Hope Denney “Waiting for the Undertaker” [flash fiction]

val macewan dead mule

The day Daddy died he was mowing the backyard in the manipulative heat of a July afternoon. Our families all live within twenty minutes of each other so the congregation of appalled relatives was just another inevitability like the paramedics chain smoking in the driveway and our neighbor across the street twitching her blinds up a half inch. The sunlight illuminated Donna’s doughy form hunkered down on her ottoman, peering at our house like a rarely seen beast on a National Geographic special.

“What is taking so long?” Grandmother kept asking as she fanned herself with the backs of her knotty hands.

“They can’t load the body into the ambulance until the undertaker pronounces Mike deceased,” Momma explained for the tenth time that hour.

“He’ll never find us out here,” fretted Granny again. “When Minnie’s husband stroked out last year, the undertaker kept getting lost on the back roads. Gary was in their bed all night and stiff as a board when they moved him.”

“I talked to him myself,” Aunt Susan said. “He knows the way here. He came out this way when the Dodson brother accidentally electrocuted himself years ago.”

“Accident my foot,” muttered a cousin.

“I know what Donna is saying to her husband right now,” mumbled Momma into her handkerchief.

“What?” I asked, turning the box fan to high.

Sweat was beading the upper lip of every woman in the room. We were like meringues weeping in the humidity.

“She’s saying that if I had just agreed to the riding mower, Mike wouldn’t be dead right now. She’s saying he’s dead because we’re cheap! I hate living across the road from her! That twit!”

Fresh sobs renewed throughout the room.

I wandered to the window, biting back tears. Everyone had turned their blinds up. Someone was nonchalantly pulling their push mower out of their garage as if they were getting to work but kept gawking at our lawn. I avoided gazing at the vulnerable, limp figure in the grass and stared up into the blank blue sky. I felt the thrum of the katydids through the windowpane as their orchestra converged.

“I’ll gather some clothes for the undertaker to take for Mike,” Susan said kindly, going to the closet.

The soft sound of fabric being sorted and Momma’s hitching breaths were the only noises in the hot room.

A gasp abruptly cut the melody. Susan held in her hands the unopened box of photo coasters that she gave Momma three Christmases ago. They had rested on the closet top shelf since then and Momma had never customized them with our pictures.

Everyone in the room knew something really terrible had just happened.