Drawing: A coffin in a crematorium. Caption reads: “An upgrade to a deluxe coffin.”

Assistant short story by Iris Carden

When I was growing up, my father trained me in the funeral business.  Back then, it was an unusual career choice for women, but I was the kid he had. (I’m not counting my sister, because she wasn’t really his, and she didn’t have the mental ability to do either the legit business or the side gig.)

Now, women are preferred as funeral directors.  Most jobs going in this industry are for women.

If you search online to find out why that is, you’ll find two reasons. The first is that we’re considered more physically, psychologically and emotionally suited to the work.  The second reason will make you wish you’d stopped reading at the first.  Let’s just say that old tradition of having someone, usually a woman, sit with the body for the first night or two after a death, had a definite purpose.

I work alone. I’m not interested in hiring an assistant, so it doesn’t matter to me who is most suited to the job.  I once had a work experience kid here, and that didn’t work out so well.  

I was in the office one afternoon, typing up an invoice, when there was a knock at the door.

It was a man I hadn’t seen before. He wanted to know if I was looking for an assistant.  He’d brought his resume.

I explained that if I’d wanted to hire an assistant I would have advertised for one.

He asked what I did when I went on holiday.

I said I didn’t, and if I planned to, whatever arrangements I made would be my business.

He insisted I look at his resume.  To get him out the door with minimal struggle, I looked over it. I could see he had left multiple jobs in a very short space of time.

“So, if I rang all of the funeral directors listed here, what would they say about you? I guess you were fired. Fired, a lot.”

“Times are tough.  They had enough people to do the job.  But I’ve heard about you.  You’re just a little girl here all by yourself.  You can’t handle this job.”

“I’m a woman not a little girl, and if you’d heard about me, you’d know I’ve been managing on my own for years without help. And I’m not going to bother ringing any of your past employers.  I know I don’t want you working for me. Please leave.”

“I don’t think I will.  I think I’ll just stay here, and show you how much you need me.”

“I think I’ll call the police and have you removed, then,” I said, wondering if perhaps I should call some of my side-gig clients instead of the police.

He reached across the front counter of the office and grabbed me by the hair.

I grabbed the knife I keep taped under the counter and thrust upward, into his throat, under the chin. I must have hit an artery. The spray was horrible.  

It had to be the office.  Not the workroom. That was easy to clean up.  

I had to call the cleaner. It was going to cost me at least ten thousand dollars to deal with this horrible man I’d wanted nothing to do with.  

When I called, the cleaner offered to stop and pick us up dinner, since we were going to have a long and messy night of it.

While the cleaner was getting dinner, I crossed the guy’s arms across his body, and rolled him over into a body bag, and zipped it up.  Helpless little girl was I? I was still furious.  I brought the gurney up from my work room, and lowered it.  I pulled the body bag on to the gurney, then pushed it back to the workroom.

The bell at the front office door rang. I checked the security camera, to be sure of who it was, before I opened it.

“Trying to cut down the distance you have to move the body?” The cleaner asked, looking over the mess. “Let’s eat first, so the food doesn’t get cold.”

We went to the break room and ate our burgers.

“I won’t ask,” he said.  “I know you don’t like to talk work.”

I appreciated that.  

“So what will you charge? I know it’s messier than some other jobs, so I’m happy to pay extra if you need it,” I said.

“I’ll charge… dinner, somewhere we’re not eating over a crime scene.”

He really was trying.  But unlike the insistent job applicant, he was someone who accepted me, and the world I lived in.  I agreed.

Then we heard the crash from the work room.

The cleaner followed me as I rushed to see, the body bag on the floor.  There was a noise coming from it, and it was moving, struggling.

“You want me to take care of that?” The cleaner asked.

“Nah, I can handle it,” I answered.

I don’t usually have a hammer in the workroom, but I’d been doing some minor repairs around the building.  I picked up the hammer, and belted the head end of the bag a couple of times.  Then I pulled the bag back up on the gurney again.

The cleaner gave me a nod, then went back to the office to do his job.

I pulled out a deluxe coffin, took out the false bottom and transferred the body bag.  I put the extra satin cushioning and blankets in place, and moved latest legit client in.

Old Mrs Carlyle looked tiny in the midst of all the satin, but from what I’d heard she’d lived a pretty good life, and done a lot for other people.  She deserved a free upgrade.  

It was a pity such a slimeball would be sharing it with her.

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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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