Family Town, Part 1

Posted on July 29, 2010

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This story was too long for one flash, so it will be posted in two parts. Thanks, Sam. 🙂

* * *

Weston Black stood at the grand front entrance of the Gundy estate, nervous and sweating in the August morning. He held his case of instruments tightly in one hand, and blotted his forehead with the handkerchief he held in the other. He stuffed the handkerchief into his breast pocket and straightened his tie.

It was unusual, irregular, really, for a mortician to be called to prepare the body of the deceased in his home. Mortuary school hadn’t taught him any protocol for such a situation. Yet it was a high honor, especially in the small town of Gundy, Texas, to have achieved the position of Chief Mortician straight after certification. The best job in town, is the Mortician, said his relatives on his father’s side, all of whom had grown up here. You’ll be set for life as long as you keep on the Gundys’ good side. He chalked this visit up to keeping on the Gundys’ good side.

He’d accepted the position and moved from Houston to Gundy the day after he graduated from mortuary school. That was two months ago.

He took a deep breath, trying to focus on the task at hand, trying to avoid thinking about how the Gundys had founded and always owned this town. He lifted the byzantine knocker that hung on the door and let it strike its base twice. The hollow sound reported through the house beyond like gunfire.

He waited forever, and was just about to knock again when he heard someone turning the lock. The door opened, and a gust of blessed cool air rushed past him from the shadows of the house.

A woman in her sixties, wearing a prim black dress that suited her bereavement, glared at him from behind the door. Her shrewd, dark eyes appraised his off-the-rack suit, his battered case, the sweat dripping down the sides of his face. He couldn’t find his voice.

“You the new Mortician?” Her voice was gravel and steel.

“Weston Black, ma’am,” he managed to squeak.

“Julia Gundy. You’re late. Follow me.”

He followed her. The door shut behind him with a bang that made him jump. He smoothed his hair in another attempt to calm himself and hurried to keep up with her.

“I-I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said, remembering his duty. “If you change your mind, I can have the van here in no time. I’d be happy to take your poor son’s remains back to our facilities and prepare him for his funeral there.”

“I’m sure you would.” She didn’t look back at him. She kept walking. “Harvey came into the world on this property and this is where he’s leaving it. He’ll be buried here. Seems a lot of fuss and bother to take him away only to bring him back here. It’ll be more efficient and private this way.”

The house was large, as befitted the wealthiest family in southern rural Texas. Weston glimpsed an office, a library, and two parlors opening off the long middle hall down which Mrs. Gundy led him. The rooms seemed to lean in toward him under the weight of their age.

She led him through the kitchen and out back through a vegetable and herb garden. Beyond was a building the size of a barn. She chose a key from the ring that hung at her waist and unlocked the door. She turned and glowered up at him.

“This is the slaughterhouse. It’s all set up for you to do what needs doing. And the meat locker in there is the best place to keep him fresh.” A little grin crossed her pinched face. He shuddered in spite of the heat.

“Well, go on in, make yourself at home. Don’t be shy,” she said. “You do a clean job for me this time, and I’ll send you all my business in the future. I take care of those who take care of things for me. The ones who are able to earn my trust I hold as family, and family always comes first. You fix up my boy right, now.”

“I take my job very seriously, Ma’am,” he said. “It’s a sacred duty to guide the bereaved through their time of loss, to allow them to say their goodbyes with as much dignity as possible.”

She chuckled, and he felt his teeth go on edge.

“You are new, aren’t you? That’s a nice speech, but I’ve no need for your platitudes. Harvey put himself where he is, and it’s what he deserves. Just make him look… natural. I’ll send Collins later with some lunch and iced tea for you.”

He stepped into the slaughterhouse and turned back to Mrs. Gundy.

“I’ll do my best–”

But she had already closed the door. He heard the key turn in the lock, and then her footsteps clipping away as she went back to the house.

Weston stared at the door, perplexed by Mrs. Gundy’s need to lock it. She does seem to value her privacy, he thought. Still, he wondered what he’d gotten himself into. He turned and took a deep breath, preparing for the duty that lay ahead of him.

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