Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Calliope, Offbeat/Quirky (Journal of Exp. Fiction pub,), Permafrost, North Atlantic Review, Blueline, Witness, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Published books include: Understanding Franklin Thompson (Exp. novel - JEF pubs (2018)), Sunday Dinner With Father Dwyer (Exp. Novel - Scarlet Leaf Press (2018)), Inferno (E-Chap - Underground Voices), Mount Everest and Eli the Rat (Lit. Novels - Montag). Visit www.jimmeirose.com to know more.
THEIR TWO VERY OLDEST PROFESSIONS
I opened the front door of my funeral home to the sharp knock that came exactly at noon, and a plump black-clad man abruptly said straight into my face, Hello. I need to speak to the owner of this funeral home. Are you the owner?
I’m the owner, sir. I’m Jamed Davis, my wife Wendy and I run this place. What can I do for you?
My name is Richard Bushes, and I need to arrange a funeral for my dear sweet departed wife. But, there is one requirement I have which you’ll find unusual.
I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr. Bushes. I’m sure we can accommodate any request at all. Come in, let’s go to my office and you can fill me in there—there’s little we’ve not done before. Step in--
No, wait. My special requirement is one I doubt you’ve seen before. Here, I’ll be blunt. I must be present in the embalming room and observe everything you do to the body of my dear Josie. Only if you allow me to do this, and you need to tell me that right now, can we talk about anything more.
I nearly gagged, but held it in tight; his look said huh? Well? Why the stare? An answer say an answer it ought to be easy it’s either yes or no but but--
My sudden throat phlegm loosened and slid away. From where it’d been I said, Mister Bushes, I am sorry, but that would be quite irregular. I’m not sure that is possible--
Fine, okay, stop right there, said Bushes, raising a pale hand. That’s the same answer the last dozen funeral homes have given me. But it was worth a thirteenth stab in the dark. Thanks for the honesty, Mister Davis. I’ve got to get to the next funeral home on my list. Good-bye and have a good day.
With that, Mr. Bushes lowered his hand and turned to leave.
—wait no wait this is a client grab him stop him turning away this is money food on the table money a few month’s rent cash no yes no don’t turn away go mister dollar money, wait a minute; don’t go, hey, hell, why sure maybe perhaps hey--
No no, don’t leave! I said, half stepping out to follow him. I said the request is irregular, Mr. Bushes; I did not say it was impossible! Let’s talk!
—turn back show me the money yes no, not money yet don’t spook him with that yet fish him back play him catch him don’t lose him don’t say money too soon--
Mr. Bushes stopped, turned back, and said sharply, Okay, then, tell me right now. What would make it possible, Mr. Davis? Money, I bet. Everything’s worth money. Tell me; how much money would make it possible for me to watch you embalm my poor Josie? Before you answer know that I’ve been a businessman for fifty years. I know what makes the world go ‘round, and so do you. Your business may be unusually morbid but it’s just another business, yes. All businesses are the same. So just tell me right out how many dollars will it take?
No, no, no, sir, no. Of course there will be fees, but know that it’s not that. This business is different; we know this is the saddest most solemn time for every client. Your obvious sorrow is what moves me to consider the request. I felt your pain when you thought I refused. I called you back because it’s our credo to never cause pain to an already grieving family member or friend. The primary product of the Davis Funeral Service is to relieve sorrow. We at Davis know what it is to feel deep loss. We will do whatever it takes to relieve you, even one tiny bit—please believe this Mr. Bushes please believe—here, yes let’s bow our heads and each say our own silent secret prayer for poor Josie yes now yes right now, listen hard be quiet and listen, you will hear her joyfully come near to you and tell you not to be sad, but to be glad, because in a few days they will have checked her credentials, declared her sinless, and issued her her very own personalized golden diamond-crusted easy-pass to see God at any time twenty-four-seven three hundred and sixty five for the remainder of eternity, which as you know is forever—and what beats forever, yes? Forever is better than a mere lifetime in which every day’s spent in the holy kingdom, and every day feels twice as good and new and joyful as the very first day, it’s unfading eternal pleasure and bliss she has entered to, aha—whew! Does that reassure you, Mr. Bushes? Does knowing this show you the unseen joyful side of death? Talk to me—oh God yes, talk to me!
Mr. Davis, that all sounds great, but you still haven’t said if you will let me watch.
My mouth opened to answer, but; his words had brought up some white hot flash from inside, that hit my quickly fading blissful love for death, with burning; with phosphorescence; it set off billion old style blue dot flashbulbs straight down into my gut—say to him say yes now reel him in, net him, stretch out over, reach down the net, saying,
Yes, yes, I am sorry Mister Bushes, yes, yes! Thanks for hanging around giving me time to think your request through, I’ve tossed it around and prayed on it, and God told me to say, Yes, of course, you may watch me prepare your lovely Josie. We will share the great joy of her embalmment together!
Very good. And, what will that cost in addition to your regular charges?
That will be—wait, let me figure, let me think.
—that’s it pull out your vintage calculator in your hand and in your head add up the cost of sharing something that has always been private except for your sweet Wendy; share foreplay; share coitus; share cunnilingus; share fellatio; share masturbation; share lovingly embalming the bare-naked freshly freshest dead--
Why the hesitation, Davis? Spit it out!
One minute, please. I’m running the numbers.
—but think hard think; to take money for such, may equal prostitution in the hands of some typically devious prosecutorial types, and that’s illegal, yes very irregular, illegal even, and immoral, and wrong and when the hot money burns into your palm it might step you onto the last winding road you will finally walk down, a winding road of white hot steel plates, flames licking down from above, all through your miserable barefoot burning weeks-long trudge to the very front gate of hell—and that’s just to reach the gate; that’s not even hell yet; hell is that, plus ten thousand times worse, but but food on the table but but rent for the bank my God—hell? No nonsense. Speak now make sense.
I looked up and said, I will need to know why you want to watch the procedure.
Really? What for? If you get paid what do you care?
It—it’s policy. You must tell me. Or there will be no deal.
—corporate fallback asshole mindless position that always works though the shield of the stupid office store clone policy policy yes everything has a ruling policy--
Fine. I have a phobia about undertakers, embalmers—anything like that.
Oh? I said, flipping up an eyebrow. That’s interesting. What kind of phobia?
You asked for this, Mister Davis—it will not please you to hear this, but here it is; I was taught as a boy that all undertakers are members of a cult and secretly feed on the entrails of the dead people they embalm. Doing that, says their doctrine, will act as a lucky charm to ensure their continued success. This cannibalism they do is a fraternal centuries-old secret. Sort of an Illuminati kind of thing. Like covens that eat children. Werewolves. Vampires. Embalmers are the same sort of things. Jim Jones, David Koresh. Bob Vila. That sort of thing. Norm Abrams. Ricky Scungilli and Donahue Splat. As for me, I am asking to be present to make sure you don’t eat the guts of my wife. That’s plain as I can get.
What? For real?
Yes. For real.
I stepped back, looked down, brought my fist to my chin, tried to hold on, pondered a second, then lowered my hand raised my face, and stated, That is probably the most extraordinarily silly thing I’ve ever been told in my life. Okay, fine. You win. I fell for it. This must be a joke. We’re on camera, right? You can tell me now. Where are the hidden cameras, Mr. Bushes? Your film and sound crew can show themselves now! You are so damned creative! You ought to write for the movies! But tell me, what burnt-out unknown former celebrity are you, which most people heading up these cheesy shows tend to be?
I do write for the movies. And I was never a celebrity.
Okay. Go on.
I ghostwrite for the movies. It’s a hush-hush fact that just about every successful name-brand screenwriter in Hollywood and similar creative enclaves, have to drink so much alcohol and use so many drugs to drive their struggle to show their faces at to all the correct all-night parties, to be able to kiss the appropriate asses to make it up the hundreds of steps in the ladder to the top of their profession, that by the time they get up there the partying drinking drugs and ass-kissing has made them shells of their former selves. Once at the top, they wake up and see, that their talent and ability to write has been falling away a little at a time, one party at a time, one ass-kissing at a time, or even lower things-at-a-time. They have lost their talent, but need to continue to produce. And so they secretly hire underlings like me when they reach that point, underlings with talent but with no hope of ever rising even one rung up the ladder because of naively believing that talent will win out and ass kissing drugging and multi-day nonstop partying is not only unnecessary but also completely wrong. But I and those like me make disquieting amounts of money to do our best and shut our mouths and provide the substance the public believes is behind the top stars of the Hollywood writing community. Do you find this shocking Mister Davis? Is your bubble burst? Do your pedestaled idols seem hollow to you now?
Oh, huh, what? Oh, no. Not really. I never idolized any Hollywood screenwriters to tell you the truth. I don’t even know who any of them are. As a matter of fact, I am usually so busy working this business that I never go to the movies at all. Janie and Wendy do. But I have no interest. But is sounds like fine work, sir. It sounds like a solid profession. All right then, come on in. Let’s go to my office and tend to the details. It’s funny how everything’s all details, is it not?
Yes, it is funny, Mr. Davis. Everything is details, yes—it makes you think pretty deeply, does it not?
Oh, yes, it sure does—but come on. The office is this way.
Sure enough—but hey, it pops the next thing into my mind. Consider this, Mr. Davis—what about if there were a--
We slowly talked our way to my office and as if some great pressure had been released, we talked and laughed and joked back and forth like that for quite some time about the existential pros and cons of moviegoing and screenwriting and taking focus off striving for success in favor of periodic long interludes of what amounts to adult playtime. This fascinating hour completely absorbed us in misty twinkling star-spangled vaporous vacuous words and ideas that came and lived just the length of our short-term goldfish-like memories and then left and dissolved to be replaced by the next next in the queue, that may or may not exactly mesh with the last next that was ejected; as a matter of fact, the bulk of the nexts mostly clashed with the bulk of the lasts and the colors they held when combined also clashed in a very tasteless sixties style endless string of bright silvery pearls beautiful in the mind-states we reached way back then yes exceeding in beauty the most precious rare bright and expensive priceless string of rare natural pearls as those only seen worn every twenty years at big weddings and funerals by the highest of untouchable unachievable British royalty. Whew! And what follows from that, and how it pertains to us, is simply put as what naturally follows—and blah blah blah, so on and so on, we went on back and forth constructing this crystal cathedral, and went on and on going to it harder and harder we pounded our brilliance together higher and tighter, and when we were done we lay spent side by side and satisfied and empty but of course, yes of course, only in the intellectual sense; and my arm twitched with fatigue bringing my watch-face up to my nose and I did an instant’s quick mental math of the time it told me and realized we’d been chatting on these issues for going on three hours and I hadn’t even quoted an overall comprehensive amount that he would have to pay for this experience what experience that other kind of orgasmic experience with a stranger for pay or this here kind of orgasmic experience with a stranger for pay and you know, both modes of experience are exactly and absolutely the same. Lord God I felt so dirty do you feel dirty, Mister Bushes, I do how about a cigarette there’s always a cigarette or two lit in old movies but I actually stopped smoking in the mid-nineties so thanks but no thanks. So back to work now where were we eh? I’m afraid I’ll need a few days or weeks to work myself up once more to focus on whether or not to let you look on while I embalm! It does not matter that this one time, I need to be strong and abstain from the entrails even though it may be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do on this job; but one time of a thousand is absolutely nothing; if the price is right, anything is, of course, as you said, my sweet Bushes, possible! So okay, come on. Let’s hammer out the brass tacks! Time for business!