Slightly Used Coffins
by Devon Greene
forum: Slightly Used Coffins
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Slightly Used Coffins


        Georgia 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.

        Within a few moments Dick Dedman walked into the lobby clasping his hands in front of himself like a priest. He didn’t 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.

        “How do you do? I am Mr. Dedman. May I help you?”

        Georgia 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.

        “I certainly hope so. My husband died today and I must make arrangements.”

        “Of course. Please come sit down.” He guided her to a comfortable chair in front of his desk. “May I get you some coffee or water?”

        Georgia perked up a little and asked, “Do you have iced tea? I take it without lemon.”

        Mr. Dedman, seeming somewhat surprised, said, “I’m afraid not. Would you like some cold water instead?”

        “Oh, well, that will do then.”

        He 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.

        Georgia 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.

        “Yes. Now, how may I assist you, Mrs. ...?”

        “Oh, my name is Georgia Baker. My husband was George Baker. He died today—this morning—from a heart attack—before 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 didn’t 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 didn’t speak to me or move at all.”

        “I’m 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.

        “Well, thank you. It was quite a shock. Unfortunately, we weren’t prepared for death, if you know what I mean. I guess he thought he would live forever.” She patted her imaginary tears again.

        “Of course. None of us are prepared for death, even though we all know it’s coming someday.”

        She leaned toward him and whispered, “I mean, you know, well, financially.”

        “Oh, I see. Please don’t 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. That’s another $1000.”

        “Oh, dear.” She gasped and fanned herself with her hanky. “I’m afraid that’s out of the question. Don’t you have something even less expensive than that?”

        'Aha!' 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 she’ll start out looking for the next one if she hasn’t already found him.' With her bright blue eyes and dyed blond hair, Georgia looked a lot like a middle-aged Kewpie doll.

        For 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.”

        Georgia sat back in shock at this suggestion. “Of course not, Mr. Dedman. I loved my husband. It’s just that I’m not rich.”

        “Of course. I understand. What did you have in mind then?” He tugged on his tie and touched his chin with a long, thin finger.

        “Well, my friend, Mrs. Templeton, you remember her?”

        “I’m afraid not.”

        “She 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.”

        “Excuse 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, I’d lose my license if I did something like that. Do you understand what that very idea implies?”

        “Just a slightly used one? Like you sold Mrs. Templeton? It really is all right, Mr. Dedman, I won’t tell a soul.”

        Apparently, she didn’t hear a word he said. “Madam, we have no such thing. It would be illegal.”

        He couldn’t tell if this woman was just plain crazy or possibly a mole for the State Licensing Board.

        “Now, 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 she’s buried three husbands in all with your funeral home. This last one being the youngest—you 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. He’d 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 wouldn’t hold. What kind of glue do you use on the eyes, anyway?”

        Mr. 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 him.

        “’Course you do. He’s the one that responded to Mrs. Templeton’s 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.”

        “But . . . there are no . . . steel mines in Texas or anywhere else.”

        “Oh, 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. It’s not all that easy to tempt a young man anymore when your looks and body are gone and you can’t even stay up late nights anymore to . . . well, you know . . . to keep him company. Those catty women kept telling her she’d 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 they’d 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 wasn’t a bad life.

        “So what if she fudged a little in the ad about her age and income? Everyone lies about something before they get married. Mallory wasn’t 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 didn’t want a big brood of brats anyway. And Maybelle sure didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant. She made it clear from the get-go there’d be no hanky panky going on. I figure that’s why he went drinking every night. He had to have some fun in life. Maybelle didn’t mind long as he paid his Social Security dues every month and helped with everything else around the house.

        “Madam . . . "

        “So, anyway, I know you use the coffins more’n once and I’d just like to buy one for my husband kinda on the 'qt', you know.” She winked at him through heavily mascaraed eyelashes. He felt himself choking.

        “You see it’s just that my husband never stood on ceremony at all. He just wasn’t that picky in life so why would he be picky in death, you know? He wanted me to spend the money on something fun—like a long trip and a shopping spree instead. Something he never let me do when it would’ve mattered. You know—while he was alive and I was young enough to enjoy it.”

        Mr. Dedman was pretty sure by now that Georgia Baker wasn’t a mole for the State Board but he still felt like his tie was strangling him.

        She continued her bizarre story. “Know where we got married?”

        “No, I don’t. How could I?”

        “At 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.

        Mr. Dedman was worried now. He asked her, “But this isn’t a rush thing . . . is it?” She did seem overeager to get her husband in the ground.

        She hesitated. “Well, no, I guess not, not really.” She paused and looked out the window for a spell. Then she looked back at Mr. Dedman’s paling face and worried eyes.

        “Except, of course, we gotta read the will and he’s 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. You’ve 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, we’re having a wake tomorrow night at the 7/11 where we were married. It’d be poor taste to have a wake for someone before they were buried, wouldn’t it?”

        Mr. Dedman whispered in his now small voice, “Yes, it would.”

        “Then,” she looked down while her finger traced an imaginary pattern on his desk. “Then, there’s the other thing.”

        “And that is?”

        “Well . . . my boyfriend wants us to get married as soon as George’s in the ground so we can get the funeral and wedding service from the preacher for one price. You know—a 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. What’s left of them, that is. I think we’ll be very happy.”

        Sweating profusely now, Mr. Dedman stared at her.

        “Ms. 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 you’re s’pose 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 we’d 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.”

        Mr. Dedman dreaded asking his next question but he swallowed and asked it in a forthright manner. “You’re sure there’s no reason to . . . rush . . . the second wedding?”

        Another sly smile settled on Georgia’s 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. I’m just chubby. Besides, I'm too old for that nonsent.” She giggled and patted his hand, which he quickly moved to his lap.

        “Well, perhaps I can help you, Mrs. Baker, after all. We recently had one client who was dissatisfied with his wife’s coffin, and he insisted on returning it. Another funeral home assisted him with the final burial. Would you like that one? It’s really like new but I can give it to you at the rock bottom price of $2000. That’s firm!” He straightened his tie again—both out of habit and because of the choking sensation was still bothering him. He knew the feeling wouldn’t stop until she left and he wanted to get her out as soon as possible.

        Georgia 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.

        “I 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.

        “I can’t possibly do that. It has silk tufted interiors, walnut wood and is guaranteed to preserve the deceased for one thousand years.”

        She sighed. “I don’t 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.”

        Mr. Dedman’s eyes expanded to the size of goose eggs at the prospect of reselling the casket to someone who’d pay the full price. It felt like the veins in his eyes were popping.

        “I beg your pardon?”


        “No, madam. $1,500 is the final offer.”


        “I couldn’t possibly let it go for less than $1,000 . . . even . . . if it is slightly used.”

        “$500 is my final offer.”

        He 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.

        “I’ll expect cash and we’ll remove the deceased as soon as everyone leaves the cemetery.”

        “So what do you put him in then?”

        “A pine box.”

        “Nailed shut?”

        “Of course.”

        “Good and shut? I don’t want him popping out again and scaring my grandkids or me on my wedding day.”

        “No, of course not. He won’t. I can assure you of that, Mrs. Baker. We nail for eternity.”

        “Wonderful. Then I guess we’re done here.” She sighed

        “Uh . . . yes . . . I . . . think so.” At this point Mr. Dedman wasn’t sure what to say to this strange woman. “It does take a while to embalm . . . “

        “Don’t embalm him. He doesn’t need it. Never cared how he looked when he was alive, so it sure doesn’t matter now. He was never a handsome man anyway.”

        “No embalming?”

        “Nope. Just glue the eyes shut, sew up the lips.”

        She 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?”

        “Uh . . . it’s . . . just seventy inches, I’m afraid.”

        Georgia 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.



copyright 2006 Devon Greene.

Devon Greene is a writer/artist living in Houston who writes both plays and fiction. One short story will be published in "Mouthful of Bullets" (an ezine) in June, 2007. Plays and comedy skits have been produced in Houston and Los Angeles. One play will be published in January. One strong word can be worth a thousand pictures.

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