The old man treks the same route day after day, looking for something that is no longer there. Something that he lost inside of the Funeral Home has gone forever. Hudson was a man of details and a love of his craft that he had wanted to pass on to young apprentices. In the backroom of his business, he trained them with an unorthodox method to learn how to respect the dead. Not everyone got it though.
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The old man heaved himself forward. A crouched-over shuffle, laden with agony from the large wooden box on his shoulder. He physically shook under the weight, a plight made worse by his gaunt frame and the slight incline. He knew his route, the same path trodden for many a day. Everybody who stepped into the road to let him pass by knew him and his route. They knew the daily pilgrimage from his house at the end of the cul-de-sac down to the centre of town to the old building.
I would often tell my friends that it took me a lot of hard work to get through college. That I had spent so many nights powering my way through the graveyard shift, studying. It wasn’t funny, but when you are an undertaker not many people know whether or not to laugh with you. There is always an awkwardness in people’s eyes when I make an off-hand joke about death after telling them what I do for a living.
People don’t want to laugh about death. Maybe it is as simple as that. Or maybe I’m not funny. I always have to tell people that it is not a job to take lightly, that it takes a lot of dedication and that I had to go to Funeral College. I can see why that is a little hard for people to swallow and that is because of perceptions about what’s involved. It’s not just a matter of seating arrangement, flowers and selling a coffin, it’s more than that.
This was an idea from a Reedsy Prompt which suggested a short story about a Funeral College. For a long, long time I have had this character in my head, of an old man who just carries around a coffin with him wherever he goes, and basically lives out of it. I didn’t quite take it all that way, but I used him as an example of someone who has to bear a burden in life, even if it forced upon him.
He is a man who is used to dealing with death, but can’t handle it when he is unable to prevent it. It was an interesting concept that I had. It really is simply all about the burden of guilt and the loss of everything. At the same time I didn’t want to make it too dark of a story, just trying to keep it on an emotional, sensitive, personal level by creating a great man of respect who wants to do the right thing for everyone who comes his way.