Burial Space for all Honorably Discharged Veterans!" it said. He ran through Babyland, where multicolored windmills and sodden blue and pink teddy bears joined the artificial flowers on the Florida turf. A moldering Winnie the Pooh stared up wanly at the blue sky.

Fat Charlie could see the funeral party now, and he changed direction, finding a path that allowed him to run toward it. There were thirty people, perhaps more, standing around the grave. The women wore dark dresses, and big black hats trimmed with black lace, like fabulous flowers. The men wore suits without sweat stains. The children looked solemn. Fat Charlie slowed his pace to a respectful walk, still trying to hurry without moving fast enough for anyone to notice that he was in fact hurrying, and, having reached the group of mourners, he attempted to edge his way to the front ranks without attracting too much attention. Seeing that by now he was panting like a walrus who had just had to tackle a flight of stairs, was dripping with sweat and trod on several feet as he went by, this attempt proved a failure.

There were glares, which Fat Charlie tried to pretend he did not notice. Everyone was singing a song that Fat Charlie did not know. He moved his head in time with the song and tried to make it look as if he was sort of singing, moving his lips in a way that might have meant that he was actively singing along, sotto voce, and he might have been muttering a prayer under his breath, and might just have been random lip motion. He took the opportunity to look down at the casket. He was pleased to see that it was closed.

The casket was a glorious thing, made of what looked like heavy-duty reinforced steel, gunmetal gray. In the event of the glorious resurrection, thought Fat Charlie, when Gabriel blows his mighty horn and the dead escape their coffins, his father was going to be stuck in his grave, banging away futilely at the lid, wishing that he had been buried with a crowbar and possibly an oxyacetylene torch.

A final, deeply melodic hallelujah faded away. In the silence that followed, Fat Charlie could hear someone shouting at the other end of the memorial gardens, back near where he had come in.

The preacher said, "Now, does anyone have anything they want to say in memory of the dear departed?"

By the expressions on the faces of those nearest to the grave, it was obvious that several of them were planning to say things. But Fat Charlie knew it was a now-or-never moment. You need to make your peace with your dad, you know. Right.

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