Micky took a long look at what was once Richard Dwyer as he lay in his coffin. He reached out and straightened the man’s tie. Behind him the florist buzzed about setting up wreaths and flowers.
“There, that’s good. Let Mr. Morris know,” Micky said to his assistant. He took off his apron and tossed it at him. “I’m going to go change.” He walked out of the receiving room and opened a hidden panel in the hall to reveal a staircase and headed up. When he entered the small apartment he was overcome by the sounds of fussy children. From the door he caught a glimpse of Ollie glaring at his plate as the baby flung its bowl to the floor and Lena leaned over trying to calm him.
Micky shut himself in the bedroom and finished brushing the lint off his black suit. The screaming continued for several more minutes. Micky dressed quickly and went to the kitchen. Lena was on her hands and knees trying to clean the floor. The sight of Micky only made the baby start screaming again. Ollie wiggled in his seat. Lena was on her feet babbling to the baby. Micky poured a cup of coffee and put a hand on Ollie’s shoulder.
“Eat up, kid,” Micky said. Ollie just stared up at him with big eyes. Lena said something in Norwegian to the boy and he picked up his fork. She started consoling the baby again.
“How many times have I told you? They need to speak english, Lena,” Micky complained, “What’s he going to do when he starts school? For fuck sake, I can hardly communicate with my son.”
“It is my language and he is my son too!” Lena snapped, “You are almost a stranger, always working.”
“Can you at least keep them quiet? I have a funeral today,” Micky was struggling to keep his voice down.
“Children make noise!” Lena said. “Maybe I do not like living upstairs to dead persons!”
Micky grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the kitchen.
“Let me go! Get your dead hands off me!” Lena cried. He flung her to the floor.
“This is how I make a living, Lena! I’m an undertaker. This is how we pay for everything in this apartment that you insist we need. I don’t get to pick and choose when people die! I have to work hard to prove to Mr. Morris I can run this place.” Tears streamed down Lena’s face.
“I want a house like a real family! You can get a job at the bank like a good man! We can be like everyone else.”
Micky turned away and laughed. He looked in the mirror and pulled out a comb to tidy his hair.
“That’s just it Lena. I’m not a good man and as soon as Morris kicks the bucket this place will be mine!” Micky disappeared down the stairs. He paused at the bottom and shook off the argument. He laughed again, and composed himself to the solemnity that the occasion required. He reappeared in the hallway and went back to the office. His assistant stopped him.
“Mrs. Dwyer and the Father are here. Mr. Morris has been held up, but he’ll be here soon.”
“Damn,” Micky winced, “Alright, I’ll take care of her, but can you find me a cup of coffee?” The assistant gave him a look and was about to suggest the upstairs kitchen, but stopped when Micky glared at him. “Just make some and offer it to the widow.” Micky waved him off.
The undertaker left the assistant standing there and found Mrs. Dwyer and Father Kerry in the foyer. He took the widow’s hand and enclosed it in both of his.
“Mrs. Dwyer, I am sorry for your loss. I followed Mr. Morris’ instructions and I hope I have prepared everything to your liking,” the widow nodded under her veil and dabbed at her eye.
“Thank you, Mr. O’Kinney, how thoughtful of you. The Father and I have picked out all of the readings that Richard liked,” she said. Father Kerry nodded as he forced his way between the undertaker and the widow protectively. He took the old woman’s elbow and guided her into the receiving room and up to casket. She started to cry harder when she saw Richard. The Father pulled Micky aside,
“I haven’t seen you at Sunday sermon with Mrs. O’Kinney lately.”
“I’ve been very busy, Father Kerry.” Micky shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
“Yes, but even God rested on the seventh day. We must follow his example, Michael.” The Father looked at him sternly over his glasses. Mr. Morris hurried into the room. He took control of the conversation and thanked Micky for standing in. He engaged the Father in discussion about the arrangements he had made with Mrs. Dwyer. Essentially Mr. Morris made it clear that Micky was to stand out of the way until it was time to move the casket.
The assistant came in with a tray and offered the widow coffee. She accepted, but just held the cup in her hands until it grew cold. Micky took his and stood at the back of the room while friends and family filed in to pay their respects. Mr. Morris stood by the widow and took all the credit. The Father recited a thoughtful eulogy and everyone was excused to make their way to the cemetery.
As the Father led the widow out of the receiving room, Micky stepped up to the casket and prepared to close it. With the quick hands of a pick pocket he plucked the tiepin, cufflinks and wedding band from Richard’s body unnoticed. He closed the lid, turned and waited for the pallbearers that Mr. Morris had gathered at the back of the room. He gave them instructions and sent them to the casket. Morris led the way, while Micky brought up the rear.
After the burial, Mr. Morris went to the comfort of his own home where he kept his old hands clean. Micky returned to the funeral parlor. He went to office and emptied his pockets on the desk. He pulled out a loupe and started studying the tie pin. From above him a wail cut through the air and disturbed the peaceful quiet.
Micky sighed. He took a cigar box out of the bottom drawer and dropped the pilfered jewelry inside to mingle with other trinkets and gold teeth. The baby wails continued. He returned the box to the drawer and slammed it shut. He retreated to the basement. A row of shelves hid a door in the wall. He slid the shelf aside and stepped into a small storage room. A little still sat in the room surrounded by bottles of chemicals and ingredients. He sat down on a little stool next to a barrel and a crate of empty bottles. He proceeded to fill them with his last batch of whiskey well into the night.