How to Grieve for Dragonfruit by Ben Hasskamp
Every Monday I always ask my boss how her weekend was. Not because I’m particularly interested, it’s just something to say. She usually relays a mediocre, modestly pleasant story about taking her son to the park or the zoo or wherever it is you take children nowadays. I usually say, “That sounds nice,” because, well, what else am I supposed to say? Inevitably, at the end of her story she always asks, “And how was your weekend?” And even though I’ve posited the same question to her, it always annoys me when she asks this. On one recent Monday, though, we both purposely don’t mention how the guy who sat two cubicles down from us—his name was Dave—died of cardiac arrest the week before.
I believe it was on a Wednesday.
Or maybe it was a Thursday.
Dave seemed like the type of guy to die on a Thursday…
He died at his desk, and even though he suffered a massive heart attack—something that should have been loud and painful and resulted in the loss of bodily functions—nobody seemed to notice. In fact, our VP of Sales walked out of the office on that Wednesday or Thursday or whenever it was when Dave died, and said, “See you tomorrow!” to a lifeless Dave.
Since I work for a fairly sizable corporation they have to implement those grief counseling programs. This would all seem well and good, but for a company concerned with one’s work-life balance, it’s pretty baffling when one of their employees dies at his desk and nobody notices for twenty-three and a half hours.
I decided to attend the grief counseling program anyway. As it turned out, I was light on projects and didn’t necessarily have anything better to do. Plus, Dave was a good guy—or at least I think he was—so I figured people would tell a few nice stories and reminisce in ways I assume Dave would have liked.
But nobody did.
Most of the people talked about their own problems, including one of our analysts—I think her name is Kendra—who just went on and on and on about how she’s an alcoholic and her job is driving her to drink. Dave’s heart exploded at his desk, Kendra, my sympathies are lying elsewhere.
At the end of the session, the grief counselor asked the circle, “Did everyone have a nice weekend?” This really annoys me, but we all nod our heads anyway. Though, looking around the room, it didn’t seem like anyone had that nice of a weekend. And not because of Dave or anything, I think people just didn’t have a lot going on. Besides, it rained, and nobody seems to have that much fun in the rain. I think Dave maybe liked the rain. I know he liked that movie Singin’ in the Rain. But, then again, he also liked the movie Lawrence of Arabia, so now I’m not sure what to believe.
Tuesday rolls around and people are still telling anecdotes about Dave. I didn’t know Dave all that well—you know, besides the fact that he liked Singin’ in the Rain and Lawrence of Arabia—so I kept my mouth shut. Somebody brought in pound cake—apparently it was Dave’s favorite—but the woman who brought it in is always eating pound cake, so I think it’s some kind of ruse for her to eat pound cake and blame it on Dave.
Wednesday is our all-department staff meeting. Before it starts we all sit around and talk about Dave. I don’t say much except tell the story about the time I caught him watching Singin’ in the Rain at his desk. Dave was a pretty hard worker so I don’t think many people believed this tale.
In the meeting, we strategized how to “market new client-facing program offerings.” Somebody brought up the ROIs of the programs—I think it was the woman who brought in the pound cake—and everybody nodded like they understood. Another woman asked the presenter to go back a slide and people regarded this woman as astute. Come to think of it, Dave always pulled nonsense like that. He’d always ask the presenter to go back a slide or turn percentages into fractions or, my personal favorite, ask, “Will this scale?”
On Thursday we’re all standing around the water cooler when a guy who works two desks down from me—though I don’t know his name—says, “Dave’s funeral was this morning.” We all nod. “How was it?” somebody asks. “I didn’t go,” the guy says. “Did anybody here go?” We all shake our heads. It turns out we all forgot to go to Dave’s funeral. Judging by how Dave decorated his desk, I’m pretty sure it was mundane affair. Maybe they buried him with his copy of Singin’ in the Rain. I hope so, at least. It’d be pretty gloomy, for all eternity, to be buried with Lawrence of Arabia.
It’s Friday, and the pound cake woman brings in another pound cake and says, “I brought pound cake!” The vultures descend and when I catch another glimpse of the cake it’s barely a pile of crumbs.
“Hey, man,” the guy who sits three desks down from me says, “it’s five o’clock, let’s skedaddle.”
I tell him I have to stick around to finish the ROI estimates for our client-facing program offerings, but as soon as the guy is gone I skedaddle myself.
Then it’s Sunday.
Then it’s Monday and I see my boss and ask, “How was your weekend?”
“Pretty good,” she says. “I took my son to the farmer’s market. He’d never seen a dragon fruit before. Can you believe that? I know he’s only 6, but you’d think he’d have seen a dragon fruit before. I mean, they sell them in all sorts of grocery stores nowadays, don’t they? At least, I’ve seen them in there before. Every time I’m in the produce section, I can’t seem to get away from dragon fruits. And I know my son has been to a grocery store—I mean, I’m the one who shops for our family. You think I can get my husband to shop? No, sir. So, I’m positive he’s seen a dragon fruit before.”
This goes on for a while—the painful ramblings of dragon fruit…
Finally, when she’s done I say, “That sounds nice.”
“And how was your weekend?” she asks, and by the time I leave work on Monday, nobody seems to be talking about Dave anymore.
Ben Hasskamp is a graduate of University of Southern California’s film program, and his work has appeared in the Star Tribune, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Junction, and Medium. He was a frequent contributor for Patch.com and his short story, "We Don’t Ever Fully End Up Becoming Ourselves," was a finalist for Glimmer Train Press’ 2018 Fiction Contest. Most importantly, though, he believes there are few things more beautiful than a well-prepared Old Fashioned and the sound of a 1966 Royal typewriter clicking rhythmically away. More of his works appear online at www.benhasskamp.com, and his debut novel, Cities of the Common Man, is now available on Amazon. He lives in Oakland with his wife and one-year old labradoodle, Baxter.