“I want to be interred after I die,” Mr. Peters said. He made that clear to his family while he was still lucid, before old age and illness rendered him unintelligible. Seventy wasn’t that old, but he recognized the symptoms that were creeping up on his ailing body – the aches, the fatigue, the feeling of helplessness and despair. Despite his daughter’s attempts to assuage his concerns, he sensed his own mortality.
The worst part about dying, Mr. Peters thought, was what happened afterwards. Even since he was a small boy, he had been afraid of fire. He could never forget the scorching heat of the orange flames searing his skin, the dark billowing smoke entering his nostrils. The time that his house burned down, the fire almost took him with it. How ironic then, to escape the fire only to be fed into it after death.
So one day, he sat his son and daughter down after dinner. “I want to be buried whole,” he said, emphasizing the “whole”. “I do not want to be cremated. After I die, put my body in a coffin and lower it into the ground. As simple as that.”
His daughter Lucy gasped. “Don’t talk about that,” she said, flustered. “It’s unlucky.”
Mr. Peters waved her away with his hand. “Everybody dies sooner or later. I’m letting you know now so you can start preparing. No cremation. Understood?”
Lucy and his son John nodded their heads.
“Good,” Mr. Peters said. He stood up from his chair and made for the door. Suddenly, there was a stabbing pain in his chest. He groped for the back of his chair blindly, but failed, and collapsed onto the floor.
Within hours, Mr. Peters was dead.
If Mr. Peters was right about the inevitability of death, he was wrong about the simplicity of a burial. In the seventy years he had lived, more people had died and were buried while the land mass had stayed the same.
This was something Lucy Peters Green understood. It was with trepidation that she dialed the numbers of the cemeteries in the city, and her fear was realized when the caretakers told her that all the cemetery plots were full.
“You’re outdated, ma’am,” the caretakers told her. “No one buries their dead anymore. Everyone does cremation.”
Lucy hung up. She then proceeded to call the cemeteries outside the city. They were all but full too, with only a few plots available. Lucy bought a plot with her meager earnings despite its exorbitant price. A simple service was held, and the coffin that held the body of Mr. Peters was lowered into the ground and covered with soil. A tombstone was erected, and before she left, Lucy placed a wreath of yellow carnations on his grave. They were his favorite flowers.
Who knew that it would be more expensive to die as time went on? But it makes sense, if you think about it.
“Bury me…” the old man mumbled in his delirium. “…in the ground…I’m burning…”
His wife, his children, his grandchildren and two nurses scurried about him, applying cold compresses, squeezing his hand. To no avail. There was nothing they could do to bring old Mr. Scott out of his delirium.
“What to do…what to do,” muttered old Mrs. Scott as she squeezed her husband’s hand. “He wants to be buried, but that’s not possible…”
“Mom, we’ll have to cremate him. That’s the only option,” their son replied. “There is no more space. No one has been buried for years.”
Just then, the old man’s eyes popped open. His family gasped and all leaned towards the bed, anxious and eager at the same time.
“When I die…” the old man whispered in a moment of lucidity, “bury me in the ground, where I’ll be safe from the flames. Bury me whole…do not burn me…leave me in peace…” With that, Mr. Scott again fell into his delirium.
His wife and son looked at each other. “He has spoken,” she whispered.
“But burial is illegal,” the son protested.
Old Mrs. Scott shook her head. “You can’t deny a dying man’s last wish, especially if he’s your father. Charlie…”
Charlie Scott sighed. “Yes, Mom. We’ll figure something out.” He glanced at the body of his father ruefully. Seeing the gaunt face, outline of the bones stretching his paper-thin skin, the beads of sweat trickling down the face of the man he loved so dearly, Charlie knew that something had to be done.
The caretaker led Charlie through rows and rows of graves, pausing here and there to assess their potential. Finally, he came to a stop in front of a sandstone marker. It was full of scratches, but Charlie managed to discern the name. Jonathan Peters, 1950–2020.
2020, Charlie thought, that was the year his father was born.
“No one visits this grave because the man has no living descendants,” the caretaker said.
Charlie paused to examine the spot. Weeds poked out from the soil, and a rotten stench wafted towards him from somewhere nearby. But it was the best he could do.
“Alright,” he said, and handed the caretaker the check. “You get the other half of the payment after this deal is completed.”
The caretaker nodded. A date and time was arranged.
After the caretaker went off, Charlie stood at the spot for a while longer. It was sad, he thought, how money could only buy this dilapidated plot in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere. He shook his head. If he were richer…
The caretaker felt exhilaration and guilt at the same time. Exhilaration, because in his hand he held a check that contained more money than he had earned in a lifetime. Yet, he could not gaze at the coffin of Mr. Peters without a sense of pity. Poor man, he thought. It was too bad his children died without having children of their own. In this day and age, it was essential to have someone to guard the grave.
As he stood there wondering what to do, he suddenly hit upon a solution. With his newly earned money, he had Mr. Peters’ body cremated and scattered the ashes in the river. It was only the right way to pay respect to the body, he thought, satisfied with himself.
With his conscience clear, he bought a car, a brand new Ferrari, and drove it home to show his family.