Naked Dead Guy-In-A-Box | Funeral | Sales

Naked Dead Guy-In-A-Box by Matt Dyer www.storymatt.

com

Naked Dead Guy-In-A-Box!

Naked Dead Guy-In-A-Box

The knob Jason turned on the hydraulic crane caused Peter Daniels' body to hit the bottom of the cardboard box with a hollow thud. Elmer Morton, the mortician, had just finished saying how he was too old to be lugging around dead people. After Mr. Daniels' body hit the bottom of the box, Elmer looked annoyed, but managed to say, "A little slower next time, please," with quiet politeness. Mr. Daniels, for his part, didn't seem to mind. Today marked Jason's first day in the embalming room of the Morton Family Funeral Home. On the long walk up the stairs to the place "where the magic happens," as the owner, Barry Morton, called it, Jason had imagined the room as being dimly lit by those indestructible, red emergency light bulbs seen on TV in the stairways of big buildings when the power goes off. And foggy, too; he expected fog to roll around in the room like smoke from dry ice. He hadn't thought about the floors at all, but they were the first thing he noticed when he opened the door. They were bright and clean, white industrial tile. Florescent lights lit everything, especially the polished metal tools on the table between the two naked dead people. That the people were dead didn't bother Jason as much as their nakedness. Bodies, pale like fading wax sculptures, laid flat on their backs without modesty. Jason took a step and immediately scrunched his face at the odor of formaldehyde. "Welcome to your new career, Jason," a quiet voice from his right said. "You'll get used to the smell," The voice belonged to Elmer, Barry Morton's father, and Jason was glad to see him. Having Elmer to look at meant he didn't have to look at the naked dead people. Jason had met Elmer a few times before, and never liked shaking his hand. He knew this room was where Elmer worked. Elmer's white doctors' coat hung open in the front and perfectly matched his white hair. As he shuffled toward Jason, he used the polished chrome base of a hydraulic crane to steady himself. New career? Jason wondered. He needed a new career, but after seeing the naked dead people, he wasn't sure this would be it. "So what is it I'm supposed to help you with?" Jason asked. "Well, you're lucky. Barry and I embalmed and aspirated them already." Elmer said before pausing. Jason felt like it was his turn to speak, but had no idea what to say. Perhaps Elmer thought Jason should have been expressing how grateful he was that the dead people were "embalmed and aspirated" before he arrived, but Jason had no idea how embalming worked and didn't even know what aspiration was. He gave a bewildered shrug and said, "Aspirated?" "You stick the end of that thing in their stomach and suck out all the food and stuff they ate before they died." Elmer pointed to a device that looked like a miniature
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Rainbow vacuum cleaner with a clear container so you could see what sort of stuff it sucked up. Jason imagined it sounded like the suction device a dental assistant uses to keep a patient from swallowing his spit while the dentist repairs his tooth; thinking about this sound made him shudder. A thin, yellow rubber hose wrapped around the device, and in spite of the churning in his stomach, Jason couldn't help but remember all the times his mother told him to chew his food properly at the dinner table and how her orders were meant to make this machine's work easier. "We've got to dress the Dealy lady over there, but I really need you to help me get Daniels in his shipping box first," Elmer explained, motioning to a cardboard box. From where he stood, the cardboard box reminded Jason of the boxes he used on his first job, at Quick-Stop Comics, to hold the back issues. Closer inspection revealed the box's extra-thick walls and a piece of particle board in the bottom for added strength. "Don't let me forget to put some plastic down before we get him in there," Elmer said. "We've had a couple of leakers lately, and I don't want to take a chance with this one since he's got to go so far." Jason looked for the first time at the face of the man destined for the box. "Daniels," he said aloud. A bell of recognition had gone off in his head when he first heard Elmer say the name, but this sort of alarm wasn't uncommon in such a small town as Robbersville. This "Daniels" looked paler (and certainly more naked) than the one Jason knew. He looked at the box's shipping label, which listed the destination as "Petaluma, CA," and the contents as "Human Remains of Peter Daniels." A wave of blood rushed into Jason's cheeks making his face feel hot in the otherwise chilly room. This was the same "Peter Daniels" he knew; the one who held the honor of being the last person to whom Jason had ever sold a car. With Jason's recognition of Peter Daniels came the strong urge to leave, just to get out of the room and breathe real air again. Naked dead people were creepy enough when they were just random dead people; now Jason knew one of them, and he wasn't comfortable at all. Elmer looked comfortable here, more comfortable than he looked anywhere around town Jason had ever seen him, like at church or at the local deli. But the room was full of dead people, and Jason knew one of them! He didn't want to be comfortable, and looking at Elmer made him realize that the longer he stayed in the embalming room, the more comfortable he would become in it. Jason rubbed his nose and looked at the shiny, white floor and thought about how he'd ended up here. A little over a month ago, Jason had given Peter Daniels his standard car lot greeting. "Hello, welcome to Happy Motors. My name is Jason, and you are..." It wasn't a question he asked so much as a statement with a blank, and people, he always found, were more than happy to fill in any blank for which they had the correct answer. "Peter. Peter Daniels," Mr. Daniels said, offering his hand. As Jason shook his hand firmly, he got his first good look at Mr. Daniels. He wore a classic businessman's short-sleeved white shirt with a solid red tie. The green logo for Thorton Manufacturing glowed over the right breast-pocket. Thorton produced a soon-to-be wildly popular line
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of fake shrubs and hedges they cleverly called "Fubs and Fedges." Their "Fubs and Fedges" were made with a long-lasting poly fabric and rubber combination that, once planted in the customer's lawn, could be shaped by hand into anything from an elaborate sculpture to perfectly square shrub. Since the "Fubs and Fedges" never grew, they never had to be cut; because of this low-maintenance aspect, they were really starting to catch on with the middle-class homeowner who had neither the time for yard work, nor the extra cash to pay a gardener. With sales and installations on the rise, Thorton had only recently opened a manufacturing plant in Robbersville. Even with the company's short amount of time in town, they already had a reputation for paying their lowly factory workers poor wages while rewarding their management handsomely. It was said the only people who went to work for Thorton were those who thought they had a good chance of clawing their way up the corporate ladder into management. Mr. Daniels, Jason thought, even with his poor fashion combination of short sleeves and a tie, was definitely management, and that meant he had enough money to buy a car. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Daniels," Jason lied. No matter how he felt on the inside, he could always play his part as a car salesman. The sun was oppressive that afternoon, and the black asphalt of the car lot made it feel like a choking 120 degrees instead of 95. The heat was only uncomfortable though, and Jason could stand it. The meeting he had just left was the thing he really had to concentrate to ignore. In his sales meeting, Danny, Jason's boss, had sat behind his oversized desk, Lord of All Automobiles, and told the salesmen they weren't selling enough cars. Danny included all five salesmen in this talk, but Jason knew it wasn't directed at him. He consistently pulled more than his share of the weight in sales, and he did what he could to help the other salesmen achieve their goals too. Only in the interest of preserving the "team" had Danny lumped Jason in with the rest of the guys when issuing his admonishments. Jason sat trying not to look bored as he listened to Danny tell the same parables about the car business he'd heard before as motivational advice. When the meeting finally ended with Danny saying "Now get out there and sell something," Jason kept his seat. "What about that finance job?" Jason asked after the others left. He had applied for an open position in the finance department where, instead of pounding the pavement to make sales in the summer heat, he would sit in an air-conditioned office and take care of the mountains of paperwork that went along with buying a car. It would mean a little less money in the long run, but the pay was consistent instead of commission-based, and Jason had been becoming more interested in how the finance side of the business worked. Danny looked down at his desk, just low enough that Jason could see the bald spot through Danny's comb-over. "You're as qualified as anybody," the sales manager began. "Thanks," Jason said, assuming it was a compliment. "But as a salesman," Danny continued, still looking down, "you're too valuable to the company where you are to be promoted anywhere else."

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"You've got to be kidding me," Jason said, leaning forward aggressively. Danny leaned back in his chair. "I've sold for you for six years, and now you're sitting there telling me that's all I'm ever going to be able to do. I can't move up at all?" "I wouldn't call a job in finance 'moving up'," Danny said. "That's not the point. I love how the car business works, but I'm tired of busting my ass selling." Jason stood and said, "I've got to do something else. If I can't do that here, then I'll find somewhere else I can." "Think about it," Danny said. "I need you in sales. Just think about it before you go." Jason left the office and started to go to lunch. It was as he crossed the lot to get to his car that he saw Mr. Daniels browsing alone, without a salesman to help him. Though Jason had already decided he would quit his job, he could not, as an able-bodied salesman, pass up the opportunity to make a little cash. "I'm taking a trip, and I'm not sure my old car will make it," Mr. Daniels said, wiping his forehead with his tie. "Oh, where are you headed," Jason asked, feigning interest. "California. I retire in a month, so I'm going to take a cross-country road trip to see my daughter and that new grandbaby out there," Mr. Daniels replied. "Well, congratulations, sir," Jason said with all the sincerity he could muster. He looked at Mr. Daniels' left hand and noticed he had no wedding band. This is something Jason would have seen at a distance as he approached if he hadn't had the aftermath of the sales meeting on his mind. Jason always looked for evidence of a "significant other" to prepare a defense against the customer who might use the old "let me go talk to my wife" trick to get away without buying. Mr. Daniels used no such trick, and in spite of all the distractions, Jason convinced him to buy a brand new Chrysler 300. While Mr. Daniels signed the stack of paperwork in the finance department, Jason loaded his personal belongings into a box and announced his resignation to Danny. As Jason drove off the car lot, his mobile phone rang. Barry Morton, owner of the Morton Family Funeral Home, called to say he needed a new black mini-van for hauling dead people and flowers. After Jason told Barry he wasn't selling cars anymore, Barry invited him out to lunch. They met at Duncan Myers' Deli. If Robbersville were a large square, you would have the Garrison-Coulter Funeral Parlor in the in the upper left corner and the Morton Family Funeral Home in the bottom right. Duncan Myers' Deli would be a dot in the exact center, and it marked the furthest point Barry Morton would venture from his office in the middle of the day without a dead person to pick up. Barry bit into his peanut butter and banana sandwich and asked, "Who am I going to buy my cars from now?"
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Barry had a wife and six children. Five of the kids were already drivers and he had bought them all cars from Jason over the years. Barry always tried to get his father to buy something too, but Elmer only drove new Cadillacs, and Jason didn't sell those. "Ah, there are some good guys down there. And you know they'd all be happy to help you," Jason said, then took a bite of his egg-salad sandwich. "I'll bet they would, the vultures!" Barry said. He swallowed. "No offense." "None taken," Jason replied, and he meant it. Jason had grown used to comments like that, not just from Barry, but from most of his old high school friends who still kept in touch. "So what are you going to do now?" Barry asked. Not enough time had elapsed between Jason's quitting and their lunch for him to give much thought about what to do. The car business was the only thing Jason had done since high school. After his graduation, he had taken a summer job as a receptionist at Happy Motors. Before the summer ended, one salesman quit and another retired. Being down two people meant that on a busy Saturday afternoon, there could be more customers than salesmen, so Danny, the sales manager, caught Jason as he was leaving one Friday and asked, "Do you think you could sell cars?" Jason answered, "Why not?" and the next day he was a car salesman. By the end of the summer, he'd found that talking to people came extraordinarily easy to him and he was making enough money that he decided to put off college. And now, six years later, it felt too late for Jason to go back. "I've got a bit saved up, so I don't have to hurry. I'll probably start applying for some finance-type jobs at dealerships in Chattanooga, hold out for one of those or just see what else is out there," Jason said. The two had become friends since Barry had began buying his cars from Jason, but Jason thought this whole conversation felt awkward. Barry had never taken such an interest in his life; their relationship had always been about how Jason could help Barry. "Do you really want to drive for an hour to get to work in the morning?" Barry continued, "Besides, I can help you out. Dad's going to retire from the funeral home soon and I could use someone to help." "With the dead people?" Jason asked. "Only some of it would be with the dead people. Really, you just have to help with the actual funeral service. You wear a suit and open the door for old ladies when they come in, deliver flowers, help bury the casket, stuff like that." None of that sounded like anything Jason longed to do. He knew he could be nice to old people–it had been a major part of his sales job–but being nice to them at a funeral home would be different. Funerals made Jason more uncomfortable than any other situation he could dream up, and he didn't particularly like old people. It was one thing to be nice to them while trying to sell them something, but being pleasant in such an unpleasant place was a lie Jason wasn't sure he could pull off.
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"I don't know, man, I hate funerals." Jason said. "They're not that bad. They can even get to be fun," Barry said, then added quietly: "You can can scout out a hot young widow or daughter who's just inherited some cash." Jason laughed at this, but Barry didn't. Now he was serious. "Look, all my kids are grown up enough to know they don't want to work in the family business," Barry said. "It's put five of them through college and produced two engineers, a teacher, an anesthesiologist, and a librarian, but no mortician." He wiped his mouth with his dark green napkin. "Dad's 85. He's not going to be able to work much longer, and I don't want to work as long as he has. I want you to come see if you like the business. When Dad finally retires, I'll pay you good money until I get ready to retire myself. Then we'll talk about you buying the business if that's what you want." Jason took a big bite of his sandwich so he wouldn't have to say anything. This offer was a lot for him to take in. As he chewed, he imagined himself as the owner of a funeral home, dressed in a black suit with a black tie and gleaming gold cufflinks. He would slick his hair back and stand at the front door on funeral day welcoming in mourners with a somber face, but inwardly, he would be happy someone had died and mentally counting their money. Jason would divide the profit from each burial by the number of tissues he handed out and keep a secret record book labeled "Profit Per Tissue" in his desk drawer. It would be his pride and joy and he would only show it to his closest friends. Jason wasn't sure how comfortable this made him feel. "Just come and try it," Barry said. "Working with the bodies is the hardest part for a new person. Come by later, you can jump right in and help Dad move some people around. He's got to get one of them ready for a service tomorrow. If you don't like it, at least you know, and there'll be no hard feelings." Later that evening, Jason would give the funeral business a try. The handle from the crane hit the shiny white floor with an ear-piercing clank, and Elmer said: "Crank him back up! We forgot to put the damn plastic in." With each pump of its handle, the crane squealed and Mr. Daniels' body lurched upward just a little more. Elmer held the body's head and said, "Here, either hold his head or get the plastic." Jason covered the cardboard box with plastic like he would have covered a bowl of beans with a paper towel before putting it in the microwave, then reached for the knob on the crane. "Slower this time, remember," Elmer said. Jason turned the knob very slowly. As Mr. Daniels' body eased down into the cardboard box, Jason imagined a casket would be slowly lowered into its grave at about the same pace. This thought startled him; he was already thinking in funeral-related ways.
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Elmer slid three of the straps that attached Mr. Daniels to the crane out from under the body, but the fourth strap wouldn't budge. "It's stuck under his shoulders," Elmer said. "Lift him up a bit." Jason hesitated. So far he had managed to keep from touching the dead Mr. Daniels, but it could no longer be avoided. "Get some gloves from over there if it bothers you," Elmer said. It did bother Jason, and he did want gloves. Light-headed from the deceptively cleansing smell formaldehyde, he struggled to get his sweaty hand in the latex surgical gloves. Elmer said, "Come on," finally showing his impatience. Elmer wore no gloves. Jason leaned over the cardboard casket and put his hand on Mr. Daniels' shoulders. The dead man's flesh felt cold against his open palms, like a squishy watermelon that's been kept in the bottom of the refrigerator a little too long. Jason's arms and legs felt weak, but he pulled on the dead man's upper body, trying to lift it just enough for Elmer to slide the strap over the corpse's head. Jason expected to hear some sort of muffled popping, like the sound of cracking knuckles from the dead Mr. Daniels', but the sound never came, and the body never moved. Mr. Daniels' was too heavy. "Try just lifting one side at a time," Elmer suggested, so Jason reached across Mr. Daniels and grabbed him by the upper part of his right arm. Elmer took hold of the strap, ready to pull half of it from beneath the body. "Go," he said, and Jason pulled quickly, almost violently and with all his might. The body rolled toward him ever so slightly and Elmer began pulling on the strap. "I can't get it," Elmer said. A hand grabbed Jason's elbow, startling him. Jason could see both of Elmer's hands were still holding the strap, pulling fiercely. Feeling the hand made Jason let go of Mr. Daniels' shoulder, and as the body made the short fall back into the bottom of its box, Jason was pulled slightly toward it by his elbow. "He's got me!" Jason screamed, slapping frantically at the dead man with his free arm. Elmer watched, looking confused as Jason wrestled with the dead body. As he batted the corpse, Jason imagined Mr. Daniels must have thought he'd been given a bad deal on his new car, and had only just noticed who Jason was when his body tilted toward him. Now, Jason thought, Mr. Daniels sought revenge by pulling Jason with his icy hand into his cardboard coffin to be his companion on the trip to California. "No!' Jason shouted, and landed a freeing blow on the arm that held him. Jason headed for the door, wasting no time getting out of there. "How much are those straps?" He asked Elmer over his shoulder. "I'll pay for it, just ship it with the guy and send me the bill." The next day, Elmer and Barry would try to explain to Jason how they have to massage a body while they're embalming it to get all the blood out. They would say that when the cold embalming fluid moves through a warm body, it causes muscles to contract and stiffen in weird ways. In Mr. Daniels' case, his right arm had been the only thing keeping his left arm from sticking straight up in the air. When Jason had tried to
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lift the body, he had moved Mr. Daniels' right arm enough to let his left arm shoot out as quickly as a thumb does when someone snaps their fingers. That Mr. Daniels had grabbed Jason was only a lucky shot. Elmer and Barry both thought it was all pretty funny. Jason would tell them that the funeral business wasn't for him. Jason's clothes made his car smell like formaldehyde and his elbow throbbed as he drove home. It didn't hurt, it just reminded him that a naked dead person-in-a-box had held on to it. At a traffic light, he unconsciously moved his other hand, and almost started to rub the throbbing elbow, but thought better of it. No sense in spreading the naked dead person germs. As he reached Happy Motors, he put on his turn signal out of habit. Jason felt sad about leaving the place. He looked at the rows of cars and trucks and thought about all the friends he'd made there, both customers and coworkers. He knew that tomorrow morning he would long for the familiarity of the coffee pot in the sales office. His daily routine had always began with a fresh cup poured into his rarely-washed green mug. When he got back to his apartment, Jason started taking off his clothes immediately, even before the front door was fully shut. He put them in a trash bag to throw away or burn and got in the shower. The hot water made his skin glow a painful red, but he didn't mind; the fire seared off the naked dead person germs in a way that a bar of Irish Spring soap never could. After his shower, Jason sat down at his kitchen table and propped his head on his hand. He couldn't hear birds chirping outside, and his ancient refrigerator wasn't rattling like it normally did. The house was quiet and reminded him of the embalming room where the dead Mr. Daniels had just assaulted him, so Jason rattled the newspaper as he opened it. He flipped through the classifieds and began to scan the "Help Wanted" section.

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