The outside of the Georgess Funeral Home was as somber as you would expect a funeral home to be. Appropriate black banners flew from every post so brazenly that it almost seemed to be overcompensating for the one little body inside. People climbed out of their cars and tried to put on a face of sadness, loss, or grief. But no one could truly mask the excitement in their eyes.
Inside, the funeral home stank of flowers and dusty Kleenex with the reception line slowly trundling past the family of Abigail Schuman like a depressing train with everyone offering the same cliched sentiments of grief.
“What a shame,” said Mrs. Dryfin hacking into her ever-present handkerchief as she made her way through the throng of people to grab a good seat.
“She was a wonderful woman,” Minnie Piper offered enthusiastically to Abigail’s mother before realizing her excited nature was out of place.
“She will be missed,” her husband Lou said hastily, to draw attention away from his overzealous wife, Abigail’s mother nodding automatically.
The empty words and pitiful declarations of sorrow echoed through the hall and the ears of the Schuman family members who stoically accepted the statements they had heard a hundred times over. They knew the score. Now that Abigail was dead she was up for grabs and all they could hope was that they could turn a profit to pay the bills she left behind.
Now that the line was receding, people were growing restless waiting for the real action to begin. Their carefully planned visages had been tossed away in favor of excitement, and double-checking their wallets. Lou and Minnie sat in the very front pew with rapt attention on the gaudy pink coffin in front of them. Minnie looked around the funeral hall, sizing up the competition. Upon making eye contact with Mrs. Dryfin, Minnie immediately recoiled and hissed, “Does she plan on going to every funeral?”
“I agree it does seem selfish, but…” Lou said calmly trying to pacify her.
“Selfish? Lou, we have a reason. She’s just a collector. How many extra hips and ribs does she really need?”
While Mrs. Dryfin was indeed old and indeed a collector, she happened to own many pairs of functional ears and decided to remind the young couple. “I can hear you, you know,” she said presumptuously. “I am very aware that you think your purpose is more important than my own, so before the auction begins I’ll give you a little hint. I’m only after one item today,” she grinned, revealing a shiny new set of teeth that looked out of place on the old woman.
While this should have placated Minnie, it only fueled her anger. Minnie forced herself to stare at the Pepto-Bismol colored coffin and willed herself to pull it together. She and Lou had a plan, and she’d be damned if Mrs. Dryfin was going to get the best of her.
“Think of the baby,” Lou whispered, and Minnie turned her thoughts to soft baby blankets and onesies. She softened, drifting in her imaginary world, and Lou relaxed.
Finally, the auctioneer took the stage next to the coffin. Immediately all the attendees perked up and got out their bidding signs in anticipation. With a nod to the family and his audience he produced a gavel and went to work. From both sides of the parlor, spotless silver carts made their debut in the center of the room. Perched on top of these carts were all the bits and pieces of Abigail Schuman that could be salvaged.
“All right folks, the auction will begin in ten minutes. You may take this time to peruse the items. A reminder that all bids are final and must be paid before exiting.”
Mrs. Dryfin immediately put on her glasses to better see the condition of Abigail’s liver. Minnie’s gaze followed her as she hovered over each organ, appraising them with a purse of her wrinkled lips. With a desperate hope, Minnie tried to glean from Mrs. Dryfin’s squinting eyes and prodding fingers which item she was going for. But the old lady refused to give in to Minnie’s scrutiny. She was having a ball watching the young woman squirm and sweat as she poked and prodded the organs that she could afford but apparently did not deserve in the eyes of the young woman. Lou sat stoically, rubbing his wife’s hand in an absent-minded matter while he thought of how he could placate her if this auction didn’t go their way.
The auctioneer banged his gavel, and everyone returned to their seats. The air was heavy with the pervasive scent of formaldehyde and competition, and Lou and Minnie were determined to come out on top for once. And so, the auction began.
“Abigail’s kidneys, perfect functioning order. Starting at $1,000 dollars. Abigail’s hair, approximately two feet long, chestnut brown. Starting at $800 dollars.”
The bidding was fierce and those lucky enough to win their item of choice often shouted expletives at their fellow bidders on their way out the door. Minnie and Lou watched these people leave and felt their confidence grow.
“Hopefully most people will go before our item goes up…” Minnie whispered optimistically. While she sounded positively radiant at the thought, she continuously bit the inside of her cheek. It was a nervous habit that Minnie had acquired in childhood and one that Lou was very familiar with.
“I certainly hope so dear,” Lou said, trying his hardest to make shadows of a smile reach his face. But deep down he knew that if he kissed Minnie right now, he would taste blood. He dreaded what would happen if they did not win the auction. Would Minnie storm off to the nursery to cry and lock herself in like last time? Or would she unleash a new form of grief that was even worse? Her emotions controlled her, leaving her to spin out wildly at their command. He tried to shake the thoughts away and focused instead on the bitter war raging between two elderly men for Abigail’s teeth.
They sat and waited through the gastrointestinal section with perfect dignity. However, Mrs. Dryfin had also been silent through the entire auction, which only added to Minnie’s ever-mounting anxiety, her legs now bobbing up and down, shaking the pew.
“Abigail’s eyes. Bright blue, 20/20 vision. Starting at $3,000.”
“$3,000,” cried Minnie, the tension finally breaking and exploding as the competition began. The auctioneer acknowledged the bid with a wave of his hand.
“4,000,” Mrs. Dryfin said loftily as if it mattered not if she won.
“$5,000,” Minnie called out immediately, baring her teeth like a wolf.
“$6,000.” Mrs. Dryfin countered, a smile on her face.
“$10,000,” Minnie screamed, tearing at her hair, “$10,000 dollars for the eyes.”
Mrs. Dryfin laughed, a deep guffaw that shook the funeral home, but she did not bid. The gavel pounded and Minnie and Lou sprinted up to the podium.
“That was the most fun I’ve had in ages!” Mrs. Dryfin cackled with tears running down her withered cheeks, as Minnie gave her check to the auctioneer. “Consider it my baby shower gift to you!” she shouted after them, still laughing between breaths.
Minnie and Lou took the jar containing their precious eyes and stormed out. As they drove back home, they broke into grins. Lou felt giddy knowing that he wouldn’t have to pick up broken pieces of Minnie, basking in her happiness. As they went inside their small apartment they ran straight into the nursery decked with child-friendly pictures of happy bunnies and carefree clouds. The nursery was very standard as far as nurseries go, but it was still lacking a crib. Instead of a frilly and cushioned place for a baby to lie, it held an advanced refrigeration system that the couple had saved up for months to buy. As they placed the eyes in the chamber next to the other organs they had won, Lou assessed it carefully against his checklist.
“Minnie, I think we’re ready to build our baby.”
Minnie clasped her hands together in joy and kissed Lou with a passion that had been missing since the doctor told Minnie she would never have children.
“I told you it would be fine, I told you,” Lou kept repeating as Minnie hugged him fiercely.
“Let’s call a surgeon now! We have so much to do!”
The couple flew into action, Lou called up the best surgeon he knew as Minnie prepped the baby’s parts in their traveling containers. In between all the rushing and packing Minnie went up to Lou, her eyes sparkling with tears and said, “You’re going to be a father Lou.”
Fatherhood had always been a distant dream, but with Minnie’s condition, Lou accepted long ago that it may never happen. In their yearlong scavenger hunt for body parts he never really thought they could gather everything that they needed. Panic filled his chest and suddenly the walls felt incredibly intrusive to his personal space. He spent so long planning for this that he had never realized that he wasn’t ready.
Minnie had packed almost all the parts.
And Lou was not ready.
He ran to the nursery and looked into the refrigeration unit. Sitting inside were the pancreas and heart floating in the blue-tinged goo that kept them fresh. So much money. So many hours sitting in funeral parlors, waiting to pounce on the grief of one poor family after another.
Without thinking, Lou plunged his hands in and grabbed the heart. He whirled around and forcibly pushed his own feet out from under him. He hit the ground hard and welcomed the pain, and the heart connected with the tile in a spectacular display of fluid and glass.
The sound of breaking glass reached Minnie’s ears and her heart seemed to fall along with the baby’s. Where Minnie’s reached the pit of her stomach, the baby’s met the floor.
Olivia Germann is a 23-year-old writer from Chicago, currently residing in Indiana as a youth librarian. She is a queer artist, choosing to spread her work across genres and platforms. At present, she is an MFA student at National University and has been previously published by TweetLit, Burnt Pine Magazine, and Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal among others with upcoming work soon to be featured in Helen Literary Journal. It is her goal is to make her art accessible and expressible both on and off of the page for all audiences.