Be Careful What You Wish For

Jul 06, 2021 by Teresa Michael, in Short Fiction

Be Careful What You Wish For

            by Teresa Michael

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Doug Dennis was desperate. Founded by his great grandfather, the Dennis Funeral Home was once the only funeral home in their small Midwestern town. Doug remembered his grandfather telling stories about going out in the dead of winter in his grandfather’s horse-drawn hearse to pick up a dearly departed friend or neighbor. But now, every time Doug looked at the sign bearing the image of his great grandfather and his horse and wagon, he felt like he was letting his family down. The portraits of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather peered at him from the lobby wall, judging him and every decision he’d ever made since he took over the business after his father passed. The population of their small town had decreased, and the town had gone on a health kick. With better living, people just weren’t dying like they used to.

          Is a three-car pile-up on the interstate too much to ask for—no one they know, of course? Strangers. Strangers who need funeral services.

          He wondered how many residents at the old folk’s home had one foot on the banana peel. Chiding himself for wishing ill will on anyone, he wandered into the kitchen. If he didn’t drum up some business soon, he wouldn’t make payroll this week, not as if there were many of them left to pay.

          Doug stood at the window sipping his third cup of coffee when he noticed his younger brother Denny pushing a sign into the front yard.

          “What in the hell is he doing now?”

          Brother Denny had made some questionable choices in his life. Like the time he got involved in what he thought was a new restaurant venture, but it turned out to be a strip club with pole dancers. What was he thinking? They lived in a religious, two-lane road hick town. It almost gave their poor mother a heart attack.

          Doug set his mug in the sink and ran outside, where his brother was positioning the rolling sign right in the middle of the front lawn.        

          “Denny, what’s with the sign? Young at Heart Senior Club,” Doug asked. “What is that?”

          Denny crossed his arms and leaned against the sign. “Yesterday, in what’s left of our weekly staff meeting, you said we needed to bring in more money.”

          “We do, but…?”

          “Don’t you see it?” Denny asked.

          “See what?”

          “We can rent out the large room for senior citizen's meetings. Those old people gossip about everybody. We can get an idea of who’s getting ready to meet their maker. That’s called revenue projection. Brilliant, huh?” Denny had a big smile on his face like he’d just invented penicillin or space travel.

          “Rupert Dennis, that’s the stupidest idea I ever heard.”

          Denny scowled. “Don’t call me that, Dougie. I hate that name. I hate this place. I’m only doing this to help you out.”

          “Because I bailed you out of that strip club fiasco.”

          “It could have made a lot of money.”

          “Not in this town.” Doug shook his head. “Change your clothes. We have the Leland showing this afternoon.”

           Doug stomped into his office. As if the funeral home, his elderly mother, and his teenagers who hated being the mortician’s kid, were not enough, he had to deal with his lame-brained brother.

          “What did I do to deserve this?”

 

***

         

          Later that afternoon, Doug’s wife Susan, the administrative assistant, bookkeeper, and all-around go-getter, popped her head into his office. “I’ve been getting calls this afternoon about the Young at Heart Senior Citizen’s Club. I don’t know what that is?”

          Doug dropped his head into his hands, ran his fingers through what was left of his hair, and then looked up at his wife. “That would be the sign Denny put out front this morning. His idea to drum up some business. I’ll remind him to take it down.”

          “People want to know when the meeting is. They’re also asking to hold bingo here since the last tornado blew the roof off the church fellowship hall.” She shrugged. “Maybe it’s not such a hair-brained idea after all.”

          Doug shook his head in disbelief. “Don’t tell me you’re taking Denny’s side.”

          “As long as it involves nothing illegal, I’m on the side of saving our livelihood. How much do you want to charge to rent out the room?” She tossed the messages on his desk. “The payment on the new limo is due next week.”

          “I guess I should have tried to repair old Bessie one more time.”

          “You did the right thing buying a new one, but the back seat bar maybe was a little over the top.”

          “I got a good deal on it used. One of those CEOs whose start-up went belly up had it. Even with the paint job to cover that horrible pastel blue with a nice conservative black, it was less than a stripped-down new model.”

          She came around the desk and kissed his cheek. “What do you want to do about the Young at Heart Club?”

          Her shoulder-length brown hair brushed against his cheek and he couldn’t help but smile.

          How did I get so lucky? She’s smart and pretty, too. A match made in funeral home heaven, as far as he was concerned. They’d made an agreement when Doug went to mortuary school and decided to take over the family business. Susan was happy to do all the administrative work, as long as she never had to set foot in the embalming room.

          “You and Denny work it out,” he said. “Charge whatever you want. You know those old people, they’ll want refreshments, too.”

         

***

           

          Within two months, the Dennis Funeral Home finances were looking up. The Young at Heart Senior Citizens Club was a big hit. Their mother was happy she saw her friends for club meetings and bingo. Denny had taken over as bingo caller and had negotiated a percentage of the take. The teenagers were still surly, but you can’t have everything. Doug was happy to report at their December 2019 Christmas party they squeaked by in the black thanks to Denny’s idea.

          Doug projected the first quarter of 2020 would be one of the funeral home’s best until the compressor on the cooler decompressed and had to be replaced. Susan popped her head into the office one morning in March.

          “It’s a good thing we replaced the cooler when we did, we may need all the capacity we have.”

          Doug harrumphed and complained about the cost.

          Susan persisted. “Have you been paying any attention to the news?”     

          “About what?”

          “What’s going on in New York, Italy, and China. That virus.”

          He waved his hand, dismissing the thought. “That’s a big city thing. It’ll peter out before it gets here.”

          Susan crossed her arms and leaned against the doorjamb. “I don’t know about that. You gotta be careful what you wish for.”

 


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