Today we hosted a Wake at the hotel. A week previous to this the daughter of the deceased woman had come to discuss the menu. She is a Countess. For starters she requested the Salmon Terrine. And for main course the Guinea Fowl.
“And what would you like for the vegetarians madam?”
An icily raised eyebrow and a meaningful pause later;
“The Guinea fowl.”
I was keen to get a glimpse of her.
The room had been prepared beautifully except for one curious anomaly. Amongst the linen and the silver and the tasteful but eye wateringly expensive flowers were a profusion of cushions. Silk with prints upon them of the deceased mothers face throughout the years. Myself and Casper, the Polish waiter looked on curiously.
'People will be sitting on her face,' he said.
'Perhaps its what she would have wanted,' I responded.
During breakfast I watched as funeral attendees arrived. The Wake was set for 45 people. By 10am it had risen to 57 and the chef was none too quietly having an aneurism in the kitchen.
'How many fucking people am I feeding?'
By 11am the figure was possibly 60, but maybe only 35. We tiptoed around the service area with fear in our hearts as the chef paced and swore and played Candy crush on his iphone.
When the Countess arrived it was impossible to ignore her. She wore black fur from her neck to the ground, huge Chanel sunglasses and a net and feather headdress. She looked like a star of the silver screen and when she removed her shades to dab at the tears she revealed a face that was ethereally beautiful. Icy, but divine.
'She looks like a young Meryl Streep,' I muttered to Casper whilst clearing away another round of dirty breakfast plates.
'She looks cold, like her tears might freeze on her face,' he whispered.
He had a point.
They headed off to the church and I carried a tray of champagne flutes to the lounge area to prepare for their return. I found the manager fiddling with a projector. As I lined up the glasses a 35mm film burst in to life and the image of a middle aged and terribly elegant woman appeared on my shirt. She was driving an open top sporty car through the countryside. A moment later the sound of a husky but oddly girlish laugh filled the room. I shuddered.
'Am I listening to the laugh of a dead woman?'
The manager nodded. 'I can't watch it the whole way through. I'm an emotional young man.'
'Less of the “young”,' I said and smirked as he automatically reached nervously to pat his bald spot.
At noon the bereaved began to file back in to the hotel. They were ushered to the lounge and served champagne and the tiniest, most delicate canapes created by the now apoplectic chef.
'What do you mean there are 50 of them but you have no idea how many are staying?! I'm up to my tits in Guinea Fowl here! Are you having a fucking giraffe?'
I wanted to top up the champagne glasses or hand out the canapes so I could watch the film and their reactions but because of my tattoos I was relegated to the kitchen polishing cutlery.
Within twenty minutes the chef was creaming 'Service!' and the starters were rushed out in the hands of three elegant waiters and one disgruntled French sommelier.
Within moments ten of the starters were returned to the kitchen by three somewhat less elegant and slightly more frazzled waiters and one stony faced sommelier.
'What?' The chef asked in a quiet threatening voice.
'Some are outside smoking. Some are just gone. We have no idea how many people we are serving. And they keep changing seats.'
'Fuck it,' the chef muttered and stalked outside for a fag.
As the main course was carried out, Casper, through a mouthful of Salmon Terrine, observed that the Countess was drunk and hugging everyone.
The manager ran in to the kitchen calling my name.
'Can you take some more champagne through? Everyone is busy. Make sure your sleeves are rolled down to cover your tattoos. You don't have your nose ring in do you?'
'No,' I smiled. Fuck you, I thought.
As I circled the room I observed the guests. The Countess was indeed somewhat drunk and hugging everyone she spoke to. Occasionally she'd point to one of the hideous silk cushions;
'Its my art,' she slurred.
'Lovely,' a bemused elderly gentleman murmured, painfully aware that he was sat on the deceased's face.
In the distance a wrinkled and liver spotted arm held an empty champagne flute aloft. I weaved my way over and recoiled. The face attached to the arm made no sense whatsoever. The woman had endured so much plastic surgery that she looked like a startled cat. Her eyes mere slits in her overly stretched face. Her lips pouting sexually in a profoundly disturbing way for the aged.
I think she was crying. It was impossible to be sure.
Amongst the well heeled and, I don't say this lightly, inbred guests, I noticed three people who stood out dramatically. A Thai woman about my age and her two teenage daughters. Whilst everyone else wore expensive suits or silk and little fur wraps, these three wore inexpensive coats which they had yet to remove. They looked painfully uncomfortable and smiled shyly as I offered to top up their glasses. At the next table I heard a distinguished man in his 70's say to his neighbour;
'Oh yes, she was her housekeeper. More her carer towards the end. Very good, very hard working girl. I believe she's left her something in the will.'
I watched as various people wandered over to the thai women and engaged in short and awkward conversation before drifting off again.
The Countess was now hugging a woman who bore a slight resemblance to her but none of her glamour. She seemed uncomfortable in her skirt, her hair frizzy and unmanageable. Her tears fell warm and unrestrained.
'My poor sister,' the countess slurred, stroking her hair. 'Mummy loved you very much didn't she.' An edge there.
As the coffees were served the countess had run out of guests to embrace and had moved on to the waiting staff.
'You're doing such a marvellous job. Really. Just marvellous. I love you all.'
She grabs me by the arm.
'Be a darling and get me a green tea would you? I'm awfully pissed and I don't need caffeine on top of it.'
When I returned with the tea she was sat again, this time with two horsey looking women and one elderly retainer who clearly came from old money and had a sharp bright look about her.
The countess was mid flow.
'He had such long and elegant limbs. Tall, terribly handsome and so very charming. There was no question of his breeding. None at all.'
The elderly retainer turned to her.
'Whom are you talking about Alex?' She asked lightly.
'Mummy's friend. Henry, you remember him don't you?'
'Your father is sat at the next table child and you are drunk. Hush your mouth.'
'But -' The countess protested.
'Enough.' The woman snapped.
Mid afternoon the guests began to file out, some held aloft by the less inebriated.
As I cleared away the dirty cups and their chanel stained rims the Countess raised her voice.
'Oh for christ's sake Lizzie, if you want the flowers take the bloody flowers!'
'I just want one bouquet to dry,' the sister whispered, embarrassed by the sudden attention. 'Something to remember the -'
'Yes, yes, just take them! Stop being such a pill. Anyone would think you were the only one who'd lost a mother.'
The sister ran from the room and in to the garden followed closely by her father, the distinguished looking gent I'd seen earlier.
The Countess continued to address no one in particular.
'Honestly, did you see the scene she made? Take the damn flowers! I paid for them but by all means help yourself. Did you see the scene? Did you?'
It only took an hour or so to clear away the remnants of the Wake. Apparently the deceased mother had worn vintage Chanel her whole life. Nothing else. Only Chanel.