Rest in Pieces
Margie Armstrong was not happy about the prospect of dying. That she was only forty and in sound health bore no weight—one day she would die, and that would be the end of her social life.
“I don’t like this one at all, Harold,” she said to her husband during their weekly tour of local cemeteries. The churchyard was number twenty-three in as many Sundays. “And put that cigar out. I can feel my lungs collapsing.”
Harold obliged without a word. It was his standard self-preservation technique, honed to a sharp edge during fifteen years of marriage.
With no children, Margie had argued, there would be no one to visit her final place of rest other than the ladies in the Somer’s End Bridge Club, the town’s Horticultural Society, and the Association for the Beautification of Fire Department No. 26.
“That’s almost two hundred people,” Harold had told her in one of his more loquacious moments, which almost always coincided with his second mint julep of the afternoon. “They’ll come.”
“It won’t be the same.”
“You’ll be dead, Margie. You won’t know.”
This, of course, was beside the point. Margie knew now, and said as much.
As Harold steered the car home, an idea came to her. “What about ossicles?”
“Yes, Harold. Ossicles. Like the kind they have in churches.”
“You mean ossuary?”
Margie turned to him. “Ossicle, ossuary, what’s the difference?”
“Well,” Harold said, “one is a bone and one is a container you put a bone in.”
“Honestly,” Margie sniffed. “Why does Greek have to be so confusing? No wonder they’re having an economic crisis over there.”
“I think you mean Latin, dear.”
“Shut up, Harold.”
The idea, only five minutes ago a small seed, had begun to germinate.
After supper this evening, Margie left Harold to do the washing up and retreated to her sewing room.
“I’ve got it!” she announced hours later.
“Got what, dear?”
Margie pushed the iPad between Harold and Sixty Minutes. “The perfect way to ensure I won’t be forgotten. Turn off that rubbish and look at this.”
Harold looked. “Lockets?”
“Gold lockets. For the ossicles.” She tapped and dragged and swiped through multiple screens, finally stopping to point a pink-tipped nail. “This one. It’s unique.”
“How unique can it be if you have to buy it in lots of a hundred?”
Margie frowned. “It says ‘unique’ right there in the heading. Can’t you see anything?”
“Okay. Unique gold lockets. Can I go back to my show now?”
Margie clicked the remote’s Off button.
“Margie. Can’t this wait until after?”
“Wait until after?” she eyed the clock, checked her pulse, and put a fingertip up to her jawline, palpating her glands. “What if something happens to me in the next forty-five minutes?”
Sixty Minutes remained off for the duration, and Margie laid her plan on Harold’s lap.
“Now, we’ll order two hundred of these to start,” she said.
“And when I’m dead, you’ll instruct them to—”
“I don’t know. The people who take care of dead bodies. Whatchamacallthem.”
“Does it matter, Harold? Like I was saying, you’ll instruct them to give you one of my bones and you’ll divide it up into two hundred little pieces.”
“Harold, pay attention. This is important. The pieces need to be identical in size and shape. I think small hearts would be fine, how about you?”
“Hearts. Yes, dear. Can you grab me a Molson?”
“Later. So, you’ll be in charge of putting all the little bone hearts into these lockets.”
Harold licked his lips, but said nothing.
“And then you can distribute them.”
“Distribute the lockets?”
“No, Harold, distribute cans of beer. Yes, the lockets.”
Margie raised a finger in triumph. “Now that’s the other part of what I’ve been working on this evening.”
“What is?” Harold needed a beer, but the iPad and paperwork lay on his lap like a leaden weight.
“The list, Harold. The list. I’d like everyone in my bridge club to have one, plus all the ladies in the Horticultural Society, plus the members of the Association for the Beautification of Fire Department No. 26.” She paused to think. “Maybe we should give some to the firemen, too. And make sure Charlotte Merriweather gets a spare. You know how she is about losing things. Are you writing this down?”
“In my head, dear. In my head.”
Margie pressed a pen into Harold’s left hand and he began to write.
“Okay,” he said. “Bridge, flower people, fire dudes.”
“And the spare to Mrs. Merriweather.”
Harold made another note. “What are they supposed to do with the lockets?”
Margie’s eyes widened in something akin to disbelief. “Wear them, of course.”
“You want firemen to wear gold lockets shaped like hearts.”
“For goodness’ sake, Harold. I’ll get you a beer. You seem to think better with a drink in your hand.” She popped the top off the last Molson in the refrigerator and handed it to him. “There.”
Harold drained the bottle. “Firemen. Gold lockets.”
“They aren’t gold lockets, Harold. They’re ossicles.”
“Call them whatever you like. They’ll be little pieces of me and no one will have to bother with those ghastly trips to the cemetery and I won’t be alone. Now, if anything happens overnight, you’ll be sure to put the order in?”
“Nothing’s going to happen overnight,” Harold said. “You’re forty.”
Even so, Harold Armstrong spent his first weeks of widowerhood out in the garage amidst three bone saws of various sizes, a collection of tapered cylinder burrs, his wife’s left femur, and detailed instructions for the garden party he would be hosting next Saturday afternoon. He found it all quite peaceful.
Christina Dalcher writes stories, many of which have beginnings, middles, and ends, although not necessarily in that order. Find her work at (b)OINK, Whiskey Paper, The Molotov Cocktail, and lots of other places. Find Christina at www.christinadalcher.com, @CVDalcher, or hiding in a closet re-reading a tattered copy of The Shining.