Baker came to the Johnson Funeral Homes offices the very afternoon
her husband died from a heart attack. Seeing there was no one
in the lobby, she checked her appearance in a wall mirror. She
straightened her straw hat with the artificial yellow flowers
attached to it and pulled her bright yellow flower print dress
away from her plump rump where it always stuck to her because
of the year-round humidity in Houston. Then Georgia rang the bell
on the desk in the center of the lobby.
a few moments Dick Dedman walked into the lobby clasping his hands
in front of himself like a priest. He didnt smile at her
but gave her the sympathetic look which appeared to be one developed
after years of practicing with the most appropriate approach when
greeting the grieving relatives.
do you do? I am Mr. Dedman. May I help you?
took out her yellow flower print handkerchief and touched her
eyes with it even though there were no tears visible on her face.
She stared down at the floor, holding her purse and hanky.
certainly hope so. My husband died today and I must make arrangements.
course. Please come sit down. He guided her to a comfortable
chair in front of his desk. May I get you some coffee or
perked up a little and asked, Do you have iced tea? I take
it without lemon.
Dedman, seeming somewhat surprised, said, Im afraid
not. Would you like some cold water instead?
well, that will do then.
went to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of water and a
glass for her. She opened it immediately and gulped down half
the water straight from the bottle.
gasped and said, Thank you. I had no idea I was that thirsty.
It must be the heat. She then wiped some water off her chin
with her hanky.
Now, how may I assist you, Mrs. ...?
my name is Georgia Baker. My husband was George Baker. He died
todaythis morningfrom a heart attackbefore he
ever even got out of bed. I thought he was dreaming or something
because I felt him moving around in the bed as he sometimes did.
I didnt turn over to look because I always gave him his
privacy at those times, if you know what I mean. Turns out it
must have been death spasms instead, I guess, 'cause when I woke
up again, one hour later, he didnt speak to me or move at
so sorry. Mr. Dedman offered Georgia his most compassionate
face and his deepest voice. For a tall, thin man, he had a wondrous
octave range in his voice.
thank you. It was quite a shock. Unfortunately, we werent
prepared for death, if you know what I mean. I guess he thought
he would live forever. She patted her imaginary tears again.
course. None of us are prepared for death, even though we all
know its coming someday.
leaned toward him and whispered, I mean, you know, well,
I see. Please dont worry on that account, Mrs. Baker. We
have some less expensive arrangements we can offer you. We have
the Hillside package, which includes a simple service, a simple
casket, a small plot in the Garden Views cemetery. It runs around
$15,000. Unless you want music or some religious official to say
a few words. Thats another $1000.
dear. She gasped and fanned herself with her hanky. Im
afraid thats out of the question. Dont you have something
even less expensive than that?
Mr. Dedman thought. 'A leech! This type always wants something
for nothing. The poor sucker took care of her all her life and
now she wants to stick him in the dirt in a pine box and no marker.
Then shell start out looking for the next one if she hasnt
already found him.' With her bright blue eyes and dyed blond hair,
Georgia looked a lot like a middle-aged Kewpie doll.
some reason Mr. Dedman felt like being mean to Georgia so he said,
with an immobile face and a slightly sadistic tone in his voice,
Perhaps you would like the pauper service, then? We cremate
him, put his ashes in a box and return them to you for distribution
wherever you want.
sat back in shock at this suggestion. Of course not, Mr.
Dedman. I loved my husband. Its just that Im not rich.
course. I understand. What did you have in mind then?
He tugged on his tie and touched his chin with a long, thin finger.
my friend, Mrs. Templeton, you remember her?
came in here last year when her third husband died and you sold
her a slightly used coffin at a very good price, seeing as how
it was her third husband you were burying.
me? He stared at her with an immobile face. No words came
to him. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. He took out
his handkerchief and wiped his face. Madam, I have no idea
what you are talking about. Why, Id lose my license if I
did something like that. Do you understand what that very idea
a slightly used one? Like you sold Mrs. Templeton? It really is
all right, Mr. Dedman, I wont tell a soul.
she didnt hear a word he said. Madam, we have no such
thing. It would be illegal.
couldnt tell if this woman was just plain crazy or possibly
a mole for the State Licensing Board.
Mr. Dedman, my friend, Mrs. Templeton, told me that when her third
husband died, you buried him in just such a coffin to keep her
costs down since shes buried three husbands in all with
your funeral home. This last one being the youngestyou may
remember him. He was the thirty-six-year-old Irishman with red
hair. Killed in a car accident the night before her seventy-second
birthday. Hed been out drinking with friends after work
and drove home anyway. Missed all the trees and telephone poles
'cept the last one. She said you sewed and glued him up real good
except for one eye that kept popping open because the glue wouldnt
hold. What kind of glue do you use on the eyes, anyway?
Dedman coughed and tugged on his collar. Then, after looking around
to be sure no one else was in the lobby, he said, Uhmm .
. . s-s-super glue. It usually works quite well. I do remember
Mr. Templeton now. As his memory returned, his nerves failed
you do. Hes the one that responded to Mrs. Templetons
ad in the Irish Town Crier for a husband. Said she wanted
a strapping young man who could work in the steel mines in Texas.
. . . there are no . . . steel mines in Texas or anywhere
I know that and so did she. But she had to lure him into marriage
somehow since she was already seventy years old and wanted a young,
hot husband to make all her catty friends in the Knitting and
Investment Club jealous. Its not all that easy to tempt
a young man anymore when your looks and body are gone and you
cant even stay up late nights anymore to . . . well, you
know . . . to keep him company. Those catty women kept telling
her shed never marry again, you know. She just had to show
them. Maybelle hoped that by the time he figured out there was
no such thing as steel mines in Texas theyd already be married
and then he could work at one of the refineries on the east end
like everyone else. And if you could overlook the bad smell all
over that part of town, it wasnt a bad life.
what if she fudged a little in the ad about her age and income?
Everyone lies about something before they get married. Mallory
wasnt too upset when he saw her for the first time.
He was a strong man. She said he shrugged, said he was glad to
just get to America, and he didnt want a big brood of brats
anyway. And Maybelle sure didnt have to worry about getting
pregnant. She made it clear from the get-go thered be no
hanky panky going on. I figure thats why he went drinking
every night. He had to have some fun in life. Maybelle didnt
mind long as he paid his Social Security dues every month and
helped with everything else around the house.
. . . "
anyway, I know you use the coffins moren once and Id
just like to buy one for my husband kinda on the 'qt', you know.
She winked at him through heavily mascaraed eyelashes. He felt
see its just that my husband never stood on ceremony at
all. He just wasnt that picky in life so why would he be
picky in death, you know? He wanted me to spend the money on something
funlike a long trip and a shopping spree instead. Something
he never let me do when it wouldve mattered. You knowwhile
he was alive and I was young enough to enjoy it.
Dedman was pretty sure by now that Georgia Baker wasnt a
mole for the State Board but he still felt like his tie was strangling
continued her bizarre story. Know where we got married?
I dont. How could I?
the 7/11 store on 10th and West Street. Not the most romantic
place, I know, but the Methodist preacher had to work there part-time
evenings to supplement his income, and it was the only time he
could fit us in. It was kind of a rush thing, if you know what
I mean. Her eyes gazed around the large, ornate lobby, but
she had a sly smile on her fleshy face.
Dedman was worried now. He asked her, But this isnt
a rush thing . . . is it? She did seem overeager to get
her husband in the ground.
hesitated. Well, no, I guess not, not really. She
paused and looked out the window for a spell. Then she looked
back at Mr. Dedmans paling face and worried eyes.
of course, we gotta read the will and hes starting to stink
already. Then that rigorous mortar already set in and his arms
shot up under the sheet sudden-like. It scared the dickens out
of the grandchildren, not to mention the dogs. Youve never
heard such screaming and howling in your life. Almost gave me
a heart attack. I like to never got those arms down again. Plus,
were having a wake tomorrow night at the 7/11 where we were
married. Itd be poor taste to have a wake for someone before
they were buried, wouldnt it?
Dedman whispered in his now small voice, Yes, it would.
she looked down while her finger traced an imaginary pattern on
his desk. Then, theres the other thing.
. . . my boyfriend wants us to get married as soon as Georges
in the ground so we can get the funeral and wedding service from
the preacher for one price. You knowa two-for-one kind of
thing. He is very careful with his money. He only bathes every
other day, but he changes his underwear every day and his teeth
are his own. Whats left of them, that is. I think well
be very happy.
profusely now, Mr. Dedman stared at her.
Templeton said she got a reduced rate for the Irishman she imported.
She got a cut rate for her wedding, too. She highly recommended
you. 'Course, she had her wedding in the church like youre
spose to. I have to have mine at the cemetery. My kids were
creeped out about that idea at first, but then, after they thought
about it awhile, they realized wed all be there at the same
time anyway, so they might as well. Then they could bring the
funeral flowers for their dad and the wedding gifts for me and
not have to make two trips.
Dedman dreaded asking his next question but he swallowed and asked
it in a forthright manner. Youre sure theres
no reason to . . . rush . . . the second wedding?
sly smile settled on Georgias face and her eyes narrowed.
Now what makes you think that, Mr. Dedman? Do I look . .
. " She looked down at her tummy then back at him. Nah.
Im just chubby. Besides, I'm too old for that nonsent.
She giggled and patted his hand, which he quickly moved to his
perhaps I can help you, Mrs. Baker, after all. We recently had
one client who was dissatisfied with his wifes coffin, and
he insisted on returning it. Another funeral home assisted him
with the final burial. Would you like that one? Its really
like new but I can give it to you at the rock bottom price of
$2000. Thats firm! He straightened his tie againboth
out of habit and because of the choking sensation was still bothering
him. He knew the feeling wouldnt stop until she left and
he wanted to get her out as soon as possible.
stared him in the eye, assessing his willpower before making her
final offer. She decided he would be flexible. In other words,
he could be bullied.
can pay $500. Not a penny more. She spoke in her sweetest,
most cloying voice now. Georgia always did this when she wanted
something she knew would be difficult to get.
cant possibly do that. It has silk tufted interiors, walnut
wood and is guaranteed to preserve the deceased for one thousand
sighed. I dont care about preserving him for one thousand
years or even one thousand minutes. After the service is done,
you can have it right back and sell it again for all I care.
Dedmans eyes expanded to the size of goose eggs at the prospect
of reselling the casket to someone whod pay the full price.
It felt like the veins in his eyes were popping.
beg your pardon?
madam. $1,500 is the final offer.
couldnt possibly let it go for less than $1,000 . . . even
. . . if it is slightly used.
is my final offer.
sighed and said, Fine. Dick Dedman had met defeat
for the first time in his long career, but he knew when to fold.
Anyone could tell he was no match for this woman.
expect cash and well remove the deceased as soon as everyone
leaves the cemetery.
what do you put him in then?
and shut? I dont want him popping out again and scaring
my grandkids or me on my wedding day.
of course not. He wont. I can assure you of that, Mrs. Baker.
We nail for eternity.
Then I guess were done here. She sighed
. . . yes . . . I . . . think so. At this point Mr. Dedman
wasnt sure what to say to this strange woman. It does
take a while to embalm . . .
embalm him. He doesnt need it. Never cared how he looked
when he was alive, so it sure doesnt matter now. He was
never a handsome man anyway.
Just glue the eyes shut, sew up the lips.
rose, walked toward the door and turned again. Oh, by the
way, he was a pretty tall man. Six feet six inches. That would
be . . . uh . . . seventy-eight inches. How long is that casket?
. . . its . . . just seventy inches, Im afraid.
thought for a minute while rubbing her chin. Hmmm. Well,
that may be a bit of a problem. Then she sighed and said,
Oh, well. Nothin ever did work out perfectly for George
anyway. Then she turned and left.