Drawing of an open grave. Caption reads: "Exhumations Happen."

Exhumations short story by Iris Carden

There’s a reason my unofficial body disposals are only ever done through the crematorium. That’s a tradition my father began as soon as he took over the business from his father.

In my grandfather’s day, cremations weren’t so popular in Australia, so his only option was burials, and there was always a risk. Exhumations happen. Sometimes, a body has to be dug up for a police investigation or some other reason. If there’s an extra body in the grave that takes a lot of explanation. My grandfather had a close call once, but was lucky he was able to convince authorities the extra body must have been added after the burial. Forensics have gone ahead a long way since then.

I had a visit from the police this week. They wanted records of all the funerals my father had done. Of course I allowed them full access to the funeral parlour’s books, the legit books, that is. The side business isn’t recorded anywhere they will ever find.

They actually exhumed some of his clients, before I found out what they were looking for. My disappearing mother had been arrested on some charge or another, and had tried to buy her way out of trouble with information on my father’s illegitimate body disposal business. They’d dug up half a dozen bodies before coming back to me to ask about her.

I explained that my mother had left shortly after my birth, and only returned some years later to dump my half-sister here for my father to raise, even though my sister wasn’t his child. I told them I didn’t think she’d ever been around enough to know anything about my father’s business.

I suggested my half sister would know more about our mother than me. She’d been raised by the woman for a couple of years. (My sister also knew absolutely nothing about the side business, except for the body I disposed of for her – and she wouldn’t incriminate herself, no matter how dumb she was.)

Police looked through the books, looked around the place, and couldn’t find anything wrong.

One detective asked about the deluxe coffins with the false bottom. I explained that the false bottom could be removed for larger customers, but placed in if clients’ families wanted the fancier coffin for someone who wasn’t so big. I even got in one to show how a smaller sized person could appear to be lost in the depths if the false bottom wasn’t there.

He told me his mother in law was seriously ill, and he was wondering what they’d do with someone her size. Well, your friendly local funeral director is not above drumming up business in any situation. I suggested if she knew her death was pending, she might possibly want to be involved in planning how she’d be remembered. I gave him my card and assured him I’d be able to accomodate anything she, or the family, wanted.

Then he asked if I could tell from the records which funerals my father had used the false-bottomed coffins in. I went through those old books and gave him a list, some had been cremated, some buried. Some of those buried were among those already exhumed, so there was clearly no point in distressing more families by digging up yet more bodies. I also pointed out the deluxe coffins were only available for the last few years of my father’s life. Prior to that, he’d had to get coffins custom made for people who wanted something special, or wouldn’t fit in the standard.

He asked about an allegation my mother made that my father had faked his own death, and run away to hide from the consequences of his crimes.. I found the death certificate to show him, and the certification that I had actually cremated the body. The death certificate was real and had been signed by a doctor who would swear he had been caring for my father in his final illness and was able to certify his death, and I had actually cremated a body.

The detective thanked me for my time, and confided to me he thought my mother was crazy. I said I didn’t really know her that well, but on the basis of what I did know, that was probably true.

I have to say, I was relieved when the detective decided my mother’s allegations were sheer fantasy. There were two bodies in a deluxe coffin in my work room while he interviewed me.

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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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