I come from a well-established line of undertakers and, as the legend goes, one of my ancestors was preparing a not-quite-dead peasant when an apparition of the Grim Reaper appeared. Supposedly they struck up a conversation and a tradition continues.
A little while ago my father and I were cutting up some poor slob on the slab who had fallen off a ladder. Dad looked up and said, “Son, it’s time for you, as the eldest one has for generations, to spend a day with Bob.” Which is what we called the Grim Reaper.
So, come morning off I went to meet Bob near the scene of a horrific traffic accident. The intersection was littered with mangled steel and body parts. Far off sirens wailed en route but for now, it was just me and Bob.
Bob, as the song goes, was ‘a little too tall and could have used a few pounds’, not to mention a discernible face and hands. The clothes dangled like a dark wet drape on a wire hanger, but he had a glide in his stride and a kick in his step.
I followed him past one of the accident victims struggling for breath. Bob tilted his head over and they struggled no more.
‘Too bad you didn’t get here earlier,” whispered a voice in my head I took to be Bob’s. “You could have seen the work I put into this.”
Then the specter’s cape wrapped around me and next I found myself inside a worn torn house.
In the den, an overweight and under-dressed geezer was sprawled out on an easy chair having a hard day. He was furiously punching a remote control at a television set that stared back blankly.
Bob whispers to me, “I usually don’t do pets, that’s for new hires, but I put this one together for you.”
Bob gestured over to the kitchen in the rear. A small Yorkshire poodle was going through a series of convulsions and spasms, peeing and crapping as the guy snapped the remote in the other room.
“Now tell me, what do you see here?”
“Well,” I said, “it looks like that guy mistook the bark collar remote for the TV’s. And every time he pushes anything the dog gets zapped.”
“Yes, very good.”
Meanwhile, the sad sack in the den is wildly cursing as his fingers attack every key. He just kept on going like a man possessed which, thanks to Bob, he was.
Finally, with a plaintive wail, the dog keeled over.
The old guy finishes off his beer and stumbles into the kitchen. As he bends to grab another one from the fridge he sees the dead dog sprawled on the floor. Her limbs pointed every which way while tiny wisps of smoke carried the smell of smoldering fur in the air.
With painful realization, the guy holds up the remote in his hand. It reads ‘STFU Canine Remote Shock Collar’.
“Oh, oh no.” he pleaded, “Oh, God please help me.”
“Never does,” Bob says out loud.
“What?” the old guy says with his last dying breath, grabs his chest and drops dead next to the dog.
“Hold your applause,” Bob whispers just as the back door swings open.
And that’s when the guy’s wife comes in loaded with groceries. She puts them on the counter while hollering over her back.
“Poopsies, I got you some of your favorite food and some goody, goody-goodies. You’re going to be so very, very happy. I love you.
“And Frank, I got you more beer.”
Then she turns from the counter and eyes Poopsie and Frank on the floor and drops dead on top of them.
“I gotta tell you,” Bob says to me, “ I was thinking about this one for a while, I mean when it comes to husband and wife kickin’ it together, well its’ all been done. House fire, home invasion, murder-suicide. Sometimes, though, you find the inspiration. Sometimes it’s more art than science.”
“Question?” I asked.
“Go for Bob.”
“Am I getting paid for this?”
“Whatever cash you find around you can keep. Just leave a little for the cops,” Bob said as he double-tapped the trio.
Next, we were sitting on a park bench while Bob scrolled his tablet. Without looking up Bob says, “You know what I like?”
“Well, yeah. But irony, I like irony. A lot.”
Just then a slim runner with a ‘Triathlon Winner’ stitched on his shirt stumbles past us and drops like a rock on the path.
Then we were off to a TikTok challenge gone wrong involving a rabid pit bull, a stick and a can of Axe deodorant spray. That was followed by, among others, a woman who drove into a cement truck while texting; some guy who jumped into a rip tide to retrieve a beach ball and an Instagram model who fell off a cliff taking a selfie.
At the end of the day’s catch Bob dropped me off at work. We watched as my father dug into some old lady who’d bounced her head off a curb.
“So, little one,” Bob said, “today you saw how the sausage is made before it gets to your table.”
“Sure did,” I said. ”And I guess you get this all the time but is there some advice you can give me about keeping alive?”
“Always look both ways before you cross.”
“Maybe something else? Something a little more personal,” I inquired.
“Well,” the Grim Reaper whispered, “if I were you, I wouldn’t waste my money on a long term life policy.”
And then Bob faded back into the nether regions.