by Martyn Bryant
The Barbara Era eventually came to a close. Barbara had won The Canadian MourningTM Championship Match every year from 2006 to 2012 but in 2013 she was defeated by the relatively unknown Jane. Jane quickly proved herself to be fast mourner, after just 34 days of competition Jane had successfully accepted the death of her mother to a messy motoring accident. At that same point, Barbara was still in denial about giving birth to a stillborn named Simon.
After being crowned The 2013 Canadian MourningTM Champion, Jane said publicly that she didn’t want to defend her title the following year. That wasn’t unusual though, nobody ever said publically that they wanted to defend, not even Barbara would say such a thing – it’s considered bad taste.
Not only did Jane not want to defend her title, she didn’t anticipate being able to. The closest-near-deather in her family was her father and his cancer was being securely contained to his prostate gland. The doctors were confident that it could remain contained for many years.
The positive prognosis gave him enough energy to keep pursuing the auto-insurance company to get the full payout for Jane’s mother’s accidental death. He waited and waited on the telephone, each day he felt like he was getting closer but each day the pain of holding the receiver to his ear got greater. Metastasized cells were beginning to cling to his ribs and humerus. After two weeks, he started using the speakerphone, and after three he stopped calling. Soon after he was dead.
Bobby was Jane’s challenger in 2014. He impressed Canadian mourners in the early nineties when, at the age of just 14, he beat a 17-year-old to become The Adolescent Canadian MourningTM Champion.
Bobby’s father had been driving on the highway at the peak of the morning rush hour. He was 23 minutes late for work and had an unshaven face. He had a heart attack and tried to take the exit ramp but missed the exit ramp and hit the concrete divider. The police closed the northbound side of the highway for almost two hours.
The principal and the school nurse pulled Bobby out of first period, just as he was starting to get good at factorising quadratic expressions. They looked at his rashed-red neck as if it were a sign Bobby already knew, they thought that somehow he was getting a head start on the MourningTM.
After eighty-six days of astonishing grit Bobby accepted his father’s death.
Three days after his win, Kurt, one of Bobby’s close friends, revealed that Bobby was still blaming himself for his father’s death. In the school cafeteria, whilst hunched over a slice of cold Hawaiian pizza, Bobby confessed that he should have delayed his first shave.
Kurt explained what Bobby said next:
On the morning of his father’s death Bobby decided to attempt shaving for the first time. He locked himself in the bathroom and few minutes later his father said,
“What are you doing?”
Bobby said, “Shaving.”
His father said, “You don’t have to do it now, I can show you this evening like we agreed yesterday.”
“I’m almost done,” Bobby said.
A few minutes later, his father said “Open the door, I’m late for work.”
“I’m almost done,” Bobby said.
His father said, “Forget it Bobby, I’m leaving. Thankyou for making me late. Have a good day at school.”
Kurt really indulged in mimicking Bobby and Bobby’s father’s voices. Kurt was good at voices.
Bobby didn’t deny Kurt’s revelations and Bobby’s mother wanted to speak publicly to say that the cause of death was high cholesterol and not lateness. She wanted to say that Bobby’s father was too stubborn to do anything about his late night Greek takeout habit but Bobby wanted her to stay quiet and she respected that.
Because of Bobby’s silence the 17-year-old won by default. When the award presenter approached the 17-year-old to crown him The Adolescent Canadian MourningTM Champion, the teenager wasn’t wearing a jacket, it was -15OC, he was full of gin and was shout-singing Hallelujah at the lovers in the window of a Thai restaurant.
Bobby spent the next few years in and out of high school. He was in school the days he was clean shaven and suspended the days he wasn’t. He argued that his skin was sensitive and the principle argued that he was better off with an electric shaver. The principal even telephoned his mother to ask her to provide him with one.
At eighteen he didn’t get the grades he needed to study engineering at university so he kept working at the grocery store stacking shelves and balancing bell peppers and became known as the guy with the epic beard who with a little more effort could have become very successful at adult MourningTM. Customers discreetly watched him as he stacked items on special at the end of each aisle.
In 2014, the popularity of MourningTM reached an all-time high, thanks mainly to Barbara’s impact and appeal – the layman could relate to her and her style of MourningTM. Barbara became a verb; ‘You barbara-ed your cousin’; ‘I could see you were already pre-barbara-ing your husband when he was still alive in the hospital,’ etc.
Over the last twenty years Bobby’s mother encouraged him to get back into MourningTM, “You were so good at it. You had so much potential. Why don’t you give it another go?”
When Bobby’s mother, a day after the death of Jane’s father, jumped from the balcony of the cruise ship and hit the water at 90 km/h and nobody found her body but they found a note on her bed saying, “Mourn me. Love Mum,” Bobby took it as a sign that this was his moment to show Canadian Mourners from the bereavers of Newfoundland to the grievers of British Columbia what he was made of.
Bobby offered the challenge. It was a legal challenge. Rule 9b stated: The challenger’s MourningTM must commence within three days of the start of the defending champion’s MourningTM.
Some people said that he could’ve still been continuing the MourningTM he began in The 1994 Adolescent Canadian MourningTM Championships because he was a thirty-four year old man who had never moved out of home or had a proper girlfriend. The objections were deemed irrelevant by the MourningTM Committee and the 2014 Canadian MourningTM Championship Match begun.
The 2014 Canadian MourningTM Championship Match
Update – 32nd Day – 3.50pm
Bobby has a slight advantage, he has moved to the anger stage of MourningTM. He is stacking tins of tomato puree. Two cans have already fallen and are dented badly. People don’t buy badly dented tins, Bobby knows that.
Jane is still in the denial stage. She just phoned her father. There was no answer.
60th Day Public Panel – 8.31 am
Questioner (Woman in a white blazer) – This is for Jane. How are you feeling at this stage?”
Jane – “I’m looking to move into depression in the next few days. By my calculations I should be there Tuesday morning while eating breakfast.”
Questioner (Woman in a white blazer) – “How are you going to make the transition?”
Jane – “David is going to take a few days off work and we are going to fuck and go for a few long walks.”
Questioner (Woman in a white blazer) – “Will you be fucking on Tuesday morning?”
Jane – “Yes. We haven’t been having sex throughout denial and depression. He is usually a once-every-two days kinda guy so I imagine he’s been taking care of himself. He’s been trying to make the move in bed so I think if we fuck on Sunday night he’ll be good to go again on Tuesday morning before he goes to work and I will have a leisurely breakfast alone.”
Questioner (Old man with a plaid shirt) – “What will you be eating?”
Jane – “That’s a good question. As you know last year I ate nothing throughout the depression stage and lacked the mental energy to get through it. I was only boosted by Barbara continuing to hear her dead baby’s cries. I felt so guilty using her pain to help me but I’m just being honest, it totally worked.
I’m going to try and eat well through the depression stage. We have some pancake mix that we haven’t used for a long time so I’ll start off with banana pancakes with maple syrup.”
Questioner (twenty-something lady with a straight fringe) – “Won’t that make you fat?”
Moderator – “No, No, Sorry, That’s an inappropriate question.
I’d like to turn to Bobby. Bobby, you must be happy with the way things are going?”
Bobby – “I am. I really struggled with the bargaining stage. I look back now and think I could have come to terms with the coast guards’ incompetence a lot quicker. I felt a lot of pressure from Jane as she went through anger in just a couple days. But she got really stuck in bargaining and as you can see she’s still there. Once I got out of bargaining, I got on with depression and I’m making solid progress through it.
Questioner (Man with spectacles) – “This is for both mourners. Could you have done anything to better prepare for these championships, like reading novels, using the computer analysis software Sorrow2.0, solidifying your friendships, or finding God?”
Jane – “To be honest, I don’t think I could have. My brother and I knew that Dad had prostate cancer but we were all stunned by how quickly it spread to his bones.
What I would say is that once he had bone cancer I prepared by spending most of my evenings on Netflix. In hindsight I should have gotten closer with my brother but at the time he wasn’t great to be around as his only outlet was driving around town very fast and swearing at people that got in his way.
I can talk a little bit about computer software. Maybe Bobby, you could address God?”
Bobby – “Sure.”
Jane – “I looked at the Sorrow2.0 analysis two days ago. Protected sex with David wasn’t even mentioned as an option. I had to enter it manually and when I got it to calculate that, even with just three minutes of protected sex, it said it would increase my MourningTM time by 6 days 3 hours and 34 minutes without any explanation as to why. Even with two minutes of foreplay and no penetration the computer predicted an extra 6 days 1 hour and 3 minutes to my MourningTM. I was curious what it would have said for unprotected sex, but I didn’t really want to know. I was imagining it adding years to the MourningTM.
I’m going to go for the sex anyway; I think we’re seeing the limitations of Sorrow2.0. At the moment they are not human enough. I think its algorithms are more domestic optimising rather that intimacy optimising. For example, number two on its list of suggestions was to mop the kitchen floor. I thought, ‘fuck you computer, the floor may be in need of a clean but I need to re-establish my intimacy with David. I can do the fucking floor tomorrow.’
We’ll have to wait for the next generation of Sorrow, Sorrow3.0 or whatever’s next, to see if its output is more human.”
Bobby leans into his microphone, Jane sees him and leans back.
Bobby – “I’ve heard about the book method. Something about empathy and perspective. I respect the people who go this route. I didn’t read during the ‘94 Adolescent MourningTM Championships. I liked films back then, I guess they are like books. Getting back into MourningTM to challenge Jane I tried re-watching the films I watched secretly as a teen – Goodfellas for example.
On the God influence, I’m fairly sure Jane is with me on this one. I think modern mourners are mostly developing God-free variations of MourningTM. I know that the God variations are still working for some mourners but we’re trying to do something new to break through. Would you agree with that Jane?”
Bobby – “I would also like to say something about the computer analysis. I ran Sorrow2.0 two weeks ago when I was in the anger stage of MourningTM. The number one thing it recommended was that I should be using the computer software more often to make decisions”
Bobby – “Sometimes in an effort to make Sorrow more human the programmers over compensate by writing algorithms which I think are too irrational. For example, the second suggestion from the computer was that on the way home from work I should stop in at the 7-Eleven and steal a bag of Cheetos.
I don’t know why it said to steal the Cheetos. I had enough money to buy them. Anyway, it said I should steal a packet of Cheetos and when I get home I should sit on the kitchen floor and eat them wildly without caring about getting the yellow cheese dust everywhere. It specifically said – ‘maximise cheese dust mess’. Interestingly, Jane I think you’ll be interested by this, after cheese mess maximisation it said the best continuation was to mop the kitchen floor. I don’t even own a mop. You know what I think happened Jane?”
Jane – “What?”
Bobby – “Last year you must have mopped your kitchen floor at a critical stage of MourningTM and the computer is trying to learn from it.”
Audience laughs. Jane laughs.
Moderator – “That’s funny. Ok, maybe we’ll take one or two more questions. I see two hands…”
Jane – “Sorry, can I just interrupt you there? I’ve got something to add.”
Moderator – “Of course.”
Jane – “I just wanted to say that I agree with Bobby. I don’t think a computer, even in the distant future, will solve MourningTM. There are too many permutations that a computer could never calculate. Mopping and stealing Cheetos are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Moderator – “Fascinating. Sorry folks, just time for one more question so let’s go with you Miss.”
Questioner (twenty-something lady with a straight fringe), “Do you have any advice for each other?”
Moderator, “The match is still in progress so the mourners don’t have to answer that. Jane? Bobby?”
Jane – “Well, Bobby’s ahead, I’m not into depression yet. I don’t want to get even further behind so I’ll refrain from saying anything.”
Bobby – “That’s fair. I guess I’ll say that I wish Jane good luck in trying to make a breakthrough by fucking her partner David twice before he goes back to work on Tuesday. I hope they are tender and loving fucks and I think banana pancakes are a great way to go. But maybe I’m saying too much now. I would love some banana pancakes myself, I think maybe there is some pancake mix in the back of my cupboard. Maybe I will swing by the grocery store just outside this conference centre just in case. Maybe I need to buy a mop too.”
The 2014 Canadian MourningTM Championship Match
Update – 83rd Day – 1.45am
The younger lady at the checkout rejected Bobby’s offer to go snowshoeing three days ago, and then his offer to go skating yesterday, and earlier today his offer to get her a coffee on his break. Bobby is still awake restacking tins in his small pantry. Each tin is perfectly dent free. He has almost got them into a perfect pyramid.
Post-MourningTM Interview with the Loser
“I lost a lot of confidence when the girl at the grocery store told me that I was being too in her face.
“Someone was saying to me as Jane was getting close to winning that I should ask Jane out. You know, to try and intertwine my life with hers. It could have been a way to mess things up, I sensed that during the 60th day press conference she was quite into me. But I couldn’t do it. Being rejected by Jane would have been disastrous.”
Post-MourningTM Interview with the Winner
“For me it was critical that I got through depression quickly. I needed to put some pressure on Bobby, he was asking the checkout girl on great date ideas and I was sure one of them was going to work. If she’d have gone for one of them that would have been game over for me, he’d of been in a winning state of acceptance within a few days and my MourningTM would have deteriorated rapidly.
I was struggling, eating nothing and still feeling fat until I got a call from Barbara last week. She said she had recently learnt to accept the loss of her son and that she was ready to try and have another baby. I was inspired by her perseverance.
I decided to start swimming again, with the exercise I was happy to start eating again as long as I did 20 minutes of swimming every other day. Also the money from mom’s car crash came through finally.
Interviewer – “Do you plan to defend your title next year?”
“I really hope not. But who knows, my uncle has started training to become an electrical power-line installer and everyone thinks it’s a terrible idea at his age”
Martyn Bryant tries not to mourn competitively. It would probably be destructive to his relationships with friends and family. In 2007 he finished an MSc in Physics at The University of British Columbia and a few months ago finished an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. He lives in Montreal where he teaches and writes. He is working on his first novel.