A Flash Fiction
Luther Bedrose of the M & H Memorial Corporation filed his final email of the day under the ‘Done’ folder of his ‘James’ account only to wish he hadn’t: he didn’t want to go home.
“Happy Birthday, you old lunk. If I die today, I better get the Universal Love model with the light blue and grey drapes. And maybe the gold trim. My insurance will cover it.”
It was his birthday today but his wife, who was nine-months pregnant with their first child, had forgotten, and he didn’t want to go home and try to remind her in various vague ways only to have her realize it and then to deal with her running around trying to do something for him. But he was fifty-five now, he thought, and birthdays were a thing of the past for people his age. Still, his favorite number was fifty-five. He had no idea why. Greg Wilson’s number was fifty-five, though he couldn’t tell you the rest of the Sox team or their numbers. He was sure it was because of some song somewhere in his past as a child or some movie he’d seen in a theater displaying the year. Maybe it was because he had always wanted to be born in fifty-five. The fifties always carried a nostalgia with it as a by-gone place of clean people who went to church, did the right things, and, most importantly, knew the rules of the game of life. Now, the only rules he knew of were ‘file sent emails into the Done folder’ or ‘in order to facilitate the economy of our company, please ensure our valued customers pay for their coffins and headstones with a valid VISA or MASTERCARD.’ He shook his work thoughts away, sighing, and pushed himself back from his computer desk, leaning over and gnawing the tendons of his lower back with his right hand knuckles.
Now the rules of the game, as it were, didn’t exist. That’s what life taught you. But he was more amused by this thought than angry, he’d always been. Like traipsing through the plush emerald lawn with the Private Property sign at your back, Luther never really got bogged down in what he was supposed to do or why or when. Overworrying was never one of his sins, not like his mother and brother. But, every so often, he was reminded that he still carried the trait, as all intelligent people do, like a slick residue of sweat never drying and never wiped away.
And so he deemed himself overworrying for something. But what? He did know that it was not of anything so trivial as he had worried of that day—not funeral home orders, not birthdays or ways to raise a child or lovely wives or lucky numbers. No, what had eventually crept into his consciousness was something that was bound to happen, at his age, at this time, and in his line of work: death. And that black door opened just a little bit wider for Luther today, to help him see past it into oblivion. And maybe he didn’t like it.
That’s when he suddenly felt a light shower of anxiety descend over his mind in little, tear-shaped droplets. His breath grew short, his heart beat harder—thump whump, thump whump—and it was right around this time that he looked up the symptoms for a heart attack on his computer and realized that he was having a panic attack. His vision teetered and shook, his lips grew numb, and his heart raced faster and faster. It felt like he was drunk. In reaction to this, he stood up and sat down about ten times, then got up and paced for about five more, trying to breathe slower. Mother had made panic attacks famous throughout his life, and his brother Bryan had made them necessary, but because he didn’t have access to a blender for a margarita nor a Bible (like his mother and brother employed to cure themselves respectively), he suddenly, without reason, looked up cat videos on YouTube. Soon, the symptoms passed. By then, however, it was well into a half hour past his departure time; he’d be late for dinner.
“If I die today…” After a minute, he got up and sauntered to the elevator. “No, that one with the pretty dark blue silk lining and the silver trim instead. Gold is so gaudy on coffins.”