“He died in the field?” I said.
“Yep,” said the funeral director, “stone deaf; didn’t hear the tractor coming. Ran right over him.”
“Tragic! Farm hand?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
“None that we know of. The farmer’s paying, seeing to all the details.”
“I’ll see the farmer tomorrow. Last job, Phil, last funeral, then I’m retiring.”
“Last job, Frank… I know.”
I arrived at the farm the next afternoon and shook the farmer’s hand.
“I’m Frank, the funeral celebrant,” I said, “conducting the ceremony.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Eric.”
We sat with tea and biscuits.
“Tell me about Joe,” I said.
Eric sighed. “Well… he was a solitary old man. Tatty. Outdoor type. Liked his pipe. Saw off ne’er-do-wells, mind; dependable.”
I scribbled it all down for the eulogy.
“A simple soul?” I asked.
“Aye. Quiet. Nary a word. Would you care to see the body?”
The lounge was very dark. I stumbled slightly and steadied myself on the lip of the open coffin, placed centrally on a simple catafalque. Something felt wrong; call it instinct learned from twenty-five years on the job. I put my hand inside. Button nose, stiff wooden neck and shoulders, scrawny arms, and straw… everywhere straw, straw, straw!
Lights on. Champagne corks. Kazoos. Party-poppers. “Happy retirement, Frank!”
Kip Pratt is a musician, celebrant and writer based in Devon, England. He has completed an anthology of 25 science fiction short stories, Little Things, 2 novels (Tarn House and The Seventh Wave) and a number of flash fiction stories. Five of his stories have been shortlisted and published online by Tortive Theatre 101. He recently won the Totnes Map Story award for a fictional history of his local town. Kip also plays the fiddle in a Ceilidh band.