Drawing of two coffins sitting on a tiled floor. Caption reads: "It would have to be two deluxe coffins."

Walrus short story by Iris Carden

She came without an appointment, but with her adult son.

The mother reminded me of a walrus. It wasn’t just her size and shape. It was also her whiskers and the protruding teeth that looked like tusks. The son looked like a piece of spaghetti. If he’d been any thinner her would have broken in half, was almost too tall for my office, and had the palest, smoothest, complexion I had ever seen.

Ms Wycliffe wanted to arrange and prepay her own funeral. I explained I didn’t do that. The large foreign-owned companies could do it, because they were backed by lots of money and lots of staff. As a sole owner and operator of your friendly local funeral parlour, I didn’t have the resources. I couldn’t guarantee I would still be in business at whatever time she died, and I couldn’t predict what the cost of her funeral would be then.

“You can’t predict what the cost will be next week?” Ms Wycliffe asked.

“Of course I can calculate the cost of what you want for next week, but that would mean you were going to die by next week. Do you have some terminal illness? Are you expecting to die that soon?”

The string of spaghetti, groaned.

“I’m not sick,” she said. “But I have it on good authority from a psychic who has never yet been wrong, that I will die next Tuesday.”

I tried my best not to laugh. “In that case, we’ll plan your funeral and you can pay me now. If you’re still alive next Wednesday, I’ll refund you the money. How does that sound?”

She agreed, and I dutifully made notes of everything she wanted included in her funeral service, chose her coffin, opted for cremation over burial, the whole deal, as if we really were planning her funeral. I didn’t have a lot on that day, so I took the time to humour her fully.

The following Tuesday, I was busy. I had funerals for Mrs Thomas on Wednesday and Mr Jackson on Thursday. I wasn’t thinking of the walrus and her spaghetti son, I didn’t really have time to think of much at all.

Then the call came. Mr Wycliffe wanted me to come immediately, as his mother was dead. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

I was even more surprised when I arrived at the Wycliffe house. Ms Whycliffe had a carving knife in her chest.

Her son started to say something.

“Don’t explain,” I said. “It’s not my business. I don’t want to know. What I need from you is ten thousand dollars in cash. I’ll refund your mother’s payment to the card she paid with.”

“But why can’t you just use the money she already paid you?” he asked. Of course he would ask.

“There’s rules. If I use what she paid me, there’s a paper trail. That means I need a death certificate to cremate her. A death certificate means you have to explain to the police whatever you were just about to tell me. Do you want to do that?”

Amateurs always want explanations. Professionals know better than to ask. I prefer to deal with professionals.

He did the impossible and turned even paler. “I’ll get you the cash today. Can you please take her now?”

“Cash on pick up. It’s safer for me. Call me when you have the money.” I gave him my side business phone number. One call on my official line from him in this situation was one too many.

A couple of hours later I did the pickup. I thought of asking the spaghetti string to help me load his mother on the gurney, but I didn’t trust that he was strong enough to be of any use.

Back in my workroom, I had a problem. My unofficial customers usually go into the false bottom of a deluxe coffin, under a legitimate customer. Ms Wycliffe was going to fill an entire deluxe coffin on her own.

I couldn’t run the oven without a legitimate body, because of regulations. What I did have were two legitimate funerals for the next two days. I could only see one solution. Both of these grieving families would receive a free upgrade to a deluxe coffin. One coffin would actually hold Ms Wycliffe. The other would contain both Mrs Thomas and Mr Jackson. On Wednesday, Mr Jackson would be in the false bottom, with Mrs Thomas on top, and on Thursday, I would swap them around, just in case either family decided on a final look at their loved one at the last minute.

Ms Wycliffe could go into the oven after Mrs Thomas’ funeral. It was messy, but it would work. I’d still have a legitimate death certificate for each cremation.

Then I would have to refund Ms Wycliffe’s money she’d prepaid for her funeral.

In future, I’ll take the predictions of psychics more seriously.

The Funeral Director Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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