The night before your cousin’s funeral you should eat fried chicken; it comes in striped paper buckets covered by sheets of tin foil with tiny holes poked through the center and rubber bands around the rims. Death brings a coldness, an invisible shiver, and there’s something warming about fried chicken; watching your relatives pull flesh from bone, almost as if redemptively, the steam curling over their lips, grease spotting their chins. When food is piping hot, the mouth reflexively smiles. Crispy skin and crinkle cut fries beg to be overeaten, a gluttonous overcompensation for how frail your cousin looked the last time you saw him, dope-sick looking for a spare buck or two on a snowy Christmas Eve. Fried chicken is shared, requires passing of the buckets, plates, utensils, napkins, and condiments; fried chicken is holy communion. You’ll see the grease and tear-soaked napkins, and not be able to tell the difference. Or at least pretend not to.
How about pork chops and salad the night after you find out that your uncle made the five o’clock news, just like he said he would. You eat these grilled hockey pucks because your aunt, his sister, is too drunk to grill, and someone made a dry salad with romaine leaves that are somehow greasy and wrinkled, with slices of olives cut too thick and mushy corner chunks of tomato, and ripe, bitterly harsh curls of onion, and no cheese, no croutons, no spices, and no utensils, because that’s how he ate it, his favorite meal, with his jail-broken hands. And the dinner sucks so much, because how could anything ever taste normal again after this. But now you eat around a table that rocks when someone shifts their elbows and everyone is grieving out of their minds, so out of nowhere you all just start laughing, with soiled hands and dry mouths, you laugh, and then laugh some more and this is when you realize you can take death like a joke, one that nobody gets but has the insight to laugh at, no matter how hard it hurts, because the facial contortions, mouth sounds, and gut response of laughing and crying are one in the same; what varies is the context.