Can We Have a Little Privacy Over Here
1022 words long
The dead don't go where they aren't respected.
Notes from the author:
The writing prompt, “mortuary gab,” sounded like the kind of talk you might have over corpses and tea. I imagined a group of high-society phantoms ghosting into the morgue late at night, sipping Darjeeling with cream and swapping afterlife gossip. Who’s just moved in at the cemetery up the hill, and whether they’re our sort of people. That sort of thing. And of course the conversation will inevitably turn to inspecting the work being done in the morgue. Nice cosmetic work they do here. Much better than at that other place. It’s so hard to find good undertakers these days.
The advertised assistant mortician position listed very few requirements. Number one, a high school degree or equivalent. No problem. I’d just gotten out of college. Number two, willingness to work with dead bodies. Mr. Greenlawn had grilled me thoroughly about number two. It wasn’t all make-up and specialized tailoring. There would also be squishy bits. Would I be OK with the squishy bits? I was just fine with squishy bits. I was less fine with childish euphemisms, but I’d put up with them for a paycheck.
About number three, willingness to work late “but not too late,” Mr. Greenlawn was less forthcoming; I had to grill him. “I mean that five of the clock will not a magic number, young man! We work to the specifications of our clients, not the clock.” By clients he meant the stiffs. Their survivors he regarded mostly as a nuisance.
But what did he mean by “not too late”? “Well,” Mr. Greenlawn temporized, “I’m not an ogre. We always wrap up by midnight. But I’ll want you back at eight sharp the next morning, understand?”
He gave me the job. It was fine. The squishy bits were as squishy as advertised, and the hours as long. Greenlawn Funeral Home enjoyed a steady stream of clients in need of good undertaking. But my boss was true to his word. Every night around eleven forty-five, if we weren’t done already, we started tidying up loose ends and setting the workplace in order for the morning. We were always out of the morgue by midnight.
One night I tried to earn a few brownie points by staying late. I was still pretty new to the job and unsure as to whether my boss considered me a valuable employee. Besides, quarter to midnight had caught me in the middle of some delicate work, the details of which I won’t get into here (you’re welcome), that seemed better to finish up than leave half-done.
Mr. Greenlawn got downright agitated. “Young man, what are you doing? Hurry up and get that stabilized so we can leave.”
“But it wouldn’t be any trouble to—”
“Do as I tell you!” I blinked, stunned. Stern as he affected to be, Mr. Greenlawn had never yelled at me before. He took seriously the reputation of an undertaker for dignity. His outburst seemed to have startled him as much as it had me. “You must understand,” he said in a more conciliatory tone, “the dead need their privacy, too. Let’s wrap things up so we can give it to them, hmm?”
So I did as I was told and we got out of there on time. But now I was curious. And, hey, webcams are cheap. A few nights later, I opened up my laptop and did some spying on the dead....
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for February 23, 2018. Subscribers can download the full-length fictionette (1022 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook depending on their pledge tier.
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