I visit the Memento Mori shop on Sundays after church. I go to church because I’ve yet to make up my mind about religion. I don’t know how I feel about God. I don’t know whether he exists and watches me masturbate or whether he is an old habit of mine I have yet to shrug off, like smoking or the fear of everyone I love dying in a house fire. There are scales in my head and I go over the same arguments again and again trying to make them tip, and whether it be in the favour of God or Science, my decision will not be without its victims. For example, my brother will never speak to me again if I choose God but my mother will forever bring me vegetarian chili in Tupperware boxes. My girlfriend will ask if she should stop taking the pill if I choose God, but I shall go to heaven and sing baritone in a choir of purists. There are many pros and cons.
The Memento Mori shop helps me balance out the weight of the argument turning down the tinnitus of internal noise. There is a deliberate absence of religious paraphernalia here, a lack of crosses, bibles or catholic imagery and a clear separation between death and the afterlife. I visit with the infallible God before I visit with the fallible (wo)man, and then I get a choc chip ice cream from the truck outside. This is why I come here after church. I want to compare and contrast their mission statement of “Live For Now, Because Tomorrow you May Die!” with my priests dry lipped promise of an afterlife.
This shop only sells items that aid you in “Living for the Moment,” the owner proclaiming that people don’t need another excuse to put things off. This is another weight to add to the Con God balance. It’s at least a pound of doubt.
Sometimes I spend too long in here and can no longer remember what a vegetarian chili looks like, only vague recollections of slimy kidney beans stuck to plastic lids and a mole ridden hand wrapped tight around a carrier bag, like a hand around my throat.
The shop is expansive, sombre and cold, with clinical lighting that makes everyone’s skin translucent and pink, like raw meat. Entering and leaving feels like attending the wake of a distant relative and the shop is white and minimal, the walls decorated with fake bones and the coiled ink message of “We Bones Lying Here Bare, Await for Yours.” It is a purposeful crypt that traps the bodies of the living and forces them to reflect on all they have wasted. On cold days it freezes me and I become unhinged and stuck in front of the ever-increasing death counter hanging above the till. It estimates the amount of lives extinguished that day with large blinking red numbers, pulsing and rising, causing shoppers eyes to glaze over (followed by the inevitable panic buying.)
The well-manicured employees are faceless pallbearer during the totally silent transactions. I heard rumours the owner only hires those who have survived near death experiences, but there is no hint of trauma in the heavily browed face that serves me, only robotic movements in a black suit and a finger pointing at the amount owed. I think his name is Stephen. I’m sure I heard a girl call him that once. She stocks the shelves every other weekend, humming as she goes, and her pink blush is in stark contrast to the heaviness of her colleagues. I wonder if she is the owner’s daughter.
The shop is soundtracked by a variety of funeral music (available to buy at competitive prices) and the audible assault is never the same. I could be buried to the harmonious death chant of a choir of children, the saccharine pop song of a middle-aged heartthrob, or the lilting tones of an accordion on a Celtic lullaby. I have a habit of wearing earplugs now, the music unfairly adding weight to the argument for the finality of death. Music seduces me, lulls me into wanting the peace of a Shakespearean sleep, makes me wonder if there being more is such an attractive idea. Shouldn’t this time be enough? In heaven there would still be small talk.
There is more fiction than fact surrounding the lesser-spotted owner of the store, and everything I have heard is unreliable. The most sprouted line is that he nearly died at the hands of a drunk driver (or was a drunk driver), and vowed to be more impulsive and appreciative with his time left. I heard he went horseback riding and told a girl he loved her. I heard he did karaoke and planned a road trip along Route 66. I heard he couldn’t afford the petrol and the girl moved to Europe and died of consumption. I heard he realised the idea of seizing the day was too abstract a concept for peoples minds, only achievable if death was a large and constant threat. I heard he kept skulls in the boot of his car and ashes in the heels of his shoes, a heart monitor in his ear and a list of diseases in his pocket.
I heard all of these things are lies serving to distract from the simple idea that he just wanted to help people appreciate what they had.
When the shop first opened it had a small amount of stock, relying on the most obvious and simplistic of metaphors for produce. I used to pick up hourglasses, urns, pots of ash and skulls, animal skulls, human skulls, day of the dead skulls, skull masks, necklaces and paintings of renaissance men with their hands on skulls. I amassed quite a collection of morbid clutter. I put them in my bedroom on the windowsill and closed the curtains around them. Ringing her, telling the truth, admitting mistakes. That’s when I offered them a sly glance.
I never liked an item as much as the rose with the re attachable petals. Every day it dies. Every morning I put the petals back on.
The owner expanded the shop in 2009 and moved into the kitsch, plastering the literal translation of the shops name, “Remember you Must Die,” across t-shirts, mouse pads, key rings and mugs, wine glasses, plates and welcome mats. He provided items for the young.
(Imagine babies in cribs with angelic features holding onto grim reaper toys.)
For the studious.
(Imagine young academics pouring over the most macabre of literature and art, dosing themselves up with the romance of death.)
I hate the tourists who shop here. They lap up the post it notes and fridge magnets plastered with the most obvious of death tolls, and they miss the point. They are novelty-hunters who go to Jim Morrison’s grave or the Mona Lisa first and never carry around any of the permanence of what they have learnt. They buy the “I’m sorry,” and “I love you,” envelopes and letterheads, scribbling down quick fix messages to pop into the convenient in-store post-box. I see them. Teenagers laughing, and women crying, my mother crying and passive aggressive CEO’s standing mouth agape, writing hand hovering above blank paper as they wonder who to apologise to first. I see all the clichés that exist here, and then my pulpy heart swells as she hums a pop song and writes on the “On this Day” board in blue chalk, “Cary Grant died of a stroke in 1986! Maybe today it could be you! Sale on Greeting Cards!”
I walk away from her with my “Ultima Forsan” clock, a watch that counts down from the hour every hour to remind me this could be my last.