Burned or buried?
That’s what they ask you when you fill out a cheap form will. Like there’s only two options, A or B. Burned or buried?
Well, Sarah, I’m not religious, as you know. I don’t think my skeleton (what’s left of it) is going to rise up out of the ground and make its way to Ground Zero for the rapture. And, you know, worms. Shakespeare, now, he LOVED the idea of worms. Food for worms. How now, poor Yorick. Where once her fabled beauty did sit, worms now feast. Blah blah. I, personally, have nothing against worms but they can find their own damn food.
So that leaves the other thing. Reducing oneself to a manageable size (if only you could’ve done that while I was alive) so that one can be flung out to sea, sprinkled on a rose bush, kept in a jar on a mantelpiece. It’s a nice idea…but not for me.
So here’s what I want, Sarah. I want to be STUFFED. I want you to employ a good taxidermist (not a cheap one, mind, one with references and credentials) and after they’ve done their magic, I want you to put me in a corner of the living room. Dressed in my favourite shirt (the white grandad number), a nice jacket, and ironed trousers, and sitting in a rocking chair. And if you move house, I’m coming too, Sarah. I want to be everywhere you are. I want to keep my eye on you.
“That’s so typical,” she said. “He wants to keep his eye on me. Like he’ll be able to see through it, when he’s fucking dead.” Like he’d been able to see through it when he was alive, for that matter. Too busy watching his nest-egg to notice she was building her own nest with the guy who managed his trust fund.
“Just get him cremated,” said Wayne, pushing away the scrappy bit of paper. What, the guy was so stingy he couldn’t fork out for a fucking solicitor? “He won’t know.”
“I can’t. If I don’t…STUFF him….we’ll get nothing. It says so right here.” She pulled the paper back again. “And there’s so much of it…money I mean. You wouldn’t believe what he managed to put away. While I wasn’t even allowed to get a guy in to fix the dishwasher!”
“He was insane. You can’t make a will if you’re bonkers. Any court’ll throw it out.”
“Oh no. He wasn’t insane. Or, at least, he was, but no more insane than he’s been his entire fucking life.” She looked down at the single, hand-written page. Arsehole!
“They can’t make you put your hubbie’s corpse in the lounge room, that’s just gross. Have him stuffed and then put him in the shed. Couple of years the rats will’ve sorted it, no worries. Look, love,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulders, “what do you think they’re going to do, inspect?”
So they had him stuffed – the desiccated old bastard – and dressed up nice, and then they wheeled him into the shed, like Wayne said, and shut the door on him. Two years went by. Occasionally Sarah thought of him, sitting there in his rocker, while the damp worked its way up from the slab and the slaters crept in his (ironed) trouser legs and the…ugggh. She hoped Wayne was right. Five years went by. She and Wayne were very happy. They say money doesn’t buy happiness but spending Stuffed Siegfried’s hard-scrimped money was a special thrill she thought she’d never quite get over.
They never opened the shed. Suck on that, Siegfried. All he could keep his (glass) eyes on was the dark corrugated iron walls, all he would hear (supposing he could hear, and she bloody well hoped he could) was the sound of life going on without him.
Seven years passed and at last they decided to move. The new place was an apartment, with a pool, and no shed.
“What shall we do about Stuffed Siegfried? We can’t leave him there,” said Wayne, jerking his head towards the back yard.
“He might have, um, disintegrated,” she said hopefully. “Or got eaten by rats. Like you said.” What a nasty little man Siegfried had been, in life. With his pince-nez, that he thought made him look so intellectual, and his insane miserliness, and that way he had of looking at her, like she was planning to cheat him of something.
“Don’t count on it.”
“I’m not taking him. Whatever the will says.”
“Agreed. How about we stuff Stuffed Siegfried in a black bag and take him to the tip. What’s left of him.”
With that sorted, they went hand in hand to the shed, and turned the key in the rusted padlock, and pushed against the door that hadn’t been opened for seven long years.
And there was Stuffed Siegfried, in his rocker, looking right back at them.
Kind of. His (left) glass eye was now missing, and the right hung (almost decoratively) halfway down his cheek. His head had shrunk to the size of a tennis ball, eerily suspended by spiderwebs in more or less the position it had formerly occupied. It was just as well he’d been sat in the rocker, because otherwise it was obvious that by now most of him would be a stain on the floor. As it was, bits of him hung in tatters and odd furry tangles over what had been his favourite chair (picked up for $3.99 in a bargain basement sale).
As they assessed the situation (he’d definitely fit into a black bag, now, but Sarah wasn’t volunteering for the job, thank you very much), a voice emerged from the suspended head. It was chill, and also peevish. Stuffed Siegfried said,
“I told you to get a GOOD taxidermist. One with credentials. And references.”
Sarah and Wayne looked at one another. “His rates were very reasonable,” said Sarah.
“You broke the terms of my will…” said the head, its one glass eye bouncing from side to side, feverishly attempting to swivel towards them. “You have stolen my dignity, and in revenge my eye shall follow you everywhere…”
Sarah whispered something in Wayne’s ear. He nodded. “Look, Siegfried, fair enough. That would be really creepy – but not as creepy as you sitting in my living room like some kind of game trophy. So here’s the deal. How about I put your eye in a jar, and you can come with us like that. We’ll sit you on a nice windowsill, with a view. Or beside the TV. And, well, maybe when we’re making investment decisions, buying whitegoods, stuff like that, we’ll take you along and you can advise us. You’d like that, wouldn’t you – it’d be right up your alley.”
“Yesss…” said the head, creepily. “I might enjoy that.”
So Wayne (drawing the short straw, as he always did) cleaned up the mess that used to be Stuffed Siegfried, and carefully put his remaining eye in a vegemite jar, which they took with them to the new apartment. For a while things went very well – Siegfried hadn’t amassed such a huge fortune by being a thickie (or by being nice). Until one evening, when Wayne and Sarah were relaxing by their infinity pool, looking out over the harbour, and Sarah said,
“Fetch me another martini, will you darling?”
And as she drained the glass, something smooth and cold and slightly slimy went down her throat and made itself at home in her toned, tanned body. Later, in their (four poster, antique French) bed, something that was not Sarah looked out through her left eye and considered the situation. Wayne, for example, reclining there in his black silk pyjamas. His gym membership alone was the price of a small suburban bungalow.
Time for a little cost cutting.