"Your Name Here"

 by Larry Thacker

            It’s been my experience that most towns have more than one funeral home. I don’t care how tiny a town is, you’ve got options. You can count on at least one family being generationally in the game. Family funeral homes stick around for a long time. I was hoping that guaranteed some discretion, plus I was also counting on it being true that funeral homes in competition with each other don’t mind a little quiet money on the side.

            Jason seemed like one of those funeral home assistant director types that didn’t mind a little extra weekend cash. He always drank at the end of the bar at Romy’s.

            I took the stool next to him as soon as it emptied.

            “Hey there, Trula.”

            Like pretty much everyone in town, we knew each other from school. “Hey, Jason. How’s business?”

            “Pretty dead lately,” was his usual joking answer. But since my Fred, my husband of twenty-nine years, had just died that week, I’m sure he didn’t know how to react, even if he was trained in bereavement and end-of-life preparations.

            “I sure am sorry about Fred, Trula.”

            He took a long sip on his mug of beer, sort of stalling.

            I had to get out of the house. The smell of so many covered casserole dishes was making me ill. Fred was dead two days already and I hadn’t had a drink since before he’d gone into the hospital a week before he died, so I was due a stiff one. Or two. But I sure wasn’t in the mood for a cry fest.

            “Sorry about Fred, Trula,” Jamie the bartender said.

            “Yeah, me too,” I told him as he slid me a vodka tonic.

            I got to the point, but not too loudly. Bartenders had a habit of knowing everyone’s business.

            “So, Jason.” I made it obvious I didn’t want anyone to hear. Jamie noticed I wasn’t in the mood for him to eavesdrop and walked down the bar to inspect some wine glasses. 

            “So, Jason, Fred’s at your all’s funeral home, right?”

            “Yeah. We appreciated you choosing us, Trula. We hope we can…”

            “Cut the bull, Jason. It was either you or the Remington’s outfit and Fred made me promise not to let them idiots touch him with a six-foot pole.”

            He got the joke and laughed. He took another long drink.

            “Here’s the deal, before we cremate him tomorrow, I need something done last minute and you’re the only one I thought of to help.”

            This got his attention.

            “You gonna buy me a drink for this favor?”

            “I’ll buy you more than a drink if we manage this.”

            “Can’t say I’m not intrigued.”

 

            I met Jason at the Ellison & Sons Funeral Home at ten the next morning along with my taxidermist, Harvey Clapmore. I wouldn’t blame you if you’re curious as to why a newly widowed lady like myself was holding secretive meetings in an embalming room with a funeral director, a taxidermist, and the remains of my husband, Fred. It sounds like a joke now that I hear it out loud like that.

            Anyway, if you’ve ever been to Romy’s bar over the years when Fred was there, you probably fell victim to sitting through one of his unnecessarily long jokes, especially the one about his having your name tattooed on his ass cheek.

            He did. Really. Literally. He had YOUR NAME tattooed on his right-handed ass cheek. Got it put there on a dare when he was in the navy. In service stenciled font. He claimed it got him free drinks in at least half a dozen countries on three continents. It even worked at Romy’s occasionally.

            I argued that anyone drunk or silly enough to fall for that trick was probably drunk or silly enough to have bought a round for the whole bar without the trick, but he loved it. I think he just enjoyed the telling of it. He loved jokes, especially long ones where he got to ham it up along the way to the corny ending. Some regulars enjoyed seeing new people fall for it. It was an infamous story. Some people would even send newbies over just for fun.

            “That guy over there claimed you had my name tattooed on your butt,” the newbie would inquire,” having walked over from the pool tables. 

            “Not my name,” he’d correct, “your name.” If they were drunk enough, they wouldn’t catch that little grammatical technicality. They’d look at him as if to say, “Isn’t that what I just said?”

            If anyone fell for it, he’d drop the right side of his cut-off jean shorts – which he wore almost year around – and sure enough, there would be that fading purple tattoo: YOUR NAME.

            Now it was a little faded since he’d worn the ink from sitting on it all those years, but it was legible enough on his ghostly white, lifeless ass flesh and Harvey was at work with his taxidermy tools stripping the hide from Fred so I could keep a piece of him with me. I had plans. Like I’d told Fred in the ICU the day before he’d passed, when he was too winded to catch his breath to joke: I’ll have the last laugh, honey. Oh, don’t you worry.      

            I can’t say it wasn’t gruesome. I even caught Jason looking away a few times. But I was determined not to flinch. Fred was a big man, so he had a big ass, but Harvey needed more than just one cheek for this project idea of mine. He took off the left cheek as well. What did Fred care? He’d be a bucket of ashes and bone shards in less than an hour. No one was going to miss a few ounces less of him when I dumped him in the ocean come September when we usually went on our honeymoon trip to Kure Beach.

            I slipped Jason the hundred I’d promised for his discretion.

            “What are you gonna do with that, Trula? Make you a bookmark for the family bible?” He laughed at the idea as he folded the cash into his wallet.

            “I hadn’t thought of that. You’re not too far off, Jason. You see, Harvey here’s got quite the task in store. You might not know this, but Harvey ain’t only the town’s best taxidermist. He comes from a long line of leather workers as well.”

            Harvey beamed.

            “Heck, I’ve got a great uncle who used to make saddles for turkeys. What cha think about that?” Harvey said. “That’s a hard legacy to follow.”

            “Leather work, huh?” Jason repeated, staring at the gelatinous flappings of my hubby’s ass.

            Harvey finished up and I asked to have a few minutes alone with Fred. We just left him face down. I did take the time to at least pull his slacks up over his exposed butt muscle. I’d had him dressed in the one suit he owned. The suit he’d worn twice to my sister’s two weddings. He’d already lain there wearing the jacket longer than he had in life. He’d stripped it off after ten minutes at the services and loosened his tie. He’d tried the Your Name joke on I don’t know how many at the receptions. It worked once.

             “Fred,” I whispered, “I’m taking a little bit of you with me. A little joke of my own, I hope you don’t mind. I know you don’t. I told you I’d have the last laugh. I hope you’ve got a good view wherever you’re at. We’re gonna take care of your remainders like you wanted. You’ll be tasting salt water in no time, sweety.”

            I didn’t stick around for the cremation. Jason brought the full brass urn to the house the next day. Harvey said it’d take a few weeks to take care of my “special order.”

            All I had to do was get to living my new life as a widow. I was already bored. 

            I occupied myself the best I could. I tossed what remained of the covered meals. Washed all the dishes by hand, though we had a dishwasher. Practiced saying “I” instead of “we” all the time. Fell asleep on the couch watching TV a lot so I wouldn’t have to deal with sleeping in the bed. Hung out at Fanny’s Café trying all the fru-fru coffee drinks. Did I mention there was a bank robbery across the street there recently? That kind of thing never happens around here. I joined a book club. Started baking. Quit the book club. Baked a nasty cake I gave to a neighbor.

            Harvey called up two weeks into my new routine of no routine.

            “It’s done, Trula. I’m pretty proud of it.”

            I was a little giddy to see what he’d rendered. 

            “Really?”

            “I’ve outdone myself this time, I have to say.”

            “Let’s meet at Romy’s, okay?” I suggested.

 

            I met him in the bar parking lot. I was nervous. I don’t know why. There’s no reason to be anxious about the delivery of a practical fashion accessory, right? It wasn’t like I was picking up a baggy of weed. That was a totally different parking lot across town.

            I parked. He waved. I waved. He walked up and handed me the wallet. I glanced at it in the streetlight, but I knew it was fine. I shook his hand and palmed him a little wad of pre-arranged cash and we both went into Romy’s. He went to his usual corner. I went to the ladies room to inspect my little reminder of my dear Fred.

 

            Some newbie to the bar is next to me. I’m drinking and minding my business. He strikes up a conversation. I guess he’s been there a while and he’s getting bored just staring at his phone. It’s the usual small talk. You come here often? You from town? Thought it was going to storm earlier. I like this bartender, he’s a friendly guy. Then it’s the inevitable, What’s your name?

            “Trula,” I say.

            “Ah. Don’t hear that name too often anymore.”

            “That’s true.” I ask his.

            “Franklin,” he says.

            Then I go, “Naw! Really?”

            “Yeah. Why? Is something wrong?”

            “No, not at all,” I say, “it’s just a coincidence that I got a brand-new wallet today and it’s got your name on it. Isn’t that odd?”

About the Author

Larry D. Thacker is a Kentuckian writer, artist, educator, and reality actor, hailing from Johnson City, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife Karin. His poetry is in over 180 publications including Spillway, Poetry South, The American Journal of Poetry, and Appalachian Heritage. His stories and non-fiction are in past issues of Still: The Journal, Longridge Review, Pikeville Review, and Story and Grit. His three fiction collections include Working it Off in Labor County, Labor Days, Labor Nights: More Stories, and Everyday, Monsters (co-written with CM Chapman). His stories have been nominated for Best of the Net and multiple Pushcart recognitions. His books include four full poetry collections, Drifting in Awe, Grave Robber Confessional, Feasts of Evasion, and Gateless Menagerie, two chapbooks, Voice Hunting and Memory Train, and the non-fiction folk history, Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia. He is also a cast member on the new Netflix original series, Swap Shop. His MFA in poetry and fiction is earned from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Visit his website at: www.larrydthacker.com His MFA in poetry and fiction is earned from West Virginia Wesleyan College. A veteran of the US Army, Thacker has been involved in the field of higher education for 19 years. Visit his website at: www.larrydthacker.com