This happened earlier in the week – I finished the first draft of Avoiding The Tilt, my soon-to-be-published 3rd book! I promised my followers on my author Facebook page I would post a preview chapter of Leo and Evie’s chaotic life. Here’s some back story first:
Leo’s a borderline hoarder while his wife, Evie is somewhat of a control freak. They say opposites attract, but in this case, life could be a disaster. Evie and Leo’s lives collide when he suddenly retires five years earlier than expected and she is still a work-from-home entrepreneur. Leo’s main concern is the parade of trespassers invading his back yard, while Evie has long discussions with her long-deceased childhood cat.
Here’s a chapter preview that won’t be a spoiler. Remember it’s a first draft. There may be mistakes and kinks to be worked out. I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.
A SMALL CARDBOARD BOX
It had taken a lot of coaxing, but Evie had finally convinced Leo they had to make their wills, sign power of attorney’s and medical papers, and plan their funerals. It was time – past time. They had waited too long as it was. After that run-in at the junk yard and Leo getting hurt, she had persuaded him that he may not be as invincible as he thought he was. Coercing Abby into hanging around the house for the afternoon with the construction crew, with the promise of a home cooked dinner later, they headed out.
Leo wasn’t too wild about funeral planning and questioned her once again as they were sitting in the waiting room at the funeral home. “Uncle George and Aunt Claire didn’t preplan their funerals and I don’t remember anyone planning your mother’s funeral, Evie. We had to go to the funeral home and take care of all that when she passed away. Don’t you remember?”
“I do and that’s exactly why I intend to plan and pay for ours in advance. I wasn’t even in my right mind. My mother dying so un-expectantly and there I was, trying to plan a funeral with no help from my brother or any other family member. You weren’t much help either for Uncle George, Aunt Claire’s, or Mother’s, if you remember. I had no idea what their wishes were or how much to spend. It was a nightmare and I don’t want our kids to have to go through that.”
“Well, I think our funeral planning and expenses should be a lot less expensive than theirs were since we will be cremated.”
“I don’t know, Leo,” Evie said unsure of his cremation idea. “That’s why we have this appointment.”
The mousey haired girl with a large head at the desk they had checked in at motioned to Evie and informed her that the director was ready to see them. She led them down a long hallway with thick carpeting and doors ajar on each side, her hair swinging to and fro on her oversized head. Evie glanced in the open doors they passed noticing each one was decorated in mauves or greens or blues – funeral colors. There were comfortable looking floral upholstered chairs arranged around a round table in each room and a matching sofa against one wall. The brass nameplate on the closed door the receptionist stopped in front of said M. Balm, Funeral Director.
The girl lightly tapped before opening the door to lead them in to an identical room – this one in mauve – and introduced them as Mr. and Mrs. Burgess before she quickly scampered away, leaving them to sort out the rest of the appointment. Evie wished they had gotten the blue room.
Leo and Evie stood in the center of the room across the round table from the director as he leafed through his papers and black leather notebook. He was a well-dressed man – about fifty – with short dark hair and a touch of gray at the temples. He wore it slicked back off his forehead pronouncing a deep widows peak, and when he opened his mouth to speak, his canine teeth were shockingly pronounced. Actually, Evie though he was a little scary looking with that widows peak and pock-marked face. Kind of vampirish looking.
“Please have a seat Mr. and Mrs. Burgess,” he said, motioning to the mauve floral chairs across from his – Evie’s least favorite color – and extended his hand to Leo for a limp handshake and then quickly sat down, searching through a thick leather bound notebook, ready to proceed with business.
“Call us Evie and Leo, please, and you?” Evie asked, extending her hand warily.
“Balm. Mr. Balm,” He said curtly in a no-nonsense voice, shaking her hand reluctantly then sliding a paper clipped bundle of papers toward them. “We’ll go through all these questions and answer them when I finish with the presentation,” he said with a no-nonsense air.
Leo looked sideways at Evie with raised eyebrows and she returned the look while wondering what the M in Mr. Balm’s name stood for. Maurice? Mortimer? Malcolm?
“Now what type of service do you want to plan? Will this be a formal funeral, requiring the use of a room for viewing, or do you plan to have the viewing in a home or church? Will it be a memorial, wake, military, or Jewish ceremony? What style casket will the deceased be laid out in? Will the obituary be pre-written or do you want the funeral director to take care of that? Flowers are always nice. We can arrange for those or you can designate a loved one to attend to that detail. Keep in mind, many arrangements will be sent from acquaintances. There is also a need for a grave marker and inscriptions. Do you already own a plot?” As he spoke, he asked questions rapidly, without a pause for an answer or comment from them between each one.
Evie opened and closed her mouth like a guppy eating his lunch, after each question, then decided to play it safe and wait for an opening.
Mr. Balm checked each item off the list in front of him, and then handed the piece of paper to Evie who took it and read over it briefly while Leo sat spell-bound. She could see he wasn’t going to be much help.
After she finished reading, Evie finally opened her mouth to attempt a reply, but Mr. M. Balm raised his hand, palm toward her, stopping her. “Please let me finish the preliminaries Mrs. Burgess, then there will be plenty of time for any questions you may have.”
He opened the leather notebook and flipped through pages and pages of colorful caskets depicting all styles and colors, and pointed out a few. “Caskets can vary widely in their style and price, but most are sold primarily for their visual appeal. The most common caskets are constructed of wood, metal, fiberboard, fiberglass, and sometimes plastic. An average casket can cost slightly more than two thousand dollars and there are even some mahogany, bronze, or copper ones that sell for as much as ten thousand dollars.
Leo’s eyes popped at that figure and Evie could tell he was about to interject. She patted him quickly under the table on his knee and cut her eyes toward him with a glare to halt him from interrupting. She was actually getting a kick out of this no-nonsense man.
Mr. Balm seemed to have noticed Leo’s panic, but continued on with his pitch. “I know that’s a wide range in price, Mr. Burgess, but we have a casket for everyone. There’s also a standard metal casket for about nine hundred dollars, but I doubt that you would want to go that low. After all, this will be the final resting place for you or your loved one.”
At this Leo opened his mouth to interrupt again, but was quieted with a “shush” from Mr. Balm this time, and a clicking of his tongue. “Tut, tut,” he said, dismissing Leo’s shocked look with a wave of his hand. “I’ll get to your questions in a minute Mr. Burgess. There are just a few more details I need to go over with you.”
He proceeded with the presentation. “You may want to consider a half couch or a full couch, which refers to whether the lid comes in two pieces or one piece. With viewing of the deceased during visitation, or at an open casket funeral, either the upper half of the body or the entire body will be on display, depending on your preference.”
Evie’s eyes were glued to the pages being flipped and listened intently to Mr. M. Balm’s well versed presentation while Leo fidgeted in his chair nervously every time he mentioned a monetary value of something.
“You will also have a large choice of interior liners, which refers to the fabric lining of the inside of your casket. Many of these are marketed as puncture-resistant or leak-proof, and are usually made out of polyester, satin, or velvet fabrics. You can also choose commemorative panels. These panels are embroidered interiors on the casket lid.”
He then pulled out a smaller book pointing to a diagram. “May I suggest an internal lift? This magnificent hardware will tilt the inside of the casket up. In the case of a viewing, visitation, or open casket funeral, the body may then be viewed at an angle.”
“I don’t believe we will need anything tilted or…” Leo was abruptly stopped again in the middle of his sentence. The funeral director was taking no interruptions and was in full force to sell them the best of the best.
“Now going on, Mr. and Mrs. Burgess,” he said, reprimanding them both. This will take a lot less time without interruptions. I know it’s a lot for you to take in, but I promise I’m almost through. As you can see here, our newest technology in caskets is a memory tube. This is a small glass tube that screws into your casket. In the event that something should ever happen to the casket – lets pray this quandary won’t ever occur – as in the casket becoming dislodged from its resting space in a mausoleum or even unearthed from the ground, the identity of your loved one can easily be known without having to go to the trouble to exhume the remains.”
He flipped to the back of the larger book. “The exterior features of your casket will include handles or ornamentation of your choice. Many of our caskets feature a rubber gasket which provides an air-tight seal between the lid and body of the casket. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule describes this as “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets. But be aware, they are designed to protect the casket – not the body of your loved one. These features are never required by law, although this proves to be a nice amenity. Every casket that is hermetically sealed increases the rate of body decomposition. Because of The Funeral Rule we cannot claim that caskets or special casket features can preserve the body of your loved one forever.”
Mr. M. Balm closed the large notebook and looked up with a wide smile. ”Now I know you must have a few questions.”
“How much are your urns?” asked Leo.
“Oh, you won’t be needing an urn. You only need one if you are going to be cremated, and if you intend to spread the ashes, some people don’t even bother with that.”
Leo quickly spoke out, sitting up straight and slapping his hand down on the table, “Sounds good to me. We’ll take it. Just the box the ashes are shipped in!”
Poor Mr. M. Balm looked shocked. His eyes darted back and forth between Evie and Leo. “What do you mean? Are you planning a cremation? That’s a whole different presentation. Why didn’t you tell me this before we started the meeting?”
“We tried Mr. Balm,” Evie announced with considerable calmness. “Really we did. Numerous times. You wouldn’t let us interrupt. And I also let your receptionist know that was what we were here for.”
He nervously pulled at his tie, his canines glistening, not wanted to admit defeat. “She didn’t say a word. Did you hear her say anything to that effect? I assumed you were here for the casket presentation and funeral information. This meeting has gone on entirely too long. Oh my.” He reached for a glass of water from the table behind him and offered Evie and Leo a drink.
“Oh dear. I’ve taken up too much of your time going on about caskets, linings, and hardware, when all you wanted was the cremation package that will not cost you half as much or less than the casket package. Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind? I could give you a small discount for all your trouble.”
Evie reached across the table hesitantly, patting the flustered funeral director on his arm. “You did a wonderful presentation Mr. Balm and we were very well informed. If I was in the market for a casket, you would have made a sale today, maybe two. Who knew how far casket presentation had come since I did this last. I’m so sorry we won’t be needing those services now.”
“Oh, do you think I could persuade you to change your minds? Would a larger discount help?” asked Mr. M Balm, preparing to step up his game.
“Absolutely not!” said Leo, standing quickly and rapping his knuckles firmly on the table. All we need is that cremation package – two of them – and we’ll be on our way.”
Monday, 9:50 pm
I’m hoping this conversation makes it to your heart. Having to make-do with a tablet of paper to stay in contact with you is killing me. Hope to find you soon. Give me a sign will you? Hot or cold will do, when I get close.
What a day Leo and I have had! And of course, Abby thought the whole ordeal was priceless. I’m sure she will be talking about this funeral planning adventure of her parents for a long time. What a catastrophe it was – but in the long run – Leo saw exactly how much money he was saving by going with the cremation package.
The most hilarious part of the day was when Abby realized the significance of the funeral directors name. Mr. M. Balm! I can’t believe I didn’t catch that. I still don’t know what the M stands for and I’m afraid to ask. What mother in her right mind would stick that name on a baby? This man had no choice but to go into the funeral planning business! It was his destiny. Poor man! You do get it don’t you Willie? Mr. M. Balm? Embalm! HaHaHa!
Willie? Are you there?