So your wife leaves you and your boss fires you and your house next to your psychopathic neighbour has been on the market for seven years. Your car breaks down after you accidentally run over your own cat and you’ve got HMRC on your arse. So what do you do? Can you blame me for wanting to end it all?
Well, that was the initial plan. Removing myself from this despot-led, self-obsessed, plastic-littered toxic hellscape. But I know the stigma associated with suicide and don’t care for it much, so I need someone to kill me. That bit is simple, I have the perfect contender right next door and he’ll do it for free. So I call him a ‘cunt’, tell him I want to bang his wife and throw my rubbish over his fence. Then I wait.
It turns out waiting for death is harder than I thought. The endless wondering of how and when it will happen. I don’t like surprises much. Will it hurt? Is he going to run me over with his car, like I did Mittens? Is he going to hire goons to beat me to death? Will my life replay like an old movie before my eyes? If so, what will I see? What memories have I got, what was I here for? And what’s next? A warm, brightly lit tunnel? But what’s after the tunnel? Nothing in the middle of nowhere? Or hell? Dodge ball classes with Mr Matthews calling me Chubbers for ever and ever? An endless dinner party with my ex wife’s new husband? Actually having to sleep with the neighbour’s ugly wife for all eternity?
So this is when I decide to plan my own funeral, as a way to kill time. It’s not like I have a job to go. How considerate of me to get my affairs in order, not to create any unnecessary admin for anyone. By ‘anyone’ I mean my ageing mum and my old mate Steve who occasionally still calls. Yes, I’m dead to most people already.
I drive to the next town as I need some privacy for this (mine is a pretty nosy community – the fishmonger is such a gossip), and I park outside the first funeral home I find. I’m not picky, really. Should I be?
I ponder the wide purple banner: ‘At Funky Funerals, we put the fun in funerals!’ The word fun is underlined twice and this sends a shiver down my spine.
The girl at the reception desk smiles and saunters across the small office. She is wearing a bright patchwork dress and plastic beach sandals. She extends a manicured hand. ‘Welcome to Funky Funerals, how can I help you today?’
‘Hi,’ I say. Or so I think. My mouth moves but no sound comes out.
I expel a couple of frogs and start again. ‘Good afternoon… I’m here to arrange a funeral.’
‘Of course, of course,’ she says, her voice unable to adopt the appropriate deference. Her youth and bright colours and my growing interest in her cleavage clash with the circumstances. ‘Please sit down – can I get you anything? Coffee? Vegan pork pie?’
‘I’m OK. Thanks.’
‘Have you anything specific in mind?’
‘Something simple. For about a month’s time. It might sound weird, but the deceased isn’t deceased yet.’
She doesn’t find this weird at all. According to her, more and more people want complete control of their final send-off and plan their own funeral to the last detail. She ads my fake name onto a waiting list – I never thought I would be the one planning my own funeral, and being of an older generation, I do find it weird, hence my reluctance to unveil my actual identity. And what better name than the one of my upcoming executioner? My posthumous revenge will see him extricate himself out of what I hope will be a logistical and administrative nightmare.
‘We don’t really offer simple funerals, what we offer is a chance for people to have a funeral to remember for ever. We cater for very specific needs.’
I want to punch her a little but I have to say she’s piqued my curiosity.
I plaster on a smile. ‘Oh really? Like what? Tell me about them. All of them.’
‘Well, we pride ourselves on offering unusual alternatives so there is literally nothing we won’t do. I can show you our catalogue if you like?’
‘That would be delightful.’ Oblivious to the sarcasm in my voice, she picks up a thick brochure.
‘Look here, this is our Namaste funeral. The deceased wanted to be buried cross-legged. It took a team of six to manipulate the body into the right position.’
I picture myself cross-legged in a box for eternity and feel slightly nauseated. ‘What else have you got? And yeah, bring me one of those vegan pork pies. Have you got any beer?’
She walks off while I flip through the catalogue. Do I want my ashes turned into a doorstop? Well, for £850, it can be done. I can also be sent away Hindu style on the beautiful shores of Bognor Regis. I can get incinerated in a giant cardboard pizza box. Or, I can get stuffed with organic hay and kept in my loved ones’ home.
She returns with a wheat beer and a sorry looking pork pie. ‘What do you think?’
‘How much does the Keep me home cost? The brochure wasn’t very explicit about it.’
‘It really depends on the size and weight of the body.’
‘6.1, 203 lbs.’ It dawns on me I’ve just set myself a ten pound weight loss target ahead of my possible imminent stuffing.
‘Let me do the maths.’ She extracts an old-fashioned calculator from her desk drawer and types furiously on the little machine, all eyebrows and fingers. ‘It’ll be £4,879.’
That is expensive, though, pound for pound, cheaper than the sea bream from my local blabbermouth fishmonger.
‘No thanks. Have you got anything a bit more traditional?’
‘As I said sir, this is not that kind of place.’
Rolling my eyes, I finish the beer and settle a deposit on the doorstop option. I give my address but sign the neighbour’s name.
As I approach home, I’m looking forward to sitting down, for this has been a trying afternoon. I feel blue and am having second thoughts and regrets. But the street outside is gridlocked, a couple of police officers and an ambulance are parked opposite the neighbour’s house. ‘What happened?’ I ask the officer standing by the yellow tape.
‘We’re not too sure. He was sitting in the tree in his garden, facing your backyard, holding a gun. We’re wondering if he was trying to kill a bird? Anyway, he slipped and ended up shooting himself in the chest.’
I watch the body bag being loaded onto the ambulance and look forward to receiving my new doorstop in 4 to 6 weeks.
B F Jones is French and lives in Surrey with her husband, 3 children and cat. She has had stories published in The Cabinet of Heed, Soft Cartel, Storgy, Bending Genres, The Fiction Pool, Spelk Fiction and Idle Ink. Twitter: @fijo_frenchie