“…7, 8, 9, 10”. She wanted to shout “Ready or not hear I come!” but she wasn’t quite ready to announce her presence. Instead, she watched her father from behind the tree, the tree where all games of hide-and-seek started and finished when she was a kid. That was of course when her mother would let her have friends over to the house, which only happened when someone wasn’t being mourned or buried.
Emily found herself counting to ten over and over to help pass the time as she watched her father dig out his own grave. She could see that he was struggling as he stopped every few minutes to catch his breath and wipe his brow.
Emily’s father, BB Jenner, much like her, had grown up around dead people his entire life. He was part of a long line of undertakers and funeral directors dating back to the early days of the 20th century, when his great grandfather, Strom Jenner, had the idea that the only business that could never go out of business was the dying business.
The Jenners were an institution. For the past 103 years they had been responsible for burying most of the population of Palmerston. The family had buried every mayor, every war vet, every victim and every child. The Jenner Funeral Home had survived World Wars, recessions, the do-it-yourself funeral craze, Wal-Mart and even drive-thru funeral parlors. But even the Jenners, with all of their knowledge and experience, could not have predicted the death of the funeral business.
Emily’s mouth was dry from all the counting. She was anxious to get to work. She was relieved when her father had planted the shovel into the ground and left it there like some sort of marker. He walked his way around the pile of loose dirt, but suddenly stopped, looked down at the ground, brought his hand up to his chest and appeared to be saying something. Once he was inside, Emily came out from behind the tree, set down her bags, and grabbed the shovel. There was more work for her to do than she had originally anticipated.
Emily had been inside the house for over an hour before her father made his way downstairs.
“I thought it might be you,” he said as he walked over to the pantry to fix himself a drink.
She was looking at a picture on the wall, and didn’t turn around to greet him.
“God, look at all these faces. Do you have any idea how many of these guys are still alive? There you are Mr. President. of the. National. Funeral. Directors. Association. There’s you, and right next to you is Uncle Riley.”
She cursed the memory of her uncle and suddenly felt like spitting.
“Good ol’ Uncle Riley. I just got back from paying him a visit. Took a while to find out where he was laid out, but I found him. He had himself a nice spot, too.”
Emily turned to face her father and was surprised at just how old he looked.
His face was pockmarked with spots, and he looked as if he was shrinking inside of his robe. His hair was lifeless, and his right hand trembled. Was he scared? Or maybe it was Parkinson’s.
“You know, if mom were still here and saw that dirt you dragged in behind you earlier this evening, she’d bury you herself.”
Claire Jenners was a tough woman. Emily used to joke with her friends that her mother was stiffer than the corpses the family looked after. While her father prepped the bodies for the service, it was her mother that made sure that the proceedings went according to plan. It was said around town that Claire Jenners liked to think that she had more to do with the mood and atmosphere of a service than the corpse lying in an open casket at the front of the room.
“This place looks real different I tell you. I heard things were bad in the funeral business, but I didn’t think this bad.” She walked over to the chair opposite her father and sat in it.
“I remember Mr. Johnston’s service taking place in the main parlor. Do you remember how packed it was? You couldn’t move. I remember you beaming over the fact that 103 cars were going to be a part of the procession. We could have charged admission to that one and made a bloody fortune. Could you imagine suggesting charging admission to a viewing to mom? She would have turned in her…well, let’s just say she would have flipped her lid.”
Emily sat silently for a few seconds, and then continued: “It was the same when Uncle Riley had passed. Good ol’ Uncle Riley. The whole world loved him, didn’t they?”
The old man didn’t answer.
Emily didn’t love Uncle Riley. She may have said it to him a few times, but that was because she wanted him to finish with her quickly as possible, so that she could shower and go outside and play hide and go seek with her friends.
For so many years he had done things to her that she had tried to tell her mother and father about, but they were just too busy taking care of dead strangers to worry about tending to the needs of living family members. When she refused to go to his funeral, Emily’s mother dragged her into the basement and marched her into the room the family had nicknamed “The Icebox”. Once inside, Emily’s mother made her look into the casket of Jeremy Writhers, a classmate of Emily’s that had had been run over by a truck after running out into the street after his soccer ball.
“Now, you look at this boy, and you be thankful for what you have, you hear me? Bad things happen to people, but you are alive. You remember that.”
What hurt Emily the most on the day of her Uncle’s funeral was having to sit through the eulogy, and listen to her father talk about what a great man his brother was. Emily sobbed uncontrollably as her mother consoled her. The people sitting behind them leaned over in their pews and offered her their condolences. “You must have loved your uncle very much.”
Emily rested her elbows on her knees and looked as if she was about to share a secret. “So I’m going to assume that you’ve seen my face all over the news these past few months, maybe heard the reports on the radio. I’m not sure how I blew up to be leader of the whole thing, but it doesn’t matter. That’s the problem with you old folks- you can’t visualize something happening without a leader. That’s why you’re in the position that you’re in, right now.”
“I heard. I just I just want to know…” He paused.
“Know why you and those people out there are doing what you’re doing. It isn’t right.”
Emily rolled her eyes and snickered. Of course he didn’t understand. None of them did. How could they? These people, elders, seniors, baby boomers, whatever you wanted to call them had spent their entire lives looking after themselves that they ended up losing sight of the things that should have mattered the most.
Emily got up from the chair and walked over to the window. “You see, the thing is dad, is that you still think that it’s up to you and your like to determine what’s right and what’s wrong. You just don’t get it. ” She pulled back the curtain and looked outside. “Those days are over for all of you.”
The first big story that something was amiss came out of France in 2008, during one of the hottest summers on record. The media had reported that a large number of seniors had been found dead in their apartments and that the next of kin were not claiming the bodies. The government had covered the cost of the burials and after a few short weeks the incidents were forgotten.
The following year, reports started to emerge about an increase of incidents of elder abuse, as seniors were being attacked, thrown out of their houses, even left to die out in the streets. At first people everywhere were confused. Why were the victims older? Why were bodies no longer being buried? (It was around this time that funeral parlors began to see a decline in business). These were not isolated incidents. It started to emerge that something bigger was at hand. It wasn’t a simple case of a grandmother being abused, or a father left to die.
Protesters, large groups of young people, gathered in major city centers, marching and carrying placards that read: “Rest in Pieces” and “I want what I’m owed.” Questions were being asked, and after a few weeks a narrative began to emerge. It went something like this:
Once upon a time, young people got fed up with old people. Young people were tired of old people and their greed. They grew tired of not being able to find a job, tired of not being able to afford their tuition, and tired of having to work longer and harder to simply scrape by.
After years of marching, fighting and lobbying, the young people had decided that enough was enough. There was one way to get back at those who lived off the fat of the land and left the youth, their kids, with nothing but the bones. If the old folks were going to take all they could from this life, their children would ensure that there would be nothing for them in the next one. Kids simply stopped burying their parents.
Emily walked over to her father. He winced as if expecting to be hit. She leaned in, picked up his empty glass, and walked over to the bar to fix him another drink.
“I remember when you came home that day and told us that your retirement savings had been wiped out and that you could no longer afford to send me to college. You blamed the economy as if the economy itself had made real live choices. What I didn’t know then like I do now, is that the economy is people, and people made those decisions that sent the world economy into decline. Two weeks later you and mom were in Turks and Caicos. It wasn’t me or my friends that made those decisions. It was people like you, dad. You and yours raped the economy, put us out of school and work, and now you’re expecting us to pay for it, to pay for your sins? I’m not Jesus Christ. I just can’t let that happen.”
Her father’s face grew tense. “Do you realize how ridiculous you sound blaming me for the way that you turned out?”
Emily could only shake her head. “This is about making things right. It’s about setting an example for future generations. It’s about accountability. I, we, need you to know that you will never, ever, rest in peace. In pieces maybe, but never in peace. And that includes you and mom.”
The old man’s eyes widened in horror.
“Oh, that’s right. You didn’t think I just came back for you did you? I didn’t know where she was buried until I saw you standing over her grave and speaking to her.”
Emily watched as her father walked over to the window and drew back the curtain. He sighed at the sight of his wife’s broken body laying outside of its grave.
“And here’s Uncle Riley.” Emily emptied the bag onto her father’s desk. Uncle Riley’s skull was in three pieces, and loose pieces of clothing were mixed in amongst the bone fragments and dirt.
Her father’s face whitened.
“I need you to know that you’ll never rest in peace, dad. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way that it has to be.”
Emily dropped the empty bag on the floor. Before leaving the room, she glanced over at her father and smirked. “If you need me, I’ll be out back. I’ll be looking for Aunt Susan.”