Jim Meirose


               Three flaming gas-loaded fire-cocktails flew flickering, sputtering, sparking, through the Davis Funeral Home’s basement window at one o’clock in the morning. Hitting, rolling, bouncing, shattering; sending fire flowing catching full turpentine cans, which burst—big, bright, yellow, crackling; sending superheated gas into the rafters. The pretty dead packed tight in their caskets inches above in the viewing rooms, knew nothing of the fire wrapping ‘round the corrugated paper insulation mere inches below, or of the broken glass-melt overspreading the cellar floor, in boiling hot blobs, as blobfish; as friendless plainfaced sadfish, lonely deepfish, and the scalding gas wrapping fighting up through the countless gaps in the old carpentry, the nails heating, reddening, hidden, in the dark—yet up top three sleeping, don’t yet know.
               No, not yet; but, yesterday.
               So, Mom. What’s up after breakfast? What’s on the agenda for today?
               Nothing until two. Then, we need to set up for calling hours at four. That means we have time to go up in the attic and clean out the rest of the old files there.
               —catching the dry wood, with sheer heat all softening, melting, dripping. Wire insulation spattering up in the flames, consumed by streaming yellowing blazes down the joists between the spaces. Heating vaportongues, hotter, hottest, hotter even than the heart of the flames themselves torching hard upward, where the three prepared in the parlors lay waiting for whatever within their thinly padded uncomfortable caskets, the PVC and Velcro and plastic and tinny frameworks under their graveclothes still forcing them to look alive keep the façade even as the flames near and—
               Up in the attic? We did that yesterday. Its too hot.
               I know, but Dad says we got to clear the files out quick as we can.
               —tongue and groove viewing parlor floors laid long-back by missing-fingered rough dead men in black thickmists heat slowly, first by jets of fuming clawing black-gas, then superfast, the scorch finally burning through, all top to bottom. Like a candle, but not a candle, no wax drips no, yet, damned hot in here in just seconds the steam jets up through the dead and the floral wreaths transform to twisted coils of cheap thin wire, as the casketed writhe shrink liquifying a'sigh, as the heat swells steaming out the florals’ life-waters in the blinding white hot room—
               Can’t we wait and do the files on a cooler day. Its miserable up there.
               No. Let’s pack what’s left in the hearses and then you drive to the hospital. Bobby said he’d look the other way while you use the incinerator. Like last time.
               —flowers cheap ribbons stretched ‘round saying Father Rest in Peace Mother Farewell but gone in a flash, gone to nothing, in the scorching flame-ball the parlor’s become. The heavy antique somber draperies get licked up silly, the heavy dark velvet padded antique gold-studded chairs get licked up still sillier, ripped through flamed apart transformed to beautifully superheated bursting yellowish golden flash, bright. This far in now, big heavy hoses blasting ice water through every stained-glass window might still stop the horror, but the night’s dark and heavy, no one’s been summoned, nobody’s awake; all sleeping way upstairs as the gas lines spit fire choking down all, but the flames getting stronger, the flames and the gas all-consuming—
               Why don’t we pay the cleanup crew we use once in a while to do it?
               Money’s too tight now, with Dad laid up like he is.
               I know, okay, but—for Christ’s sake, Mom.
               —piles of ropy shredded flammable kindling flaming hotly across the floor. Fumes over fumes enveloping sodden rag lumps into balls of fire. Fire’s a struggle, containing its own logic, as trash bags fume up visibly toxic bubbles within expand to perfectly round flame-balls, all flying all bursting showering out in red hot white. Liquid fire slices ‘cross it’s lucky there’s no fragile human-necks stretched out there, no, but, it’s just as bad how Mom Potter’s graveclothes catch from head to toe in one singleflash, melting her bellyhips, charring her hair to shrivels, God, burn the flames, where’s the floor? Drop through; cook the funeral home at high for an hour, and stir vigorously. The stew folds, blends, bubbles and folds in the drifting sodden temporarily fireproof flower-work—
               I don’t like how it is since Dad’s sick.
               Me either. That’s why we got to keep busy and think about other things.
               —Dodge head blocks, the lower body positioners that every generation of Davis men from Abraham through Jamed found invaluable when packing orifices. Arm and hand positioners, cross chest, cross arms, to force the dead to pray until they can’t take it no more. I will talk, yes I’ll talk, we can’t take it no more, yes! Good God, I will talk; just stop, please stop. Please take off the extremity positioners clamped down so hard ah; I will confess M’seur, of the plot to torch Our Lady of the Angels School while classes were in—I do confess—
               Okay. I’m going upstairs. It’s just going to get hotter up there.
               That’s true. But wait. Tell me. Have you thought over what we talked about last night?
               Oh. You mean what we fought about for the hundredth time last night?
               Janie, no. Listen. We got to talk that through and settle it. It’s got Dad stressed. He’s too sick to have things like this hanging over him getting him stressed.
               I am not going to take over this creepy business when he is gone!
               —yes yes yes, though I am an obese case, I will keep my hands clasped. Don’t clamp on the positioners again, no! I swear that was the truth, plus the damned clamps would even give the dead a rash, so caustic they are ,they are Velcros sizzleyes sizzle sizzle sizzle here’s foil ducting wraps red and yellow colors flames yes that what it’s called not to code flames up quickly slams slices bashes all superhot, through the embalming room door, like, it’s molded of butter while up in the dark parlors it’s all up a hundred or more degrees the licking licks up everywhere we’ll get there we’re inexorable yes trust us around this new roomful of embalming products plastic jugs and containers ignite holding Chromatechs Humeglo that—
               I can’t tell Dad that, Janie.
               —goes up hot and flows out scalding, oh yes, beautifully. The cellar level’s a boiling mass of natural law gone wild, but very precisely and true to the chemistries involved knocking all down off the shelves like off the lip of a dam flames down the sluices of Jaundofiant melt Basic scorch Metasyn smolder Permaglo torched Plasdo baked Plasdopake incandescent DeCeCo super-torrid Dri Cav flaring on flaring Freedom Cav blustering Metafix broiling Mylofix scorching PermaCav—
               That will be his last straw. It will kill him for sure.
               —flashing Permafix sparkling Spectrum caustic exploding SynCav blinding-hot searing PermaSeal non-flammable, but melting all down spreading smothering, but much weaker, all engulfed evaporated and gone. The stench in the walls rises to the bedrooms where Wendy Janie and—
               How do I tell him this, Janie? Tell me—how do I do that? You think that’ll be easy, Janie?
               —mindless gone Jamed wreathed with airy brown thickening tendrils, all choking, and that’s what first woke Wendy. In the cellar, the best jar of Pore Closer money could buy, becomes candle disappearing heat puffing the contents out and away to shimmering gas sparking up momentary diamonds in the flame jarring down for no apparent reason the Heavy Compound Injector from its softening slanting slippery green steel rack while above Little Bobby Zap-monkey’s superwide custom casket’s full overflowing thick greasy flames shooting what he used to be spattering up through the heat—
               Janie froze, clenched, and spun.
               If he was dead, it’d be really easy, Mom. It’d be really easy. For both of us!
               —and smoke straight toward heaven—Wendy stirs screaming, Janie, Janie! There’s a fire! Get out! As the fat jug of Dodge-Sorb just vaporized down cellar as that other tight-assed Dad used to say before he was dismantled in a motorcycle accident is limited only by your imagination such as overfilling juglike banana-shaped corpses blown out to super-full bursting by this original Dodge Embalming Machine finally an embalming machine you can depend on that has all the features every machine should have, but none, do no more, and the Dodgesorb Absorbent’s so rich—
               Janie! Wait, wait! Let’s talk about this!
               —cranial caps stacked beside the rapidly simmering hot old machine flare up like steel wool can usefully absorb seepage from autopsied or mutilated heads, but are no use in firefighting. Most firemen have no idea that such things even exist, or that the inside of the cap is absorbent, while the outside is fluid-impervious, but, it’s still flammable. It conveniently conforms to the shape of the head easily, but is still flammable. Slide under the head and the cap sinks into the casket pillow but it still burns like tissue Wendy stoops below the thickening smoke sticking to the ceiling finds Jamed’s room-door, dashes in and knows he is going up fast flame is flickering between the floorboards catching—‘nd the time finally flowed up ‘til now where the flickering lick found the corner of Jamed’s winding sheet; Wendy runs across toward the quick-smoldering bed, but, barefoot, the heat drives a daggerlike hot-bolt up through her core pushing ahead out her mouth the scream which had been long dormant inside, but now activated it yells, Jamed Jamed, Jamed, I—
               Janie, where are you, Janie help me! Your father is dying here Janie come help!
               Pain-panicked she reaches his flaming bed and throws back the covers throwing up a spark-shower blocking her back from him but but but her arms push through the flamewall gripping Jamed’s arm and pull and burn and her grip slips off holding a handful of his degloved burnt slimy detached sizzling rag of his arm—
               Janie! Janie come help!
               —and she grips out into the yellow red living sear wall again feeling nothing but gripping in her mind. There’s no feeling in her hand, her arm, but; she has to have him, because—Lord God, I love you Jamed, you can’t go this way; see that, she loves him she does makes the air all through the funeral home become either greater or lesser but the end’s decided and it’s coming near where Old lady Barbara’s solid bronze super-expensive ten-ton casket presses down hot much too hard, and, all crashes to the floor below, and that to the floor below, lower, and all’s a hissing steaming flaming meatmass shrinking and shrinking down to never will be found, ten feet under her Jamed’s cases of the very same surgical steel instruments used a hundred years back by Abraham in the flesh with no sterilizers needed, ‘cause you can’t kill the dead—or can you maybe—all crash to the floor as two floors up—but Wendy somehow comes free of the crumbling ash heap her numb dying arms dripping ribbons of black flesh she falls back over out onto the sidelawn and falls face-first ‘cross the cold dewy dawngrass, into the arms of her screaming daughter, Janie.
               Mom, Mom, Mom—thank God, here I am—where’s Dad? Did he get out?
               —and the reply flies up in the calm cool trees Janie’s pulled her under.
               No, my God, no! Jamed is gone.
               Mom. Please.
               I tried, I tried, but—Lord God no Janie, your father is gone!
               Janie, nothing—but now in the dawn firemen noise red and hose water all around—they’re helped across the street.
               Yes; then the roof slams down whole, showering out embers, engulfing all else below, slamming all down fragmenting the last in the line of Davises to bits, merged with the greater ash-mass of the funeral home never to be recovered. The pile’s geysering up embers high higher highest; by now, all the town’s aware; dawn’s here wakening all still alive, and, Wendy; Wendy writhes in third degree pain in both arms, and across most of the front of her upper body. She’s taken away by some hands, words, and sirens, leaving Janie there in the grass for a long time. Above in the shadowed bottoms of the dawn tree-leaves, she gazes, but—smiling, do not thank, do not thank, do not thank, no not smiling, don’t even do that much, but, eh, it doesn’t matter now, because, who knows why. Janie must be in shock, she thinks, and does know, At least now there’s nothing for us to argue about, at least, and thank God for that too, no, oh Mother!
               Oh Mother!
               Oh Mother!
               Look down; smile inside.

Jim Meirose's short work has appeared in numerous venues, and his published novels include No and Maybe - Maybe and No (Pski's Porch). Le Overgivers au Club de la Résurrection (Mannequin Haus), Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF pubs), and Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer (Optional books). Info at www.jimmeirose.com @jwmeirose
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