When I was hired at my dream job as an editor for the only women’s magazine I’d ever really loved — a position I was as unqualified for as I was thrilled about — one of the first things I was asked to do was a prank. It is a long standing problem of mine that I am too good in interviews, which still only partially explains why when the editor-in-chief asked if I’d be willing to do pranks, the transcripts of which occupied each issue’s last page, I’d practically leapt out of my seat with excitement so fully acted it became sincere, clasping my hands, exclaiming, “Oh yes!” Not, of course, that I ever pull pranks, or have ever wanted to. In truth, I had visions of all those 6th- and 7th-grade acting lessons finally paying off. “I went to theatre camp, you know,” I said more than once. After all, I had spent two air-conditioned summers in the early 90s studying the fine arts of elocution, show tunes, and jazz hands under the direction of Eileen Boevers, the drama doyenne of suburban Chicago. Her motto was, “If you make a mistake, make it loud!” — which was pretty much all I took from those fateful lessons.
It was my second week on the job when one of the senior editors assigned me my first prank – a really important prank, the kind of prank that would make a major glossy publication proud, the kind of prank that would prove I was a journalist worth my mettle – one they’d wanted to do for so long and that would be so fantastic and that by the way needed to be done in a jiffy because the issue was closing the following week. I swallowed the pukey substance that roiled up in my throat clasped my hands, and cried, “Oh yes!” At least no one had called my bluff yet. I had spent most of my first week on the job trying to look busy and willing my accomplished new coworkers not to sidle up and ask how on earth I, who had never worked or written for a magazine in my life, had gotten myself hired.
Which is how I found myself in my darkened apartment on a sunny Sunday in July, rolling my friend up in a rug.
Here was the prank: I was to call three man-with-a-van services and schedule pick-ups from my apartment with deliveries to “uh, near the Gowanus canal,” that rancid strip of water so famous for incubating filth and misbehavior. The movers would come upstairs and see a rolled-up rug with, allegedly, a dead body in it. Would any hilarious mishaps ensue? Significantly, would anyone actually help me move my dead body? See, it was more than a prank — it was a social experiment, stamped with the magazine’s signature sass and flair! Now, I could see how this kind of thing might be very fun if carried out amidst a group of one’s peers, cheered on, say, with one’s new prankstery coworkers waiting in the wings. But no, the plan was for me to take care of it all on my own, thus proving (or so I imagined) my tenacity, skill, and good-humouredness to said colleagues. Luckily, I had a friend kind enough to volunteer to be my dead body — or, more accurately, a friend so desperate for company that this sounded to her like a non-unreasonable way to spend a Sunday.
A word about this friend, whom we’ll call “M.” M. was happy to volunteer because she didn’t want to be alone that day. M. didn’t want to be alone that day because it happened to be the day her married lover was telling his wife about M., or should I say, “telling his wife about M.”