Marvin sat on a milk crate in the back of the funeral home, the preparation room. He was a fat man, and short, and the plastic crate bowed beneath his pounds. His nose resembled one which had been broken far too many times—a look that could pass for endearing on a bull rider or boxer. Marvin was neither; he worked as a mortician. To his left lay Mister Kilgore on a preparation table.
The day was hot and humid, as Arkansas summer days tend to be. The air conditioner was on the mend.
Marvin never drank water but managed to sweat buckets.
His bratwurst stubby fingers stuck leech-like to a copy of the newspaper and made turning each page a labor. While struggling through the national news, Marvin’s stomach sank at a headline out of Boulder, Colorado: Mortician Arrested, Necrophilia.
“Oh great, another one.”
Over the past three years this sort of case seemed to be on the rise. Marvin wiggled his spiny nose to stop an itch and adjusted his glasses. He looked left—Mister Kilgore on the table, naked and pale. “What kind of sicko …!?”
Marvin’s Crisco-battered heart bordered explosion each time one of these corpse-poker stories hit the news. He had worked as a mortician since he was nineteen, and for these past eighteen years the days were filled with dead bodies. They were dead, devoid of life and color. Dead. The thought of it was appalling and unethical.
But what really churned his stomach was how these stories made him look. It’s tough enough playing the small town sweaty bachelor when broken-nosed, short and overweight; couple that with his career choice and you’ve got a sore thumb. And now he’s a corpse-poker, too? In reality poor Marvin was a trained craftsman who performed his duties with upmost respect and professionalism. Marvin knew that, his boss knew that, and the newly departed knew that, but they weren’t talking.
The sad truth of Marvin’s story: Some local couch fly flips on the news, anchor says a Boston mortician was caught inserted down a dead man’s wind pipe, and so starts the rumor that ol’ Marvin’s feeling up grandma and organizing a leap frog league with Uncle Steve, God rest his soul.
It was a lot to take in. The damned heat didn’t help any.
Face covered with sweat, Marvin tried to wipe it dry with his shirt sleeves. They were sweat-soaked and provided no help. He took a section of the paper and wiped it across his face. It soaked up the sweat but left him with black smudges. It was an instant regret and he needed no mirror to make known the newsprint painted across forehead, cheeks and nose. Low was the feeling, and that an understatement. “A bachelor to the death at this rate.”
Mister Kilgore continued to lie on his preparation table. (He had time. No appointments to keep.) He had been Marvin’s high school history teacher. He taught until the day he died. Rumor was, he’d killed scores of men during the U.S. conflict in Vietnam.
Following some distress over his smudged face, Marvin managed in getting his heart rate under control but needed a minute. He dropped his paper and rose from the milk crate. It lay mangled and unnatural, bent from him massive form.
Parallel to Mister Kilgore was another preparation table. Empty. Marvin scuttled over and climbed aboard with the grace of a drunken baby bear. “I’ll just lay here a minute. Try an’ cool off. Don’t you go anywhere, Mr. Kilgore. I haven’t forgotten about you.”
An overhead fan clanked. It kept a slow rhythm and helped little with the heat, but the little it helped, teamed with the cool of the stainless steel table against his wet shirt, made conditions tolerable. Marvin closed his eyes and fell quickly asleep.
“Lying down on the job, are we, Marvin?”
“Mister Kilgore!?…You’re dead!” Marvin screamed the words but they rang hollow, as if screamed into a fifty-five gallon drum. Or perhaps screamed out of the drum.
“You’re right, I am dead.”
“So why are you talking? And why to me?” His complexion was non-existent.
“Why am I talking? That’s a good question, Marvin. I don’t know.” Mister Kilgore pondered his own words. “But now that I’m dead, I know that I am dead.”
“Of course you’re dead.”
“You don’t understand, Marvin. For years it irked me when someone would say, ‘oh, he’s dead.’ By saying ‘he is dead,’ it infers that the dead person is something, as if being dead is a state of existence. I always felt the correct wording should be ‘oh, he died,’ or ‘he no longer exists.’ But now I know they were right. And I am dead.”
A bright flash fading to near darkness. Marvin’s eyes adjusted to the dim-lit room. He jumped from the prep table, thankful to be nothing but alive.
A part of him longed to return to that magical state wherein communication with the dead is achieved. Instead, he quickly touched Mister Kilgore’s pecker (just to say he did it) and left the staleness of that damn funeral home forever.
Marvin sat at a picnic table in the park studying the ‘classifieds’ section of the newspaper. No jobs to speak of but it didn’t matter. Proper women passed with their pampered kids. There were joggers and businessmen in suits. Teenagers kicked soccer balls and threw frisbees and held hands. They all reeked with the stench of the future. But none of that mattered, save the sun on his face and the dancing oaks around him. And all those who passed ol’ Marvin no longer saw a fat, sweaty, tangled mess of a being, but rather a man with pure life in his eyes. It was something they’d never know, even in death.
William Blackart is a traveling songwriter from Arkansas. He also writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction. His stories and poems have appeared in the serial art zine Man Vs. Wheel, Nebo: A Literary Journal, Nude Bruce Review and RAZ: The Electric Dangerous Paper Blog.