This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 21. I spent an hour on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about something that scares you.”
Image from www.dormanfuneralhome.com/
Like all the other rooms in the funeral home, the director’s office had a neutral, inoffensive floral aroma paired with somber silence. The funeral director also embodied these traits: dark gray suit with a solid dark blue tie and partially shiny dress shoes, short black hair and a clean-shaven face that had a perpetual sad smile plastered on it.
“Okay, Mr. Costa,” Director O’Toole said. “With the casket chosen and the floral arrangements selected and invitations picked out, that about covers most of the major details. The last piece is which hall you’d like to have the service in for Ms. Sanders.” He presented three diagrams, each showing the layout of a different funeral hall; one giant hall that sat over five hundred, a medium-sized hall capable of housing a few hundred, and finally the smallest hall that maxed out at fifty occupants.
“The smallest should do,” I said, though that was still too big.
“About how many people do you suspect will attend? Rough estimate.”
“Probably no more than ten.” In reality, it would probably be closer to seven, three of which would be myself, my wife, and our daughter.
Director O’Toole titled his head and the cordial expression he wore vanished, replaced by parted lips and pinched eyebrows. “So few?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, my throat dry. “Barbara never married or ever had a partner; no kids; her parents passed long ago; no siblings and she was never close with any of her extended family.”
The director nodded along. “And friends?”
I shook my head. “Barbara often made self-deprecating jokes about how she’d always been friendship-poor. She always acknowledged it was due to her own hangups, her own personality flaws, her own failures. The few friends she had that are still alive live too far away and are unwilling or unable to travel for the service.”
“Surely she had friends at the nursing home?”
“No, she didn’t . . . well, other than myself. Only reason for that was because I was the one assigned as her nurse. She kept to herself, reading most of the time, and rarely engaged in social activities or events. She always said she’d never really figured out the whole social aspect of life.”
“I see . . .” He didn’t.
Neither did I, for that matter. Barbara’s reluctance to engage people always confused me. Partially because I’m an outgoing person by nature, but also because she obviously craved companionship, but she never took the initiative to acquire it. Barbara always waited on others to initiate. So few people did so, unfortunately.
An uncomfortable churning settled in my stomach, the type of existential dread you feel when contemplating the scope of the universe or the finality of death. To be so alone throughout life and to have so few to mourn or remember you . . .
Director O’Toole cleared his throat and reacquired his somber smile. “Very well. It will be a small, very intimate ceremony then.”
I signed the paperwork, verified their details of Barbara’s life insurance was correct, thanked the director for his time, and left.
Six days later, the funeral took place. Five people attended.