Tucker Manning poses the face ' closes the mouth, stitches the lips together, pulls the lids down. If the eyes aren't closed they gape open. And since they're composed primarily of water, the eyes tend to dehydrate and sink detracting from the appearance. In death, a look of normalcy is everything, so Tucker takes great care to make sure the facial features look natural. If a person doesn't know what they're doing they can make the dead look bizarre: push the corners of the mouth up, they look like the Joker. Pull the corners down and they look like Fu Man Chu.
Once Tucker has the face just so, he begins embalming. Making an incision above the collar bone, he flushes blackening blood into a plastic jug under the table, heavy drip, dripping. He finds an artery in the neck and pumps in honey-colored chemicals. The increasing pressure in the vascular system can distend tissue, so he watches the dead man closely for bloating.
Tucker is comfortable working with the dead. He likes the stillness. He likes the quiet. And while he's careful to handle a corpse with respect for the sake of the family, he also believes the spirit of the dead watch him. As a way of paying last respects, Tucker whispers the name of the deceased while preparing their body. Today, he's whispering 'Luther Clarence. Luther Clarence. Luther Clarence.'
Embalmed and soap-and-water-scrubbed, Luther Clarence's naked body is wheeled into the refrigerator next to Agnes Bee's bluing corpse. There's a congregation of stiffs in the fridge today and a docket of 'going home' services Tucker must tend to tomorrow. Time was his partner would care for the living while Tucker minded the dead, but the day came when Tucker had to pose his partner's face.
'That's that' Tucker says to Luther and Agnes closing the stainless steel door.
The next morning Tucker prepares for the day's funeral services. After a quick shower and careful shave, he opens his walk-in closet to a choir of suits. There, perfectly aligned and draped on padded wooden hangers, is the most extravagant collection of designer suits in the county: Gucci, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang and more. It's no exaggeration to say Tucker Manning could go six months without wearing the same suit twice.
'The charcoal Viktor & Rolf suit will do just fine' he thinks.
Scrutinizing his reflection in the mirror, Tucker fingers the edges of the bespoke suit in Super 220 merino wool. The grey pinstripes match his wave of shocking white hair. And since no suit is complete without shiny embellishments, Tucker finds the cuff links to match his monk buckles and belt. The yellow silk Satya Paul tie falls from the Half-Windsor Knot slipping easily into the V of his overlapping lapels. French cuffed and perfectly coifed, Tucker is the county's most fashionable mortician.
'That's that' Tucker says to his doppelganger in the mirror.
Tucker collects the garment bags from the hall closet and then heads downstairs to dress Agnes Bee and Luther Clarence for their farewell. Agnes's service is first so he dresses her in the powder blue and white collared frock murmuring 'Agnes Bee. Agnes Bee. Agnes Bee.' He gives her a thorough going over and then wheels her staged corpse into the Rose Room for her final family reunion.
Returning to the embalming-room, Tucker wheels Luther Clarence's naked corpse out of the fridge. He hangs the garment bag on the back of the door and unzips the zipper. To his astonishment, hanging in the bag is a black single-breasted Alexander Amosu suit. The fabric is a luxury blend of vicu'a, a rare wild South American animal which only produces enough wool for shearing every three years, and qiviuk, the world's most expensive wool from arctic muskoxen. The blend is called Vanquish II and is considered to be the holy grail of fabrics. Threaded at one inch intervals is a double stitched thread of 18-karat gold and the suit's single button features pave set diamonds. Hanging before Tucker is the suit of suits.
After the Clarence viewing, Tucker makes a point to see Luther's widow:
'I'm sorry for your loss, Mrs. Clarence.'
'Please, call me Deloris.'
Deloris's snowy hair circles her face and her thin hands tremble in nervous gloves. Her scent is a white whisper calling and Tucker's hands respond ' griping her elbow he guides her through the house of velvet chairs, lilied vases, and funeral attendants.
'I hope everything was as you hoped.' Tucker says sinking into the Victorian upright across from Deloris.
'Oh yes, Mr. Manning.'
'Please, call me Tucker.'
'Thank you, Tucker. I do have one last request.'
'Anything' Tucker replies. But what he really means is 'Anything but ask me to return the Amosu suit.'
'Would you mind if I place a cell phone in Luther's hand before he's buried? It's reassuring to think I can call to say hello from time to time.'
'Certainly' Tucker replies, smiling. 'Is there anything else?' He's praying there won't be anything else.
'No. That's all.'
'Then that's that' Tucker says somewhat tactlessly.
Later that day and unbeknownst to the widow and collected crowd, Luther Clarence is buried naked, cell phone in hand. Meanwhile, Tucker tries on a dead man's suit ' and while it's rare for one to fit right off the corpse, Tucker knows a good tailor.
BIO: Eric Bennett in New York with his wife and four children. He loves fierce wounded things and beginning sentences with the word "and." His work appears or is forthcoming in several online literary and art journals including Foundling Review, The Battered Suitcase, Prick of the Spindle, PANK, and LITnIMAGE.