|The Warmth of Autmn (standard:horror, 1616 words)|
|Author: Tom Soukup||Added: Jan 06 2002||Views/Reads: 2397/1501||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|A tough economy can drive one to drastic measures but the paybacks can be disastrous. (Please view my older stories. Comments are greatly appreciated.)|
THE WARMTH OF AUTUMN By Tom Soukup A single maple leaf fluttered downward and bounced against the bedroom window before it settled into the courtyard below, its crimson color in startling contrast to the deeper green of the lawn. The wind blew lightly and the other leaves watched solemnly from their tentative hold on the autumn branches high above. "It just isn't right." Mrs. Binghamton, the undertaker's wife of thirty-two years stood by the window and glared at her husband knowingly through her tiny wire-framed glasses. "It's ... it's macabre." "You just try to make a living these days," he replied sharply, snapping his eyes upward from the piles of ledger books spread across the desk, "what with inflation going right through the roof." His voice rose as he spoke. "Are you ready to give up everything we've worked for all these long years?" He waved his hand around the neatly furnished room then struck a match and held it to the bowl of his pipe, drawing deeply. He lowered his weary eyes away from her and snickered silently. "I think not." "But how can you continue to do it?" she asked coldly. She turned her back to him. It had become harder and harder by the day to look into his eyes. "How can you defile the dead like that? I don't even know you anymore, Arthur Binghamton." A tear rolled along the deep wrinkles in her cheek and she was glad that he couldn't see her face. Binghamton Funeral Parlor had been established thirty-one years ago, and occupied the same location on the corner of High Street and Pinecrest for all that time. The place had been fashioned from an old farmhouse that dated back to the more humble beginnings of Pine Rock, Maine sometime in the late eighteenth century. It was a large building with neatly whitewashed clapboards and shuttered windows. The place was perfect for the young business. There was a large parlor well situated for use as a chapel, a spacious dining room and two large bedrooms on the first floor that served well for viewing suites, and a cellar that offered the privacy and roominess required for the needed preparations of the departed. The young Binghamtons lived necessarily in the rooms of the second floor, far enough away from the unpleasant necessities of the business for Arthur's bride to become accustomed to her husband's chosen occupation. As the town grew, so did the business. Arthur soon had the means to build a modest colonial style house behind the old place. A small, sun-filled courtyard separated the two structures and Sara enjoyed those early days of making it a home. And the extra room made available to the old Parlor itself afforded him the space to add a new dimension to his business. Binghamton Funeral Parlor now became Binghamton Funeral Parlor ... and Crematorium. "I'll be no further part to it," Sara said at last, mustering the strength for the words. The tears dried on the stone of her expression. She turned to him now, the sadness gone from her eyes. "Then that's the way it's to be, I guess," Arthur snorted. They stood there looking at each other silently for a long time. And then Arthur turned and left the room without another word. Sara fell to tears once more as the door clicked shut behind him. * * * Six months ago, as the New England economy fell to its lowest point, Arthur Binghamton watched his thriving and profitable business fall to ruin. His customers no longer chose to honor their loved ones with the mahogany and brass "Peaceful Rest" casket ($3785), the soft tones of Grace Bernard's organ music ($37.50 per hour ... Arthur paid Grace only $10.00), or the life-like makeup that always inspired the bereaved to mumble "Doesn't he/she look so good" as they paraded solemnly past at the wake ($365 and up). He cut corners in every way, all of it making improvements but none really turning the hand of economic fate. And as if all that wasn't quite enough, fuel costs continued to skyrocket, Click here to read the rest of this story (113 more lines)
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