by Jim Bates
English breakfast tea
Ron finally lost it when the first shovel full of dirt hit Larry's casket. It suddenly all came crashing down, the bout with cancer, the horrendous radiation treatments, the final agony and pain. Then merciful death. Larry dead and Ron, his long time lover, unable to do anything but stand in the crowd and mourn and try to hold it together. Well, he'd done all right. He was a funeral director after all. He'd arranged everything and things had all gone according to plan. Right up until the end.
As he turned to leave, Amy, Larry's sister hugged him. "Oh, Ron," she said. "I'm so sorry."
Through his tears, Ron suddenly went on high alert. Sorry? She said she was sorry. Sorry about what? She couldn't have known about the two of them, he and her brother, could she? Larry had made it perfectly clear from the onset that their affair was to be kept secret.
"We're Catholic," Larry said early on. "My family is very strict about these things."
Ron would always remember the day he fell in love. He'd not been having a particularly good time of it. Business was slow, which for the general population was good, but for him, not so much so. Plus, he was concerned about his future. He was forty years old. Single. His parents dead there was no one but him to run the third generation funeral home business. He'd never found someone to spend his life with and he was alone. No kids. Nothing. When he couldn't run the business any longer, he'd sell out, maybe do some traveling (although he wasn't really much of a traveler), move on with his life and do...do what?
It was in the midst of these rather morbid thoughts, that he'd glanced outside as a pickup truck pulled up in front of the funeral home. The sign of the side read, "Anderson Landscaping."
A short stocky man with a trimmed beard got out of the truck, walked up the sidewalk and in through the front door. "Hi, "he said, taking off his Minnesota Twins baseball cap and wiping his brow. "Hot out there." The guy appeared to be around forty years old and was dressed in clean jeans and a white tee-shirt.
"Hi," Ron said, standing up to shake hands. "Yeah, it is hot. What can I do for you?"
"I'd like to look at your caskets."
Ah, good. A customer. "Sure. I'll be happy to show you our fine selection of container resting places. I'm Ron Bessemer."
"Larry. Larry Woldsfelt." They shook. "And, by the way, you can cut the crap with the burial container BS. I just want to see what you've got."
Ron felt the red flush of embarrassment rising. "Okay. Sure," he stammered, moving around the desk. "Let me show you our selection of...of caskets." He ushered Larry through a set of doors to the display room. "Anything in particular you're looking for, Mr. Woldsfelt?"
"It's Larry, and no, not really. Just...just something that feels right, I guess." He chuckled and seemed to lighten up somewhat. "Sorry. This is new to me. A weird thing to be shopping for."
Ron's heart went out to the guy. Larry was honest with his emotions, something not many people were. "I'm sure we can find something to suit your needs," he said, and ran his hand lovingly over The Parliament, a mahogany casket with a sand colored velvet interior. "First I'd like to show you..." And he began his spiel.
It soon became apparent Larry was not your typical, run of the mill customer. Specifically, he wanted to try out every casket. Every single one of them. Which took some time, because Ron had twenty-five of them. And, by trying them out, it meant that Larry climbed into each casket, lay down on his back, folded his hands on his chest and stretched out to really get the feel of things. He even closed his eyes. Once or twice Ron thought for sure he might have even dozed off, but no. Larry stayed wide awake and engaged the entire time. It was apparent he was very serious about, as he put it, "Checking these bad boys out."
Finally, after over two hours, Larry took Ron aside and said, "Nice caskets, but do you have anything a little more, shall we say, natural?"
Ron actually laughed. By this time he had gotten to like this serious casket hunter. He was different. No one had ever spent the better part of an afternoon climbing into even one casket, let alone all twenty-five of them.
"Sure," he said. "I think I know what you mean. I've got some natural ones." He stepped through another set of doors and took Larry out to the garage where there were four pine caskets stacked on a pallet. "Here you go. All pine. All natural. All the time," he said, making a little joke.
Larry ran his hand over the smooth grain and grinned. "Perfect."
Ron heaved a sigh of relief. "Good."
"Now, just help me here, will you Ron? Let's set one on the floor so I can get in. I need to check it out." He grinned, making his own joke.
So Ron helped Larry into the casket and the minute their hands touched something happened. An electric current of attraction perhaps? Maybe, but whatever it was, that was the moment Ron and Larry knew they were meant for each other.
Years later, on the day he passed away after his long illness, Ron consoled Larry's sister, "Don't worry, Amy. I'll take care of everything."
And he did. He arranged for the service and the obituary, plus all the other details Larry had specified, from cards, to flowers, to music. Ron had it all covered. It was his job of course, but it was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do in his entire life because for all those years they'd kept their pledge to keep their affair secret; over twenty years. No one knew about them being a couple.
So at the end of the service, when Larry's pine casket had been careful lowered in the ground, and the last words from the priest had been finally spoken, when that first shovelful of soil had hit the casket it was like a knife into Ron's heart. His lover was really and truly dead and gone for good.
Amy took Ron's arm and led him away. Even though he still had many tasks to take care of it felt conforting to be with her. The three of them had gotten along well.
"Why couldn't you at least tell your sister?" Ron had asked not only in the beginning of their relationship but throughout their long love affair. "She's a good person. She'd understand."
Larry always grimaced, "I just don't want to put her though keeping a secret from the rest of my family. I don't think it would be fair."
Ron had to accept that his lover's mind was made up and as the years went by he asked less and less, until finally he gave up altogether.
Now this. Now the funeral, and Larry's coffin being buried forever. The end.
Amy squeezed Ron's arm and asked, "Ron, I know that you and Larry were friends."
He glanced over and she made eye contact and smiled, "I really appreciate how much you both meant to each other."
"He was a wonderful man, Amy. I cared about him a lot," was all he could think to say, wondering where was this heading.
"I was wondering," Amy continued, "Would you like to help us maintain his final resting place, the gravesite? We were thinking of planting flowers."
Ron felt a surge of emotion and quickly interjected, "Larry would like that. He loved flowers, especially dahlias. Yes, that would be great." He smiled a genuine smile for the first time in what seemed like days. "I could help you."
Amy squeezed his arm and made him stop and look at her. "Larry never had a better friend than you, you know. Your friendship meant the world to him. And it did to me, too. I want you to consider yourself part of our family now. At least me and my husband and children. Would you like that?"
Ron couldn't find the words to tell her how he felt. A real family. A family he thought he'd never have. He belonged. The decision was easy. "Yes, Amy, I'd be privileged. Thank you."
Then they embraced, holding each other tightly until long after the grave had been covered and the workmen had left, leaving only Amy and Ron, two people who each in their own ways loved Larry and would carry that love forward as long as they lived.
They both thought it would have made him very happy.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared online in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords and The Drabble, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal and Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.