Sunday, November 8, 2015

“Neon Lights and Dead Bodies” by Trina Brooks

"Is that lettuce?" Greg asked his boss.

"Ornamental cabbage." Mr. Fisk answered.

He handed two of them to Greg who placed them at either ends of the casket.  The funeral would begin in an hour and there was still so much to do.  Greg went to the decorations box and pulled out a dried ear of corn and a stuffed pig."

"Where should these go?" he asked.

Fisk paused, giving the objects an intense look.

"Put the pig by the guest book and the corn in the deceased's hand."

Greg did as told

"Bring me a piece of straw, will ya?" Fisk asked.

Greg retrieved a piece then stood back watching Fisk pry the dead guy's lips apart and stick the straw between his front teeth.  Once again Greg wondered how the hell he was ever going to learn the funeral business doing his co-op at Fisk's Funeral Home.  

The only people who brought their loved ones here were eccentric or hated the person who died.  How else could you explain subjecting your loved one to one of Fisk's comical themed funerals.

The latest one was for a farmer killed by a rabid goat.  He was a bachelor so there didn't seem to be any family to object to his send off.  Greg doubted anyone would even show up, but that never deterred Fisk.  Each funeral had to be a Broadway production.  At least they weren't hooking up the fog machine this time.

"Don't forget the music," Fisk called out.

Greg slid the CD, titled "A Hoe Down Friday Nigh,t, into the stereo.  The room was getting warm.  Fisk couldn't afford air-conditioning like those fancy funeral homes.  All they had was one wobbly ceiling fan from which Fisk had hung a stuffed chicken. 
"I really think we nailed it this time my boy," Fisk said, standing back and surveying their work.

Greg took in the red plaid tablecloth draped over the casket and the milk cans stuffed with fake sunflowers.  At least it was a bit more tasteful than the last one.  Greg cringed when he thought of the poor fire chief's widow.  Fisk had had the brilliant idea of having the guests walk through a wall of tissue paper cut to look like flames.  He’d used an old fan to blow them around.  Tthe fog machine had been employed to pour smoke into the viewing room.

Greg thought the widow held herself together pretty well until she caught sight of the taxidermied Dalmatian beside the casket.  Fisk was convinced her collapse was grief related.  Later, he told Greg that his send-offs provided the deceased's family with a final memory of their loved one they could carry with them forever.  Greg thought of it more as a nightmare.  He told Fisk he was going out front to direct the bereaved, which was one of his jobs.

"Good boy, don't forget your hat."

Unlike every other funeral home, where black suits were the uniform, Fisk provided employees, meaning himself and Greg, with costumes.  Today's were denim overalls, a plaid shirt and straw hats.  Greg's only consolation was that no one would be seeing him like this.

He sat on the front step, occasionally seeing a truck pass by but not much else.  Whoever thought to put a funeral home off the beaten path on a dirt road? Greg asked himself.  Then again nothing Fisk did made sense to him.

The sound of a vehicle slowing down on gravel caught his attention. An old Cadillac, painted baby blue, pulled up front.  Greg had never seen anything like it.  The driver's door opened and out stepped a man with silver hair slicked back, a pair of sunglasses and a pencil thin moustache in a fashion that nobody wore anymore.  As the man came around to the passenger's side and Greg saw he was wearing a silver suit with a snakeskin pattern and matching boots with silver tips. 

“Slick” as Greg immediately nicknamed him, nodded at Greg then opened the door.  Out stepped a mature woman who wasn't buying into the “growing old gracefully” motto.  Her red clingy dress plunged to places Greg didn't want to see and her red puffy hair defied nature.  A black feather boa dropped feathers as she moved.

"Are we in time for the McGill funeral, son?" Slick asked.

"Uh, yes sir, right this way."  Greg led them into the foyer.  "Are you friends or family of the deceased?" he asked in his most somber tone, forgetting he was dressed like an extra from Oklahoma.

"Phil was my big brother,” Slick replied. “We had a falling out a number of years ago but I'm ready to let it all go.  I want to make sure he’s sent off with all the dignity and decorum he deserves."

Greg cringed as they past the ornamental bales of hay leading to the viewing room.  Mr. Fisk was standing near the door with his thumbs hooked into his overalls, waiting to greet the guests.

"Howdy y'all.  I'm so glad you could make it out to our little shindig." Then he turned and tipped his hat to the woman, who giggled in return.

Slick did a 360-degree turn, taking in his brother's tasteful and dignified send off.  When he spied the open casket he went right up to view his dead brother – costume, makeup, and all.  Slick stretched his hands out and leaned on the coffin with his head hanging down. 

Everyone stayed silent, out of respect, while “She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy,” played softly in the background. Then Slick smacked the coffin so loudly everyone jumped.

"Goddamit!" he blurted out, turning around to look at Fisk and then Greg. "Which one of you is responsible for all this?" he gestured to the tacky decorations. 

Greg took a step backwards while Fisk took one forward.

"That would be me."

The man took several purposeful strides towards Fisk and grabbed his hand. "You sir, are a goddamn genius!" Slick pumped Fisk's hand up and down. "Ain't he baby?"

"It's a marvel," the woman answered more through her nose than her mouth.

"I couldn't have asked for a better send off for my brother.  Tell me Mr..."

"Fisk, Ernest Fisk."

"Mr. Fisk, have you ever worked in theater?"

Fisk's face flushed with pleasure. "Oh I've done some staging for the local amateur productions, nothing professional, but I did receive excellent reviews for my set decoration of Les Miserables that they put on at the daycare."

"Well if you ever feel like leaving this and coming to the big city, I have a theatre there where I put on professional shows, more like revues.  Isn't that right Mimi?"

"You betcha, Duke.  The girls are true artists."

"We could always use a man with your eye for detail.  Here take my card." Slick (aka Duke) held out his hand to Mimi who fished into her cleavage and pulled out a business card. 

Fisk grasped it like it was a winning lottery ticket. "Oh, I would be interested." his eyes shone with hope.

"Give me a call sometime and we can talk business. Come along Mimi." Slick held his arm out to the woman. "We've got to meet with the lawyers.  I am my dear brother's only living relation and there are some estate issues to deal with.  You take care of my big brother now, you hear."

"As if her were my own." Fisk bounced up and down.

As soon as the couple drove away, Fisk called the funeral done, even though no ceremony was ever conducted.  He even entrusted Greg with the task of taking the body to the crematorium on his own. At least Greg’s hick-style denim overalls were appropriate for this job.

He took his time getting back by taking the hearse through the Lucky Burger drive thru.  The girls who worked there were cute and they would always squeal in horror when he showed up.
Greg returned with the hearse and brought it around the back where it was always parked.  He was surprised to see Fisk there, stuffing bins into his mini-van.

"Whatcha doing Mr. Fisk?" Greg asked handing his boss the keys.

"I'm packing my bags."

Greg recognized the bins as the ones they used to store all the different props and linens. 

"Where are you going?"

"To follow my dreams, son.  Life is too short to spend every day shaking hands with death.  It'll come soon enough.  I'm closing up shop and moving to the big city."  He put the last bin in the back and closed the door. 

Greg never received his Funeral Director's diploma because he missed the last six weeks of his co-op.  He didn't mind; he’d already decided it wasn't the career for him.  That fall he enrolled in the Agricultural program.  Greg was pleasantly surprised when he received his list of required books and accessories.  The last item listed was one pair of denim overalls.  "Thank you Mr. Fisk," he muttered. 

Trina Brooks has a God complex, which is why she continues to create new people and new worlds through her plays, short stories and novels.  Her plays have been featured in festivals in Toronto and London and her short stories have appeared in Commuter Lit and Our Canada.  She guest posts for others and blogs at her own site,

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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