"Bullshit," snapped Billie Massey, giving her friend Geraldine a prod with her elbow. "She most certainly does not look nearly as lovely as she did when she was alive. She looks like hell and you know it."
"Watch your mouth, Billie, someone might hear you." Geraldine cringed and glanced nervously around. She spoke with the soft southern accent of someone who'd been raised in Georgia, but hadn't gone back since the day she left home. "It wouldn't be seemly to be caught speaking ill of the dead."
"I'm not speaking ill of the dead. I'm speaking ill of the cretins that dare to call themselves funeral directors." She tapped a finger on the closed half of the casket. "She looks like she's been stuffed with straw, and I don't think she even has a skirt on!"
As they spoke, the third member of their party, Ruby Sinclair, joined them. She looked distinctly disgruntled. "There isn't any toilet paper left in the bathroom. I had to use the tube."
Billie scoffed. "They ran out after they stuffed it all in Audrey's bra."
"You use the tube?" Geraldine made a face, then turned to Billie and said, "I'm sure she has all her clothes on. You're just upset, honey, that's natural."
Billie tapped her finger on the lower half of the casket again and then whipped around, slid all ten fingers under the lid and lifted it just a fraction.
Geraldine's hands flew to her mouth in horror. "Honey, don't--"
Billie let the lid fall with a snap. "No skirt."
"But why would they . . . ?" Geraldine swallowed hard.
As she spoke, the funeral director appeared behind them, smiling brightly and holding up a roll of colored fabric. "I hear the toilet paper in Ladies is running short again. Make do and mend in an emergency I always say. Ah, look at your friend, isn't she a vision? You can hardly tell I had to use red magic marker instead of lipstick. And her false eyelashes turned out fine. You don't want to know where I got the extra hair. And guess what I stuffed her . . . "'
Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: McKoala
Ruby rolled her eyes.
"Well I'm sorry to offend your sense of decorum, Billie," she drawled, imitating Billie's accent. "But the only other thing to use was the straw they used to stuff inside your friend here, and that was all over the floor."
"Unlike what they've done to poor Audrey," returned Bille. Ruby usually loved to watch the two of them go at it. Every day with her friends was better than three soaps and a National Enquirer to boot.
Except today and tomorrow and then what? Audrey's bra didn't need stuffing as her heart had overflowed her bosom and sustained the fantastic four's friendship. Relationships, especially Geraldine and Billie's, have rocks. Could they survive without Audrey?
"Ahem. Is there something amiss?"
It was the funeral director, who had been standing along the wall behind the complaining trio as quietly as an undertaker. His black suit matched the black curtains perfectly, and allowed for this kind of observance. Billy stepped forward, trying to make it all right.
"No... erm... no. Everything's fine. I mean, no! It's not fine! I mean, she's dead, but... "we're" fine. Us three. We three standing here. We're fine. I mean, I'm fine. Ruby here, had to use the tube. There was no toilet paper in the bathroom- did you stuff her bra with it? Oh, of course you didn't! No. I didn't mean.... I mean... All these accusations about her not wearing any clothes down there are just rumors, right? She "is" fully clothed, right? This isn't the kind of place that steals a woman's underthings after she's gone to the other side, is it? No, of course not. We picked the right place, didn't we Geraldine? SO yes. I mean no. I mean everythings just perfect! Why? Is there something the matter?"
--Scott from Oregon
"I need to see if they put 'em on her," Billie insisted. "Not just the skirt, but the shoes."
"What shoes?" Ruby blinked myopically, craning her head to see in the shadowy recess between quilted satin lining and the body of Billie's cousin, Audrey Gayle White. "I think I see a skirt."
Geraldine elbowed her. "Hush now. You know how Audrey was allus goin' on about her gramma Dorothy's red shoes. They're supposed to be in there."
"It's that damn lion again," Billie muttered. "I'll just bet he got to the funeral director and bought him off, got ahold of those shoes."
"Lion?" Ruby asked again, more loudly so that heads turned. "What lion?"
"Christ," Billie hissed, "will you shut up, Ruby? The scarecrow's already here and he might hear you."
Which was when Geraldine's frantic waving caught the attention of the attendants in white coats, who escorted a protesting Billie back to the waiting ambulance.
"Say goodbye to your gramma now, child," the first man told her. "It's time we got back to the Home."
“Of course I use the tube,” said Ruby. She pulled it out of her purse. “I use it to make farting noises. Like this.” She put it to her lips. “Poot! Poot! Pfffoot!”
“Oh you, just hush,” said Billie. She turned back to Geraldine. “I do wish you’d get out of there. It’s pretty silly to talk about speaking ill of the dead while you’re rooting around in their coffin.”
“You’re the one who wanted to know if she had a skirt on,” grimaced Geraldine, switching from the soft southern accent of someone who’d been raised in Georgia, but hadn’t gone back since the day she left home, in favor of the exaggerated twang of someone who’d been born into a wealthy Connecticut family but pretended to be a west Texas cowboy. She began tossing handfuls of straw over the side of the casket. “Lemme clear a li’l brush outta the back forty, and—”
Just then, a tall, gaunt man entered the viewing room. He was dressed in black and carried a jug of retsina in either hand. “Good afternoon,” he said, in the soft eastern accent of someone who had been born in Heraklion but had since moved to Athens. “Welcome to the Knossos Mausoleum. I am Zorba Kazantsakis.”
“Don’t say it,” said Billie, backing up with a hand over her mouth. “Don’t say you’re a—”
“Oh, but I am,” said Kazantsakis. “I am a Cretan who dares to call himself a funeral director.”
Ruby wasn't listening. "I mean, what could I do? Last night was the Chilli cook-off."
Billie tapped the casket again, while glaring at Ruby. "Well, at least she's quiet for once."
"Yes, Ruby." Geraldine grasped her friend's arm. "I can't believe you used the tube."
"I didn't really use the tube." Ruby pulled away. "There was a perfectly good towel in there. Didn't flush real good, though."
A middle-aged lady dressed all in black with red-rimmed eyes sidled up to the three girls. "Ladies, is there a problem? Who are you with?"
They stood up straight and Billie gave a little curtsey. "Pardon us, ma'am. We're friends of Audrey."
"I see..." The woman, looking distracted, glanced around at the other respect-payers in the parlor. "So, ah... Which one is Audrey?"
Great continuation. I think the anonymous one with the accent-switching was even more brilliant.
I think the dialogue in the opening could use some work to make it seem more natural.
Too many words overall. For example, Geraldine has already SHOWN she's uncomfortable with the idea of somebody overhearing Billie. No need to TELL it again in the next sentence, in my opinion. Lots of that.
p.2: I expect Geraldine would cringe and glance around nervously after Billie speaks, not after she reprimands Billie. Also, it seems more natural to say "Don't speak ill of the dead," than "It wouldn't be seemly to be caught..."
p.4: "There's no toilet paper;I had to use the tube!" sounds more natural than "There isn't any toilet paper left in the bathroom..." Small difference, but also a big difference in sounding realistic (though some people do use phrasing that most would consider unnatural).
I found the dialogue off as well.
Which is not "seemly?" To speak ill of the dead or be caught doing so?
If it's being caught there's no need to tell us twice.
I don't care to be told she has a kind of accent - seems irrelevant at this point.
Neither Billie nor Geraldine would consider the accent worthy of remark, unless it's not her usual accent, so if this is in one of their POVs, that should go. If it's omniscient POV it's possible the storyteller considers it important to mention Geraldine's background this early.
I can actually buy the dialogue. Geraldine seems like a really classy matron type, with the southern accent and the overly formal speech. Billie sounds like an aggressive tomboy. And Ruby sounds like a stoic who only swears under their breath. Most people may not talk like them, but maybe they're not most people. Too early to tell.
No, what really kills this for me, is the excessive telling. There's too much cringing and glancing and disgruntling. And saying "spoke with the soft southern accent of someone who'd been raised in Georgia, but hadn't gone back since the day she left home" isn't giving me an unique sense of how she sounds - it just sounds like a stealth infodump. If you cut that all out, I think the emotions will come through better.
I've heard these conversations at viewings. I've been told to "restrain" a weeping mourner who wanted to kiss the embalmed body because there was too much formaldehyde. I once heard a startling "gee, she never looked better" when a brass crematory urn and photo sat there. I've also had to tell an undertaker what hairstyle and dress to use for a relative who spent two weeks dying in intensive care. The undertakers want pictures to make the dead look as natural as possible. I had to remove eyeglasses and ask for scarfs to be removed. I know of a woman (sister, not mine) who changed lipstick color on the body because the body didn't look good.
I also know that man's business suit is split up the back to aid dressing. And they don't put shoes on bodies, male or female. And they do stuff bodies with things (something that stands up to the chemicals) to make them look normal. The "head end of some caskets even lifts up like a pillow to raise the head of the body up and for the burial, is lowered flat.
This is gallows humor between friends, not strangers. If not friends then acquaintances who you know won't take offense. This is said more times at viewings than we care to admit.
I think that the author is trying to hard to make the dialog do more than it should. "It wouldn't be seemly" is too affected southern. She might say "Hush dear, we don't speak ill of the dead."
The other thing I noticed that struck me as off was that they could stand up close to the coffin. Usually, I see a kneeler in the middle of the coffin and flower baskets flanking the kneeler plus stands holding more flower baskets on either side of the coffin. Plus cardholders for prayer cards, etc...
It's a sorry funeral home that runs out of toilet paper. I've heard of worse. Yelling and screaming at the funeral director or his flunky. Some of them want the cash upfront and feelings be damned. "I'd show you the expensive casket but you can't afford it. This cheap one over here will do."
This is turning into one of those naughty giggle fests and bitch sessions.
Don't fall into the stereotype of funeral homes as quiet, respectful places. I've been in too many to know the truth.
I like it, but I'm concerned the story might go on with too much chatting and fidgeting and too little action.
I liked the characterization we get with the speech, but agree with Dave that the "not seemly" bit is too affected southern.
What this feels like is a chapter opening, not a novel's beginning. I'd edit this so that the toilet paper tube reference is removed from Geralidine's speech, as it is repetitive.
And that continuation is hilarious. I couldn't think of anything but a men in white coats sort of twist, which has been done here fairly frequently.
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