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A Grave Contention - Short Fiction By Bob Freville

I love my job. I work at the local funeral home. They let me juice up the dead.


Bob Freville

I love my job. I work at the local funeral home. They let me juice up the dead. Fill them full of icky fluids that sting the nostrils and get you really high when you put them on cigarettes.


I only had to take a three-week course and I was in. Got the job almost immediately afterward. Of course, I didn’t tell them about my lifelong fascination with dead things on my application. They’re just so much fun to play with. Like big, anatomically correct dolls you can manipulate. Twist their limbs this way and that. Rejoice in the popping noises that they make.


I always giggle like crazy when one of the bodies makes a whistler. That’s what we call it in the business when a cadaver releases gaseous discharge from its emptied bowels. I admire their silence. They never get on my nerves. I don’t care that they’re dead. I don’t care what their lives were all about. And they don’t care about mine either.


Sometimes I like to scribble naughty little phrases in their secret spots. I’ll grab my Sharpie marker and write Nut R Butt R on the inside of their ass cheeks or draw a target on the tip of their tallywackers. It keeps me from getting bored with the job. It reminds me of what it was like to be alive, back when being alive felt like something.


I think of myself as being truly blessed to have a job I can take so much away from. It would be nice to say that I got it all on my own merit, but really it all boils down to nepotism. The guy who owns the place is an old friend of my sister Charlotte and she put in a couple good words for me before I had even studied the three-week syllabus. It’s like they say, It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.


This was never more true than when I performed my first embalming and didn’t keep an eye on the time. Body swelled up like a boa constrictor with a glandular problem. The fingers and toes were transformed into livid sausage links and the stomach sprung a leak.


I really like meat for breakfast. Perhaps it has something to do with my English ancestry. A hot dog or a knockwurst with some eggs and ketchup usually gets me going. I take breakfast at the Alpine Diner most mornings so I’ll get to work ten minutes early.


The best jobs are always the tough ones. A woman will come in who died of great shock and her muscles are all tense and contorted, her jaw is locked in a most peculiar way. It is a task to loosen it up, usually requiring the aid of a metal implement we call the Erk. The Erk is, fundamentally, a reverse vice grip that pries the jaw loose like a wrench.


Then there’s the children who pop up ever so often, typically as a result of vicious beatings or rape. Many parents have asked for their daughters’ hymens to be reintact before they are made up for the casket.


I like to do the make-up jobs myself. Nothing in the world could be as cool as playing with warm dolls and making them look pretty when it matters most. This morning I went out to get the newspaper off my lawn and found a brick next to my mailbox. Someone had written on it with red spray paint. It said, SHAME. I couldn’t understand what it meant so I put it out for the garbage men to deal with.


At breakfast now I see a woman in white gloves and a sash. She looks so familiar. Her eyes are dark and full of emotion. It takes me a second to recognize her. Of course! The mother of the little boy I took care of yesterday. A big job. An even bigger wake. The blush I used made my subject up to look like a real little cherub. Like a Charlie McCarthy doll, with real flesh.


I couldn’t understand for the life of me why everyone looked so darn upset. The parents were the first to leave and now I see his mother perched on her stool at the counter, cup of black coffee in front of her, along with an uneaten plate of toast. Staring at me with an expression as blank as the check they gave my employer after the service.


I get to work ten minutes late and find the place empty. It isn’t at all strange for our establishment to be dead quiet for lengthy periods of time, but today it seems more quiet than ever, as if sound were sucked out by an existential vacuum. I hear every creak of the floorboards as I make my way to my work area.


I find my tools strewn about the floor, but before I can lament over the disarray I am caught in the back of the head by a club. As I hit the ground my phantom assailant throws another blow, getting me in the forehead.


It’s hard to see for the blood running into my eyes, but I make out the figure to be Mr. Owens, husband of the woman I saw earlier at the Diner. As he runs chains under the skin on my wrists, binding them together in the process, he lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that he is not happy with me at all.


I humiliated his entire family by making his baby son up to look like some fairy queer.


He dislocates my legs, taking them out at the joints, drilling away at the sockets. He scrapes the fat and muscle away from my cheekbones and smashes them apart with a chisel. When I am barely breathing and my torso is hanging together by threads of sinew, he beats me into mush with his club and sets about dumping my mangled remains on the same slab inhabited by his son just hours before.


I am prepped for business. Indeed, the best jobs are always the tough ones.


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