This was one of the first things I ever wrote for CHUDStories waaaaaaay back in the day. We had a shared world project going on, centered on the fictional town of Lumiere, and our first round of stories were meant to sketch in the details of the town and its inhabitants in 500 words or less. I chipped in with this story about the town mortician. It was a challenge telling a full story in such a small amount of space, but I think I managed to pull it off.
My name is Alistair Grimnall, and my only friend is death.
Oh, people come to me, some in grief, some in shock, but always from necessity. They hesitate to enter, and can’t wait to leave.
Sometimes I’ll watch people through a barely parted curtain – but it hurts to watch them cross the street to avoid having to walk past the house. Most nights I just sit here with the formaldehyde smell and the coffin catalogs as my only companions.
There are no pictures of you as an old woman. Gray does not touch your hair. Wrinkles do not line your face as they do mine. But I’d take you with both if I could have lived the last thirty years with you by my side.
The knock on my door is a thunderbolt in the quiet. They know I’m closed on Sundays….
I open the front door and stare down at Billy Timmons. Six years old.
I buried his mother last week.
“What can I do for you, young man?” I ask suspiciously. They’ve done this before, cruel jokes, sick pranks.
Billy shifts nervously, then speaks, his eyes never quite looking into mine, like he’s talking to my belt.
“I wanted to thank you for making my mommy look pretty for her trip to Heaven.”
Suddenly there’s a lump I almost can’t swallow. “Why, thank you,” I manage to gasp. “I … didn’t want God to be disappointed.”
And now there’s his awkward silence, thinking what to say next. “Well that’s all, Mister,” he says, and turns, slowly stomping down the front steps.
“Billy,” I say before I even realize why I’m stopping him. He turns and looks up at me, his eyes as wet as mine. “Why is everyone afraid of me?”
He scrunches his face the way only confused little boys can. “Well, my dad says people think you only like other people when they’re dead.”
I can feel Esther staring at me from the pictures….
“But I think you must like people a lot if you help them when they’re saddest. And maybe that makes you sad all the time. And if you weren’t so sad, maybe people wouldn’t be so afraid of you.” His face sinks a little. “I know I don’t like being sad.”
And I wonder why my face hurts until I realize I’m smiling for what seems like the first time since … since Esther.
“Thank you,” I say simply, and his shy grin makes my own even bigger. And he turns and scampers off, his steps never touching the cracks in the sidewalk.
I shut the door and go back to my chair by the window. The sunlight casts a glowing outline around the curtain.
In a rush I stand and tear them open, and there’s sunlight and trees and clouds and sky and … life. My smile’s so big my face could burst.
And somewhere I’m sure Esther is smiling too.