Cut to the Bone by Sue Harding.

They said this was a job for life. They said it with a smile, too. Gallows humour I suppose, but I had to agree. I mean, there’s always a market for undertakers isn’t there?

Well, that’s what I used to think. Now, thanks to the recession, it’s cutbacks and streamlining, even in the business of death. But death hasn’t taken a holiday; the bodies still come trundling in. Trouble is, with burial plots a scarce commodity people are opting for cremations and no-one wants to pay for fancy coffins anymore if they’re just going to end up in the furnace, know what I mean?

Take the boss, for instance. He has this all-in package, with a premium-grade coffin. He says it's just oak veneer but really it's prime stock and he charges a bit more than the cheap pine models, but a lot less than the top notch stuff. Even the ‘mock’ brass handles looks ‘real’. If it feels and looks that good the punters are happy to stump up for it, anything to impress the neighbours. They wouldn’t want to be seen sending Grandma on her way in a cheap-looking imitation.

What they they don’t know is that Grandma wouldn’t be the first and only occupant. Once the coffin had gone through the curtains Grandma would be re-housed in a cheap ply crate and despatched to the furnace while the Boss, ever into ‘recycling’, would have the oak masterpiece spirited away back to the showrooms. A quick spray of Febreeze and Bob’s your uncle, no more essence of Grandma!

He’s been making money hand over fist but I haven’t seen much of it. My mortician’s fees are disappearing fast and with no pall-bearer's revenue to top it up times are lean, I can tell you. But he has a top of the range casket sorted out for himself and a burial plot all marked out and paid for when it’s his turn, mind. And a bloody great headstone, too!

Today was the last straw. He walked in and had the brass nerve to say I was going to be laid off. His daughter, Gemma, has been doing a beautician’s course down at the local college and she’s going to take over. So he’ll be charging the punters for the full works, but she’ll only be doing the bits that show - you know, hands and facials.

So, I’m just finishing up here. One last ‘client’ and then I’m off. Of course, it’s a rush job but I’m giving him the works; not every day you lay out your boss. Oh, did you want to see? Come on through to the back room, then – don’t suppose anyone will mind. I’ve managed to hide the evidence. When I say I ‘laid him out’ it took a hefty swipe on the back of the head, I can tell you. Three or four more, before he’d lay down and play dead, as well!

Shame about that fancy coffin but I think he looks OK in this old crate. I can fiddle the paperwork and mark it down as a pauper cremation, no one will know; after all there is a recession on!

What’s that? You saw him blink? Nah, trust me, just the muscles relaxing. Well, once I start pumping the embalming fluid in you’ll never know. It’s not a pretty sight, so perhaps you’d better leave and let me get on with it. OK? Tarrah!

* * * * *

Right, boss, let’s wrap this up shall we? That mortician’s wax has put a real bloom on your complexion - you look almost human. You didn’t realise all the work that went into a good send-off did you? Now, don’t look at me like that – it has to be done. Right, here we go – ready for a dose of formaldehyde?

Sue Harding has been married for 31 years and a mother for 27 of them. A former library assistant now 'retired' to the ranks of 'kept woman' - plotting dastardly deeds during the ironing or weaving stories as she knits; the biggest dilemma is the choice between red wine or real ale. Sue's writing has appeared at Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, Angel Zapata's 5x5 and at her own blog, I Refuse To Go Quietly, where she hosts her Thursday@3 segment.

19 comments:

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Love this... great read and an excellent voice.

Luca Veste said...

Ooo, chilling! Loved this, great storytelling and an unforgettable ending. Well Done!

Ron Scheer said...

Well done. Has the unfortunate ring of utter reality.

hayles77 said...

Fantastic! A very dark mind at work here, with a writing talent which does it justice. :-)

Lily Childs said...

Yum. Don't mess with a mortician - golden rule.

Great piece of flash with a highly satisfying ending. Really enjoyed it Sue.

Alan Griffiths said...

Terrific stuff, Sue. I agree this piece has a great voice running through it. Nicely done.

Thomas Pluck said...

Really captures the rage of being laid off by a scammer, which millions are feeling these days. Well done.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. that's the problem isn't it - we never know what goes on behind that dreaded curtain and cranking wheels ...

Loved the story though - fun?! Cheers Hilary

Sue H said...

Thank you everyone! As Hilary says - once the curtains shut, who knows what actually happens?!
Personally, I've told my kids to go for the cheapest option they can find - and no flowers! (assuming there's much left after the NHS 'recycles' anything that still works! ;-p)

Glen said...

remind me never to give you a job... :-) fine work, I liked how cold and calculated the story was told

Mike Miner said...

I agree with everyone about the voice. Creepy and just right.

Glenn Gray said...

Fun, dark little tale!

Col Bury said...

Is this that same lovely lady I met at Matt's book launch...?
You surprised me with this authentic and 'fun' piece of dark flash. Nicely done, Sue.
Best,
Col

Sue H said...

Yes, Col - 'tis I ;-)

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Sue- Enjoyed this a lot and loved how you invited the reader into the story. Some great details in there, which were very creepy as well, especially this part

"What’s that? You saw him blink? Nah, trust me, just the muscles relaxing. Well, once I start pumping the embalming fluid in you’ll never know."

Paul D. Brazill said...

Nicely nasty!

Yvette said...

Very creepy story, Sue. I'm feeling a bit uneasy. Was that your intent?

Nah.

Ha!

Arlee Bird said...

Maybe not killing the boss, but I've heard about these recycling stories happening in real life so it's not all fiction. And I'm with you on taking the cheapest way out. A burial plot with fancy casket and headstone and an expensive ceremonial send-off seems like such a waste.
Good storytelling.


Lee
Tossing It Out

Rosalind Smith-Nazilli said...

I really loved that...x