In a dank, run-down crematorium on the outskirts of town, a body had been prepared to be set afire, and reduced to nothing more than a pile of bone and ash. A body that would most likely be forgotten as soon as the ashes cooled, and were poured into a nondescript black, plastic box.
Maude Perkins sat behind an old, scratched and cluttered desk, held upright with legs secured with screws and mending plates. The dimly lit reception area consisted of two lone chairs, and a table that looked as though it had been rescued from a dumpster. Thick dust covered the few magazines that dated from the 1960’s, and a faded picture of John F. Kennedy hung on the wall.
Maude’s look was haggard and worn, and she seemed to be indifferent even to her own existence. Or perhaps she had already been deflated by life, and was just waiting for her turn to take her leave.
She had worked at Mosley’s Crematorium for 38 years, and had seen stiff, lifeless bodies arrive, and then go out in, what she sometimes called, “a blaze of glory.”
She had seen unimaginable grief, and she had witnessed unbelievable insouciance from next-of-kin, who had made the journey to claim remains She was certainly seasoned, and was somewhat immune to the idea of death, but was still sometimes shocked at people’s behavior.
When she wasn’t reading a novel picked up at a rummage sale, she spent her days going over bills, checking to see if they had been paid, or were still outstanding. She used to think it ironic that after a good life or a bad life, in the end, everyone danced to the music, and everyone had to “pay to the piper.”
While focusing on a long overdue account, her attention was suddenly redirected to a woman who seemed to have materialized out of thin air.
The woman was there to collect the temporary inhabitant of the chamber, and presented the proper paperwork. Showing no emotion, Maude stood up, and said, “Let me check for you.”
The large, heavy door leading to a back room seemed to moan with agony as if it hadn’t been opened in years. She went in, and pulled the chain to a light bulb suspended from the ceiling as the woman’s eyes followed her.
Peering through what seemed to be a window, Maude returned and said, “I’m sorry, but it will be a few more hours.”
The woman protested rather loudly, saying that she had come a long way, and needed to collect the remains so that she could get back home.”
Maude stood her ground with her own distinct shade of apathy as she removed the glasses which sat low on her nose, held by an ancient chain of fake pearls, having long ago lost their cheap, lustrous covering.
“The body has to cool, you know,” she said to the impatient woman. “I suggest you come back in a few hours.”
With a sigh of disgust, the woman asked, “and how many hours is a few?”
Maude glared at her and said, “most people don’t understand the process. You don’t put someone into a furnace, and expect them to be cool when you take them out. That would be like shoveling the ashes from a fireplace into a trash bag, while the embers are still glowing.”
The woman mumbled obscenities as she walked out the door, but Maude had no sympathy.
Maude was almost catatonic while at work. Her dour demeanor could be the result of having seen death for so long, or it may be the result of not having had anything close to a remarkable, or even a meaningful life. Or it could be that Maude just wasn’t used to dealing with the living.
Old man Mosley was nearing retirement age, and rarely made an appearance at “The Oven,” as it was commonly known. The daily operations fell to Maude, the receptionist/bookkeeper, and George, who irreverently referred to himself as “the cook.”
He would come in and ask, “Who’s on the spit today?”
Although he and Maude had worked together for more than 12 years, they knew nothing about each other. Neither asked, and neither told.
Maude and George had secrets.
To be continued____________