My Aunt Eleanor, up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, is a funny woman. Not funny ha-ha, but whimsical. Uncle Samuel sold stationery supplies to dealers all over the eastern U.S. Eleanor said he was on the road so much he should’ve bought stock in it.
Toward the end of one trip in the ‘70s, Samuel told Eleanor that he’d grown a mustache and she might not recognize him. My cousin Bobby was still a baby, so she bundled him up to meet Samuel when the Twentieth Century pulled into Grand Central. Suddenly inspired, she took her hair combings and made a mustache, which she glued on the kid.
The train came, and Samuel in his new mustache stepped down to greet his family. When he saw his child, he glared and ripped off the fake mustache.
“Eleanor, what do you mean putting that thing on an innocent baby?”
“It’s been a while, Samuel. I thought you wouldn’t recognize how Bobby has grown.”
“Not that long a while!” he retorted.
She began laughing. As quickly as it came, his glare died and they both laughed at his outburst. That’s what love does for you, even if you’re married and domesticated.
Eleanor and Samuel would shout at each other and then make up five minutes later. They were like a kid’s wooden paddle and rubber ball. Love was the rubber band that brought them back together each time. Slap, slap, slap all the time. Paddle ball, I thought, when Eleanor called me from Riverdale.
“Your Uncle Samuel is dead, Jake,” she said. “He’s gone and I need someone to advise me what to do. Can you come up?”
The rubber band had snapped.
Samuel was on the road when he died, hit by a truck as he walked out of a store in Little Rock. Bobby was in the Army trying to stay out of trouble and I was the nearest relative. I said I’d come immediately.
Thinking of Samuel, I glanced at the bulletin board in my office where I’d stuck a press release that had crossed my desk. An outfit had a technique for turning people into diamonds. Why that news came to me at the magazine I edited I don’t know, but I’d hung it up so I could think about it later. Now was a good time to think.
The release said this technique offered immortality. After all, people are just carbon molecules. This company simply refines a person’s ashes — once they’re dead, of course — and turns them into graphite. The graphite is put into a huge vise under a million pounds of pressure, heated to 3,500 degrees and — presto! — you’re a diamond.
This didn’t seem to be too far into the realm of the unbelievable. They say diamonds are forever, so Eleanor could secure Samuel’s memory.
I took the train up to Riverdale to her condo at 252nd Street, plopping down in the living room across from Eleanor with a mixture of apprehension and expectation. Death isn’t a good conversation starter. She slurped her tea while I nursed a glass of Dewar’s from the bottle Samuel kept in the closet.
Pretty quickly, she got around to discussing the “arrangements.”
“What’ll I do, Jake? Something fitting should be done.”
“Aunt Eleanor, funerals cost about five thousand. Let me suggest another idea.”
I read her the news release, and she leaned forward to hear every word.
“If Uncle Samuel was a diamond,” I said, “you’d always have him in your hand. In fact, he’d be worth more dead than alive — about $2,300 for a quarter carat and $15,000 for a full one carat. Anyway, that’s in the ballpark of funeral costs.”
She picked at some imaginary lint on the chair and began figuring her options. “I think about half a carat,” she said. “Samuel wasn’t very big when he was alive. He wore a size 40 regular.”
She called the memorials salesman the next day, who was quick to say the diamonds aren’t flawless. Eleanor told him Samuel had his problems and flawless would be too much to expect.
Two weeks later, Samuel’s ashes were sent up from Little Rock. Without opening the box, Eleanor shipped him off to Illinois and to the giant pressure cooker.
I was out of town myself, handling an event for advertisers. When I got back, I asked Eleanor how everything had gone.
She snuffled, and then swore like my old platoon sergeant. Finally, she wheezed to a stop. It seems the Little Rock funeral parlor called and said they still had Samuel’s ashes and didn’t know who was in the box she had received. Two days later, she got “Samuel” back in a little velvet box. He was set in a plain gold band.
“I pondered this awhile, and you know, Jake, I tried to say even if it isn’t Samuel, it makes a nice memorial. It’s the thought that counts.”
I uh-huhed sympathetically.
“Then,” she continued, “on my way out of Gristede’s market a few days later, I went next door to the jewelry store. I asked the man to appraise Samuel. Of course, I didn’t identify exactly who the ring was. Well, he sniffed and said, ‘Madam, this is a cubic zirconium.’”
That made Eleanor doubly disconcerted. Not only wasn’t it Samuel, he wasn’t even a diamond.
“Aunt Eleanor, look at it this way,” I told her. “Only you know the truth — and who’s to doubt you?”
Her eyes got all squinty. “Are you just young or are you stupid, Jake? You give up too easy. I called the diamond people and demanded my money back or said I’d tell the New York Post how they make bodies disappear. And I told Little Rock to send Samuel up immediately so I could keep an eye on him right here in the Bronx.
“Further, I’m keeping the ring. It sparkles if you hold it in the sun. And,” she almost winked, “Samuel always liked a good joke.”
Walt Giersbach‘s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness,Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child.