They Have All the Gravediggers They Need ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Somebody was knocking at the door. Who could it be? He was inclined to ignore it, but the knocking continued for longer than it should, so he felt compelled to answer it. It might be something important, but probably wasn’t.
When he opened the door, he saw a man he had never seen before smiling at him. The man was not young, not old; not fat, not thin; not handsome, not ugly; not anything.
“Mr. Arbuckle?” the man asked.
“Mr. Gerhardt Arbuckle?”
“That’s me. How can I help you?”
“My name is Dexter Peebles. I’m from Sacred Heart Memorial Gardens.”
“I understand both your parents are interred at Sacred Heart Memorial Gardens in our aboveground mausoleums?”
“And your mother just passed over recently?”
“Allow me to express my deepest condolences.”
“If there’s anything that we of Sacred Heart Memorial Gardens can do to help you in your hour of grief, we are always at your disposal.”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks for stopping by.”
“I wonder if I might have a few moments of your time?”
“I wish to discuss with you some of the services we’re offering at Sacred Heart Memorial Gardens at this time.”
“My parents are already taken care of. There isn’t anything else to be done for them.”
“Yes, I know that. It’s not for them. It’s for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Might I come in for a few minutes?”
“I’m busy right now. I was just about to wash my clothes.”
“I promise it won’t take more than a few minutes.”
“Well, all right. But let’s make it quick.”
Gerhardt Arbuckle stepped aside and let Dexter Peebles enter. As soon as he was over the threshold, he removed his hat.
“Might we sit down?” Dexter asked.
Gerhardt led the way into the living room and they both sat down.
“Now, what is this about?” Gerhardt asked with a hint of impatience.
Dexter opened the small briefcase he was carrying and took out a sheaf of shiny brochures. He held them hesitantly in his hand and cleared his throat.
“Might I inquire if you have made the final arrangements for yourself and other members of your family?”
“Have I done what?” Gerhardt asked.
“Have you secured your final resting place?”
“Do you mean when I die?”
“Why, no, I haven’t.”
“Excellent! That’s what I want to discuss with you today.”
“You’re going to try to sell me a cemetery plot, aren’t you?”
“No matter what time of life you are in, it’s such a comfort…”
“I think I can save you a lot of hot air by telling you right off the bat that I’m not interested,” Gerhardt said.
“I said I’m not interested.”
“May I ask why?”
“I don’t have to tell you why. Just take my word for it.”
“We are currently offered discounted prices.”
“I don’t care.”
“The type of aboveground mausoleum your mother and father lie in normally sell for thirteen thousand dollars apiece. For a limited time, the vaults are being discounted at twelve thousand each. That’s a savings of a thousand dollars per vault.”
“I’m still not interested.”
“Now, I must tell you, the two vaults immediately adjacent to your mother’s vault are available. These two vaults would be ideal for you and your dear wife.”
“My dear wife took off three years ago and I don’t know where she is. She might be dead and I hope she is.”
“So you have no use for two vaults.”
“I have no use for one vault.”
“Well, as you might expect, the vaults are kind of expensive for certain families. The cemetery plots sell for only a thousand apiece. For a limited time only, I can offer you four adjacent plots at the discounted price of thirty-five hundred dollars.”
“I don’t want those either.”
“May I ask why not?”
“I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
“Do you have children?”
“So you would have no use for four cemetery plots?”
“I would have no use for one cemetery plot.”
“Well, uh, you’re getting along in years, as we all are. You must have given some thought to your final resting place.”
“None at all.”
“Most children want to be interred with or beside their parents.”
“If I may ask, if you die tomorrow, where will your mortal remains repose?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care.”
“You don’t care.”
“That’s right. The city dump will suit me fine.”
“You want your body deposited at the city dump?”
“If I’m dead, I won’t know where I am, will I? The birds can peck at my eyes and the rats eat my flesh and I won’t even know it.”
“I told you right at the first I wasn’t interested in hearing your sales pitch. You didn’t believe me, did you?”
“We’re taught in salesman’s training that any sales resistance, no matter how strenuous, can be overcome.”
“You’re finding out that’s not true, aren’t you?”
“I must say your sales resistance is very high.”
“Higher than most?”
“Yes, I think I would say it’s higher than most.”
“You’re not a very effective salesman, then, are you?”
“No, I suppose I’m not.”
“How long have you been selling cemetery plots?”
“Have you sold any?”
“I’ve sold a few.”
“Two in six months?”
“Some people are not cut out to be salesmen.”
“Truer words were never spoken.”
“Do you like selling cemetery plots?”
“I hate it. I’d rather dig graves.”
“Then why don’t you apply for a gravedigger’s job?”
“I’ve inquired about it. They have all the gravediggers they need right now.”
“Try something else altogether. A job that doesn’t have to do with death.”
“Well, the truth is, I don’t have much time to look for a job because I’m out selling cemetery plots all day long.”
“When you get back to Sacred Heart Memorial Gardens, tell them selling cemetery plots is not the right kind of job for you and you’re quitting.”
“They’re going to fire me anyway by the end of the month if I don’t meet my quota and there’s no way that’s going to be possible. I won’t have to quit.”
“Quit before they fire you! Tell them to take their shitty job and stuff it sideways!”
“If only I could!”
“You can! Stand up for yourself! Nobody else will!”
“I’ve thought about killing myself.”
“Don’t do that!”
“I don’t want to kill myself, but it might be my only option.”
“It’s not! It’s not your only option! That’s the wrong way to think!”
Dexter Peebles looked at his watched and slapped both hands on his knees.
“Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time already,” he said. “I should be going and let you get back to whatever it was you were doing. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. Most people just slam the door in my face as if I was a piece of filth that had blown up on their doorstep.”
“Wait a minute!” Gerhardt said. “You said you want a different job but you don’t have time to look for one?”
“Well, hold on! I have a cousin who owns a package liquor store downtown. He’s looking for somebody to train as a manager. Do you know anything about liquor?”
“No, but I could learn.”
“Do you have anything against liquor? Like religious scruples?”
“Not a thing! Both my parents were alcoholics. Also my brother.”
“Well, all right, then! You have alcohol in your family!”
He wrote the cousin’s name and also the address of the package liquor store on a little slip of paper and gave it to Dexter Peebles.
“Tell him Gerhardt sent you.”
“I certainly will!”
“If I were you, I would go down instead of calling. The last I heard, there’s plenty of competition for a manager’s job in a package liquor store.”
“You bet I will, and I certainly do thank you! I just can’t think you enough!”
“I hope you land the job. You need to stop selling cemetery plots before it kills you.”
“Say a little prayer for me!”
Before Dexter Peebles left, he gave Gerhardt a life-affirming hug. Gerhardt hated to be hugged but he tried to hide his distaste. It was a hug that seemed altogether necessary and appropriate.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp