Sweating profusely I tried to wipe my brow to no avail. Today the sun seemed to be a bit closer to earth, and it was scorching our bald heads. The land was barren, and the mirage continued its peculiar dance. The chains on our hands and legs were heavy and hot. Mopping my brow for the umpteenth time, I suddenly realised that it was probably the last time I would be using my hands as a pair. My mind raced back to all the things I’d ever done with my hands both good and bad. I thought where I had been and what I had done, the souls I’d touched and the ones I’d destroyed. A terrifying scream startled me jolting me out of my deep reverie.
I was now alive at the moment. I could feel my breath, I could smell the strange odor of feces, urine and sweat mixed with blood. The stench was choking me. The crowd cheered loudly as the butcher pumped up his axe in the air while doing a celebratory jig. The crowd was baying for blood, a look at their faces and you could see they were relishing everything that was going on. I was left wondering what kind of frenzy they would be in once the beheading started.
Up in the very important box you could see Mulei and Maria his wife and their entourage were enjoying the scene. My heart was now beating loudly like the tum tum drums of South Africa threatening to bust out of my chest. I felt like I could die. I swallowed hard as next guy in line was unchained and escorted by two humongous men to axe man’s arena despite the struggle he put up his hands were held firmly on the blood soaked log.
Meanwhile, the axe man was revving the crowd up with a small performance with his massive blood stained axe. With a wry smile on his face the king gave the signal and in a fraction of a second the axe was on the prisoners’ hand, cracking his bones while splashing blood all over. Simultaneously, the prisoners’ screams of pain were silenced by the rapturous applause of the crowd.
Next in line was an old man, and I was after him. His chains were undone. He walked slowly with a determined step and knelt before the axe man. Suddenly king Mulei stood up and with a wave of his hand the crowd went silent, but my heart thundered on, for a moment I thought the other prisoners could hear it.
“Citizens of Tuaa, your king greets you, today we have to appease our gods” Bokonos’ voice broke the hot afternoon air and reverberated around the amphitheatre.
The crowd roared and clapped with excitement.
“Today thieves’ hands will be chopped off so that they will never steal again” he continued and the crowd burst into another rapturous applause.
Looking around, I could see the last prisoner's on the ground, and it was still twitching.
“This man’s hands will be chopped off for trying to grope the queen, he deserves to die but being a merciful king I will let him live but with a warning.”
Another loud cheer met his last word. A broad smile crept from cheek to cheek on the queen’s face as she clapped to the words of the king. With a wave of his hand, the crowd fell silent again and that eerie feeling that my heartbeat could be heard returned. Suddenly the old man’s voice broke the silence.
“I’d rather die today,” he said resolutely.
I was taken aback, and so was everybody else in attendance. The king Mulei trying to show who is in command retorted “so be it you fool”
The crowd went ballistic again. The old man with a determined face scanned the crowd, the king and then bowed. The axe man was now doing his pre-beheading jig and both he and the crowd were loving it. King Mulei watched with a wry smile plastered on his face. This stupid old man had disrupted his plans but the show had to go on. Mulei let the axe man dance for a while, a tactic he used to fill the crowd with anticipation. Then he finally gave the signal and with one clean swing the axe landed on the old man’s neck which dissociated from his body. It rolled on the floor spilling blood until it rested near the pair of hands that were still twitching.
The crowd was ecstatic. Warm blood that had splashed on me was now trickling down my face and bare chest. The old man’s head lay in a pool of blood with flies swarming all over for a taste of fresh blood. The scene was ghastly I nearly vomited, but I managed to keep myself together. I was next and this sent cold chills down my spine, my feet were like wobbly like jelly. As the old man’s headless body was being dragged away I observed that the queen relished every moment of this.
Suddenly a large bust of wind tore up the amphitheatre and black clouds engulfed the blue sky. It started getting dark. Everybody was both surprised and confused, you could see it on their faces. The place fell silent that you could hear a pin drop. In a jiffy the old man’s head started floating, and his eyes turned pure white. Everybody was shocked, some fainted and others got on their heels and fled, the courageous ones were left behind to witness this peculiar event. The head was now midair spinning around slowly occasionally throwing bits of clotted blood.
“Today we will witness the end of Mulei’s reign” his shrill voice was deafening.
The guards had dropped their spears and scampered away. The old man’s head swirled around for a while, finally settling on me. His white eyes elicited no emotion, I stood there too afraid to move, my feet were heavy, and I had no energy.
“You are our saviour, the head said.
In an instant the twitching hand came alive. It felt its way, took the keys that had been dropped by the guards. The hand unlocked my hands as well as the other prisoners who were still shell shocked but they immediately took to their heels. I tried to follow them but I couldn't Some magnetic force kept me rooted on the spot. Pandemonium broke out as soon as the head and hand fell down and a lightning bolt hit the very important person’s box.
I could see the king Mulei, his wife and their entourage trying to escape. What happened next still baffles me to date. I was struck by lightning on the top of my scalp, but I felt no pain. Instead, I experienced the old man’s pain. I could clearly see what he had been through. His family had been tortured and killed by Mulei’s men. Then I was taken back to the memory of the incident that had caused his suffering and death. He was the king’s cup bearer. As he was serving the queen her wine, he accidentally spilled some on her chest. In the process of trying to wipe some of it off with a cloth, the queen let out a scream, claiming that the old man was groping her.
I wasn’t in control of my body. I picked up a panga and a sword and made my way up toward the very important person’s box. I was moving with extreme pace and athleticism that it shocked me. Mulei wasn’t in the box when I got there, but I caught a glimpse of his entourage. I started to run in their direction, and soon I was upon them as they made their way to the awaiting chariot.
I could spot the king now. A sudden spur of energy filled my right arm and I flung the spear which soared through the air and hit King Mulei on his back protruding from his chest. As he fell down, I could see Marias’ inaudible screams. Suddenly I blacked out.
#shortstory #writing #story #IamWriting #writtingcommunity
Always trying to become something...
I was always trying to become something ; anything. Mostly during the night, when the universe was sleeping. Giving my heart a chance to talk with my woken mind, all those things you're unable to keep under control. Always trying to become something. Pretending I used to be a lawyer and a nurse, when I was younger, scampering around trying to save everyone, but me. I still do this now, only older, not as a professional, though. In my sparing time, where I put back together all the pieces I keep wasting in trusting all the wrong people. Hopefully it will all make sense one day. Allowing the hurting to stop. One day, I'm sure of it, the pouring rain will wash it all away, rather than drowning me in who I am. Always I am searching, becoming something ; a tiger, a unicorn, a better person, or a butterfly. No matter what it may be, I'm always finding myself in the battle, making beauty out of the silence of the violence my own mind contains.
Bloody Two Shoes
(I don’t often write prose. But this phrase popped into my head and was too good to waste! This is so far unedited ;)
Perfection masked her turmoil.
But that was nothing new. Her perfect looks; her perfect skin; her sweetly perfect smile.
All her life they had shown the world a perfect image.
Behind blue eyes.
She didn’t smoke.
She didn’t drink.
Don’t ask ‘what did she do?’
You don’t want to know.
She also had, according to her friends, the perfect marriage.
But like everything else, it was just an illusion. Painted faces hiding pain and anger.
And she took refuge in her shoes.
Hundreds of pairs.
Shiny and expensive; cheap and tatty; flat, heeled, comfy or tightly pinching. It didn’t matter. She never wore most of them, anyway. But buying them was her release.
She stored them tidily, on impressive shoe racks in walk-in wardrobes. She had married well – he was wealthy with pure white teeth.
And a cutting tongue, as precise as a surgeon’s knife.
The final pair of shoes were deep red. That was the problem. Blue or yellow, green or pink. Any other colour, really, and she might still be free.
Usually, he just tutted, having reluctantly allowed her this one failing. But these shoes had caught him in a bad mood. He had just screwed up a big deal and in she walked, shoe box in hand.
His rage had been unexpected.
His voice, low and menacing told her untold truths about herself. Confirming her hatred of what she was.
But this time, for reasons unknown, she did not sob and crumple on the floor. She stood her ground.
It was just a bloody pair of shoes!
They made her feel worth something!
He spoke back. Softly, with menace. Another pair of bloody shoes! To add to the unending rows in her wardrobe.
He stepped toward her and reached out for her neck. But this time she wasn’t passive. Her hand reached back, to the side. She wasn’t reaching for anything. Just something. To keep him away. The brass candlestick, still unused, seemed to leap to her hand, like iron filings smothering a magnet. She brought it round swiftly as his hand touched her neck.
The crack was dull, followed quickly by a thud as he fell to the floor. Blood streamed from his head. She was mildly shocked. But not worried. Head injuries always bleed a lot.
This would bring things to a head, she thought, marvelling that she could still think in puns at a time like this.
Picking up the new shoes, she slipped them on, sliding the box under the bed with a slow swing of her leg.
Glancing down she saw the pool of blood, already starting to congeal on the wooden floor.
Then turned on her heels and went shopping.
Of course, more shoes were bought. And a hat. And a red coat.
Back home, the police car waiting outside caught her off guard.
Her husband, they said had called an ambulance; briefly conscious before passing out again. The crew had called the police.
Perhaps he had fallen and hit his head, she suggested. Was he drunk?
But the blood-stained candlestick disproved her theory.
The police woman shook her head. It seemed not. There was no sign of forced entry. And he was in the bedroom. He must have known his attacker. Who, it turned out, was also his killer. He died later that day, following a bleed on the brain, caused, not by the candlestick blow, but by the thud of his head on the bedroom floor.
She swallowed dryly.
Her statement said she had spent all morning shopping.
Of course, her finger prints were on the candlestick. But, they would be! It was her candlestick.
Nobody had seen her come and go.
Maybe she would have been safe.
If not for those bloody shoes!
She told them she hadn’t been home.
Yet they found the shoe box; hiding under the bed. The receipt!
The receipt told them she had bought the shoes that morning.
She couldn’t explain.
Her lawyer told her not to speak.
She couldn’t explain.
The perfection was falling away.
And the shoes.
The bloody shoes!
The bloody red shoes!
The tiniest of specks, visible, perhaps, on yellow, blue, white or green.
But not on blood red shoes.
Her high heels didn’t click on the tiled floor as she walked down the prison corridor.
The headlines had stuck.
Already the wardens called her Goody-Two-Shoes.
The inmates would later do the same.
At least, now, she could be herself.
She snarled as they led her to her cell.
An inmate shouted through a grill:
“Welcome to paradise, gorgeous!”
No subtle innuendos followed, as she turned to respond.
(Not based on this song, as the title came from a conversation I had. But once in my head, the song references would not leave! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o41A91X5pns )
Because the smell of your skin
in the morning
fills me with home
And when you lay
your head upon my chest,
I can’t keep from crying.
And I look in your blue-green eyes
Peering through those windows
to your soul
And all I want to do is
be there for you.
My world is nothing to anyone else, but everything to me. My world is you.
Love is Infinite
You are born.
The love of your mother radiating off of her,
Holding you in her arms.
As the years go by, the love increases.
But the lover is different,
He steals your heart
And gives you his last name in return.
Then she is born.
Your love radiates off of you
While you hold your love.
As the years go by
She finds her own love too.
as time moves forward,
She has her own love of her own.
You can tell someone that you love them all you want and it won't mean anything. You can't just tell someone with words. You need to make those words come alive in the actions you do. Saying "I love you," then touching, wanting, or using someone elses body just proves yourself wrong. If you use those lips to confess your love but them use the same ones to suck faces with another... consider yourself a liar. The possibilities are endless, do I need to go on?
If you tell someone your love, and show them, but don't tell them everything and hide things from them, you don't love them. If you don't have the decency to let them love every piece of you, including the negitive things you think about yourself, then they should'nt love you. It sucks never knowing whats going on about a person, and just having to be okay with the things going on with them without knowing if its going to kill them or not. Secrets don't make friends, and Secrets dont make love.
If somebody tells you that they love you, you reply "I love you too." If you reply "Me too," they deserve to be able to walk out on you. You're literally saying "I love me too." And people who say that deserve to be shot in my opinion.
If you tell someone you love them just to get something from them, its not love. To use your words to get money, food sex, drugs, or physical labor, then it's not love.
To tell someone you love them, you have to mean it. You have to say it from the heart and it needs to be true. Act upon your love, be honest, be clear. Then you can be loved.
Lady in Red
patter patter patter patter patter
patter patter patter patter
patter patter patter
pat pat pat pat
"I saw you looking at me." Her eyes were half lidded, smiling. Thick with want.
"Oh, did you now?"
"Mmm. Now you owe me a drink."
"Is that how it works?" He wasn't feigning disinterest. He was genuinely apathetic.
"Well. Where I'm from, gentlemen don't typically stare, and if they're caught, they buy ladies drinks."
"I'll let you know when I spot either a gentleman or a lady, then. Maybe we can ask them if that's true."
"Aha! You have jokes?"
"You're laughing, so apparently I do."
"I'm going to sit here." She settled her expensive purse in her lap and took the bar stool next to him.
"Please do." He admired her shapely thighs as subtly as he could, as he tipped his glass.
"You're going to order me a drink. Preferably something with whiskey in it."
"I'll consider it."
"Maybe I should just take yours." He'd placed his scotch on the mahogany of the bar.
"I hope you don't mind lipstick on the rim." She smiled as she sipped his cocktail.
"Where else were you planning to leave it?"
"The night is young." She winked at him. "I'm Eden."
He shook her hand, "Patrick." His grin was obvious as the tab was settled.
"I don't think you're ready for that. We've only just met." Laughter danced at the edges of his words.
"Do you always assume to know best, when it comes to us poor little women?"
"Of course not. But I know this game. And you are not ready."
"Are you going to give me a speech about trust and limits and safewords?"
"I don't give speeches. Unless soliloquies count."
"What about safewords?"
"Try, 'stop,' or 'I don't like that.' I find those work well."
"Do you actually listen?"
"Will you actually speak?"
"I doubt it. I think I can handle anything you can dish, little man."
"Don't try to taunt me. I don't play that way."
"Or what?" Her eyes sparkled with mischief.
"Or I can leave. If I wanted children, I'd have them. I have no patience for childish behavior, especially in the bedroom."
"You just think you're the cat's ass, don't you?" Her bratty tendencies had been stopped cold.
"No. I just know how I like to play. I can tell that you simply are not ready."
"Try me." Her defiance was fierce, and he couldn't help but chuckle.
Her apartment was spacious and very high-end. Rising above the city, the mists that hung in the sky clung to her bedroom windows, just as she clung to her demands and assertions. The skyline seemed to be just an arm's reach away as his breath fogged the glass.
Turning away from the sights of the city, he faced the sights of his evening.
She stretched out on the eight-thousand dollar mattress, one arm dangled over the edge as it stretched below a pillow. Her face was tranquil, smiling, and her eyes were closed.
Long and pale, she was once a stunningly beautiful woman. She was old enough to be successful, but young enough to clutch the memory of being fashionably pretty. There was a bitterness about her; not quite a desperation, but an obvious need to be accepted.
She absolutely exuded the need to win. She demanded her desires, and her demands were usually met.
To her, he was a conquest. An adventure. A notch for her antique bedpost.
He smiled, remembering the sounds of those bedposts drumming off the wall of the condo; a bass to her alto, both singing along sweetly to his tune.
She may be a star performer, but he was ever the maestro.
"Do you need anything from the kitchen?" he asked, walking past her and navigating their strewn clothes. His bare feet slapped warmed marble floors.
She continued to smile. Apparently, she had nodded off to sleep.
"I'll take that as a no, then. If you don't mind, I'm going to clean up a little and grab a drink." While gathering dishes, he thought he heard her sigh. Fine china and antique sterling made for interesting and creative games; carefully, he balanced these improvised toys along with discarded condoms, making his way out of the room.
Whistling, he found what he was looking for beneath a bathroom sink, and he began to leave the house in better condition than when he found it.
"Is that hesitation in your voice, girl?" He played to her defiance, while demeaning her to keep her off balance.
"Absolutely not! What do you plan to do with it? I think I like where this is going." You won't.
"I think you liked where I just went." He grinned like he was supposed to do.
"Oh, god, you're making me blush." You're easy.
"Red looks good on you." He silently congratulated himself on the well placed compliment; flattering words were exactly what she expected.
"I'm sure you say that to all the ladies." Sometimes I say nothing at all.
"No. I don't." He was sincere when he said that.
"I believe you, actually." He knew he had her from the moment she sat down at the bar.
"Good. You should." If she only knew what he was thinking.
"So what are you going to do with that?" Hide it.
"What would you like me to do with it?" You were never ready.
"Mmmm. Surprise me." Oh, it will be surprising.
Entering her, pinning her down, Eden smiled as he made her come again.
Soon after, he made her look good in red.
The Wüsthof chef's knife slid easily back into her butcher block, after a thorough bleaching. He walked back into her bedroom.
She still had the ghost of a smile, with arm stretched over the side of the bed.
Drips, running from brachial artery down off of fingertips, had all but stopped. What her heart had begun, gravity had helped finish.
Crimson splashed the marble beneath her bedsheets, and they, too, held vermilion court in that silent chamber.
Patrick Bateman calmly donned his charcoal Valentino suit, carefully folding the tie and placing it in his coat pocket. "Hip to Be Square" began playing on his Sony Walkman.
He could finally relax.
In the Midst of the Storm
You only ever realize how bad the storm actually is when you’re under it. When the rain is hitting your face and the windows rattle and quake. You think back to the signs, and wonder why you didn’t run while you could. You look for the exit, the end of the maze, but it’s nowhere in sight anymore. So you start running, and running, and running- but you can’t escape anymore. You’re stuck. So you wait...and wait. The events play out in front of you, breaking your heart each time. New horrors are discovered and you’re useless to stop it. You are the bystander. So you watch, and watch as it breaks your heart. Until you are no more.
A Sibling in Always: Part One Chapter One
old man alone
grows by two, his sad life.
They called him good, until it came –
a coarse sadness that would not let him go.
So it grew stronger and it kept him breathing hate,
then it began to subside – ninety years.
His name now dim: drunk and crazy.
The doctor no one knows
gave all his life
The first step is to wash the body. The clothing is removed and any jewelry is placed in a manila envelope, noting a full inventory and the body part on which it was worn is recorded. If the deceased has eyeglasses anywhere on his or her person, they will be kept. At the family’s request, they may be placed on the face of the deceased during the viewing and funeral. Thick lenses, which would cause a magnifying effect on the closed eyelids, are removed and replaced with pieces of cut Plexiglas. Any debris left behind from the less than humble process of dying is washed away with soaking wet rags. These towels are discarded. A strong disinfectant spray, that would reel the living into a coughing fit, is sprayed all over the body, and it is then wiped down thoroughly, making sure not one square centimeter of the body is missed. The body begins to decay immediately and the disinfectant kills all the microbes colonizing on the skin and orifices of the deceased. Next, the body is massaged, if still in the grip of rigor mortis. The joints and muscles stiffen soon after death, and they must be moved and kneaded to make the dead flesh supple. This allows the body to be positioned and manipulated. Then the face is shaved; men and women alike. Children, too. Everyone has traces of hair on their faces, and, if not removed, the makeup can clump and become unsightly during the viewing and funeral.
These first steps are to prepare the body for embalming, and, some professionals in the field assert they are as important as the funeral process itself. I complete these steps textbook and methodic each time a body is placed before me, breathing meditatively the whole time. I have to learn the dead, so I will know how to proceed with making them look alive again, reminding myself the entire time this used to be a human being. I permit myself to be sentimental, “Pretend you are the one who truly loved this person.”
Now I am about my work.
Sometimes I delay – I sit back and think of how many ways there are to die in a small town. I see new ones all the time. Bodies come in the door mangled and dismembered in new and unusual ways. Many people do die while having a great time. Those can be hard ones. I don’t know if it is the boredom or mundane nature of small town life. If life in a small town is mundane and boring, that is. I don’t know it to be. I have lived my life in a small town not too far from a medium sized city. Many people do. There is life between the coasts, some of it very exciting. Not mine: I sit on my stool in front of a table. On that table lies a dead body. This is my work.
But it’s time to get on with it.
Believe me: procrastination is not a quality you want if you work in the funeral industry.
I have to start though, so I do as I always do, with the image of my mother. I see her sitting on the ground beside the Ohio River. Her head turned back to gaze at me. Pillars of gray breath steaming from her mouth in the cold morning air, and I wait for her to speak, just to say my name and acknowledge I am there. I hear her, “Horace?”
The image comes from a real event: the first time I found her there after I became an adult. I was eighteen years old, and my uncle Seth told me he had received a phone call from the institution where she was committed. She had wandered off again. He told me where to go, there was no doubt where she would be. She was to be my responsibility.
I found her there, kneeling by the tree growing on the bank. Its roots washed naked by the river, turned backward, desperately clinging to dry land. She had been there for hours I imagine, but I was yet to fully understand why this place was where she would go whenever the orderly or nurse looked away for too long.
And once I leave there, I come back to this moment and to my work.
“Yes, Seth?” I say, not bothering to look at him. He is standing in the doorway. For a funeral director he is peculiar about dealing with bodies. He doesn’t like them when they are fresh: the blood and fluids still oozing from the orifices pooling into little puddles and the gases still exiting in little squeaks and sighs. No, he prefers them after they have been embalmed and quieted. The one before me arrived late last night -- the coroner’s assistants wheeling in the gurney.
“How does this one look?” he asks.
“Not good,” I answer.
“Most of the face has been chewed away. He’s old too. One of the oldest I have ever seen. The skin is hanging from the bone. The neighbors complained about the smell. He’s good and ripe.”
“Give him the full treatment,” he says.
“Really?” I ask. “He has an estate to pay for it?”
“No, Horace, he has a benefactor. I just got the call. He is going to get the full touch. Do you know who he is?”
“I remember him,” I answer. I have the memory of him. I remember walking down the street with my hand being held by my mother. We crossed the street as he approached. I can remember him screaming into the air, waving his fists wildly at no one. Shouting accusations at names I had never heard.
“I know what you are remembering, but he wasn’t always like that. He was respected when I was young. A doctor. A good one. I thought he died years ago.”
“I just remember him wandering the streets and screaming and yelling. A crazy man,” I say.
“And you’re right, he was that. But that happened when he got old. He was my doctor when I was a child. Your mother’s and father’s too.”
I am always shocked when I hear Seth refer to my father.
“Yes, all of us. He was the only doctor in Always who saw children. I remember him well.”
“Do you want to see him now?” I ask, wanting him to leave.
“Really,” I say, “that’s not like you.”
I hear his feet step into the room. I still haven’t bothered to turn around and look at him. I had thrown the sheet back over the body when I first heard my uncle’s voice, knowing his weakness when it comes to the fresh corpses. “It’s really not good. He’s been dead for a while --long enough for rigor mortis to pass and decomposition to really settle in. Can’t you smell it?”
“I can,” he says, “I can, but I think I want to see this one. Like I said, he has a benefactor, and I am rather curious as to why he does. I have to call this man back, and I want some sort of idea how bad it is, so I can say how much I am going to charge.”
“Then take a look,” I say, as I pull back the sheet. Thin as it was, it was holding back some of the smell that wafts in the wind the sheet produces. I hear the retch in Seth’s throat. He begins to cough. I know he is seeing the full mess of cobweb flesh nibbled to scraps.
I turn to look at him. He is standing still, eyes locked on the body. “You’ll be able to fix that, you think? I doubt there are any pictures of him, but I can ask when I call. Like I said, I thought he died years ago. It’s been a decade at least since I saw him last or heard anything about him.”
“I haven’t seen him prowling the streets lately either, but I don’t get out much.”
“You’ll be able to fix this?” he repeats.
“Yeah, there is enough of the face left to get an idea how what is missing should look.”
“Good, good,” he says, “Cover him back up.”
“No, I am going to go ahead and get started. You may want to leave,” I answer.
“You’re going to need to cover him up,” he reiterates. “The new man is upstairs. He is starting today. I want you to meet him.”
“I met him at the interview,” I respond.
“I know that. What was his name?”
“I don’t remember,” I answer, though I remember it clearly.
“Come on,” he says. “We need to get him started.”
I throw the sheet back over the corpse. My uncle has already exited the room and managed the stairs to the ground floor. I wait till I know he is upstairs before I follow. The funeral home we work out of was built with intention, but it was built in a different age. By that, I mean though it was constructed as a funeral parlor, it has nothing in common with the funeral homes being built now. It is ancient and somewhat Victorian. Air conditioning and central heating unnaturally thrust into its bones. Sound carries. We are only set up for one funeral at a time.
He’ll be talking about the flowers. I am sure. That is his standard lecture to all the new people. As you may imagine, it can be difficult to keep good help at a funeral home. If you are the one embalming and preparing the bodies or the one directing the funeral, chances are you are going to stay. You see death every day and you see mourning every day. You have a skilled position within the establishment, but when you bring in an employee for general help it is a different story. They are not accustomed to the sound of constant crying. I would say wailing, but there is not much of that at your average funeral these days. People aim for dignity in silence.
For the new people just looking for something to pay the bills, it is a different thing completely -- the constant stream of people always at their lowest moods. The quiet and calm of the place can be unsettling as well. Also, the bodies. Seeing them. Smelling them. Knowing they are in the place is too much for some people. For others it is the mourners. The crying faces and the soft moans of grief. It gets to some people. We’ve basically given up on keeping anyone on staff to work upstairs, so we hire people to work the grounds and other less glamorous work.
I can hear Seth’s voice echoing through the hallway, so I go to join my uncle and the new employee. I slowly ascend the steps, wondering how long this one will last.
I approach him with my hand out and he takes it saying, “Mason Beel. It’s nice to see you again.”
“Yes, it is. And it’s Horace Carver. I understand if you don’t remember,” I say.
“No, I remember,” he says. “You’re the Carver in Parsons and Carver Funeral Home.”
“Sort of,” I say, as my uncle interrupts me.
“Again, Mason, welcome to Parsons and Carver Funeral Home. We’re glad to have you on board. Horace is going to be doing most of the training with you, since he’s done all the work you will be doing at some point in his time here, but I wanted to give you an introduction to the place,” Seth says and motions for us to follow him.
He speaks as he is walking, “Horace’s mother is my sister, and his father and I opened this funeral home about two years before Horace was born. We have been in business well over thirty years. Horace began learning the trade as a child, but there will be more time for that sort of information later. Like I said, my nephew will help you acclimate to this place. Also, you need to understand your duties. As I explained, you will have many.”
“Right. We talked about it on the phone and in the interview,” Mason offers.
“Good. You remember. I, also, hope you remember I said it would be labor intensive. You said you were up for the job though, so we’ll see what you are made of.”
He opens the door and holds it for us, “Outside. Let’s go.”
We follow, squinting against the sunlight.
“Oh, and you are to call me Mr. Parsons. You may call my nephew Horace if he so chooses, but you need to call me Mr. Parsons.”
“Okay, I understand,” Mason answers.
“Don’t take that the wrong way,” Seth continues. “We just have a lot of people in and out of here. People who have lost their loved ones. You won’t interact with them much at all, but, if they hear you talking, it needs to be formal. No joking around. You may see people standing outside smoking cigarettes and slapping each other on the backs and having a good laugh, but you are not to join them. Horace and I will deal with the customers, which we would never call them to their faces. You only speak to them if they speak to you, and then only to answer their questions as succinctly as possible.”
“Sure, they’re sad. Only speak when spoken to,” Mason states. “Got it.”
Every new employee gets the same sermon. Mason would be tending the flowers, my uncle starts. It is explained to him, as his duties are being described by my uncle, that he was to perform this first thing in the morning after the sun rises, but before it’s shedding its full heat.
We walk around the building and Seth points to each and every type of flower that decorating the building. There is a flower box nestled under every window and the vast parking lot is dotted and decorated with many islands – all filled with blooming flowers. At the end of the building, there are two spigots and a couple of long water hoses wound up and hanging from long flat hooks.
“If one is going to die, Mason, it is best that they do it during this time of year: the spring. Summer is okay as well and early fall, but once the leaves turn the place becomes different. It loses its vibrant appearance. And, in all honesty, to hell with anyone who dies during the winter.”
Mason and I both have a little laugh at this, “Oh, I’m not joking, gentlemen,” Seth snaps. “Remember, keep it serious.”
“It’s very important you get this done early. I don’t want this being done while a funeral is in service. I want these flowers soaked. Drench them. The petals need to be wet before the light really gets to them, and the soil has to be saturated with water. This isn’t just decoration. This isn’t my hobby, and I have no interest in them. I am not a botanist or a gardener. I am a funeral director.”
Mason nods his head, indicating he understands. Seth has already shown him where the hoses, watering cans, and sprinklers are located.
“Take this sprinkler, hook it to the hose, and point it at one of the flower beds in the parking lot. While you have that going, take the can and hit the beds underneath the windows and the flower boxes. Then, move the sprinkler and start watering the beds by the house. You have to really pay attention to the ones at the entrance. I want them to be pretty. Gorgeous. People meander by the doorway, so it needs to be especially nice.”
There is a long, thick brick fence lining the parking lot and separating it from the street. From the top of it, flowers are sprouting in one long bed, continuous and about a foot in width.
“This one I would do last, but don’t skimp on it,” Seth says. “It takes forever. You just don’t want to mist this one but get it really good with the hose. These get the most sun and the soil in the bed dries out quickly, so do those dead last that way they are good and soaked right before it starts to get hot. After you’re done watering, you need to do a walk-through. This is when you will check your work. Make sure you didn’t miss any of the flowers. Also, when you are doing this, you need to look for weeds. I have a barrier down for them, but some may work their way through. You need to get them and get them quick, so they don’t take over. Weeds are decay, and we pretend that decay doesn’t happen here. Got it?”
“Yes, I understand, Mr. Parsons,” Mason says. I’m standing quietly by my uncle, watching Mason. I am trying to see if he is getting nervous listening to my uncle. He doesn’t seem to be, but maybe he is just hiding it. Most of the men that have worked for us are shaking by this part of Seth’s lecture.
“Also, look the parking lot over really well. Let me know if you see anything out of place. If someone leaves a beer bottle tonight, it needs to be gone tomorrow morning. I had the asphalt resurfaced last year, but if you start to see any cracks let me know. You need to look for weeds in the blacktop too. Make sure the lines in the parking spots are bright white. There is paint, tape, and rollers if they start to fade. My nephew will show you where. We get a lot of old people here, and they will complain if they are the least bit faded.”
“Make it look perfect,” Mason says. “Be your eyes out here.”
“Exactly. It has to look perfect. No one comes here happy. This is where they come to send off their dead, so the place has to look alive. It can’t be festive, but it has to have a certain appearance about it. People have to feel comforted by looking at it, just pulling into the parking lot. There can be no distractions and no frustrations, just tranquility. They have to see beautiful flowers and clean lines. They have to think about how flowers bloom and then how the petals die, but it is all reborn. It makes them feel better. That is what this business is about. Does that make sense?”
“Absolutely,” Mason answers. “It’s about aesthetics, I got it.”
Seth pauses for a moment, looking at Mason.
“You can make it about philosophy if you want, but it is not. People are simple. This is basic psychology. When people are mourning, they want it to be over, so they will look for anything to make them feel better. Psychology. You tell them what to think, and they think it. They will look at the pretty flowers and think about how they will die and come back again. Now, again, does that make sense?”
“It does,” Mason says.
“Do you have any questions so far, Mason?” I ask.
“We’ll get to that,” Seth says. “I think I was pretty upfront when I interviewed you. I’ve had problems keeping this position filled. It is a bit of a, shall we say, diversified job. But this is what it hinges on. If you can do this, that’s a big part of it, and I can forgive other shortcomings. If I see dead flowers and weeds, I can’t deal with that, and I’ll be placing another ad in the paper.”
“No, I understand. Every morning. Make sure the flowers are impeccable.”
“Well said, well said, Mason,” Seth says and taps him on the shoulder. “That is it. There is no grass here, just flowers and asphalt. This is the face of my business, and it must be maintained meticulously. If you can do it, fine, but, if not, there is the street.”
“I think he gets it,” I chime in.
“I do, Mr. Parsons, I understand.”
“That’s right, Mason, it’s Mr. Parsons. Always Mr. Parsons. I never want you to call me by my first name like my nephew does.”
“He even tried to get me to call him Mr. Parsons. Not happening.”
“There will be a family arriving soon to make some arrangements, so I want you both out of sight. Horace, you see, does not like to get involved with the business aspect of what we do. He prefers his embalming chamber. I’m the licensed funeral director; he is the licensed embalmer. He does join us among the living from time to time, but he’s not always presentable, and, as we’ve discussed, appearances are of importance here. That is what we do here.”
Seth pauses and clears his throat, looking around the parking lot and stopping to look at the funeral home, “I’ve spent my adulthood building this place’s reputation, and I won’t have it compromised. I am glad you understand about the flowers. You will have other responsibilities, and this is not even close to being the most physically demanding.”
“What would that one be? The most physically demanding one?” Mason asks.
“It’s the graves, Mason. Hand tools only. You can use shovels, picks, post hole diggers. It doesn’t matter. But, in compliance with local ordinance here in Always, all graves must be dug by hand.”