Graveless in South Cynica
by Bob Friedman
Waldo Wilden’s final repose is disturbed by Huqabooloo Penntonian, a collection agent from Grimreaperco. Waldo’s descendants have defaulted on Waldo’s gravesite rental. Worse, they seem to have become Scrooge-type capitalists. What’s an old union organizer to do?
“Anyone know where they’re taking us?” Waldo felt certain that whatever the answer, he was not going to like it.
A dissonant chorus poured forth various uninformed speculations that gave Waldo a skull ache. Most of his bones recalled the arthritis pain he suffered near the end of his life.
“I suppose we’ll find out soon enough,” he said as the truck moved towards the cemetery’s rear egress.
“Stop, moron!” said Waldo when a rib and two toes flew onto Highway Sixty-Nine and got squished by a beat-up, bright red Beemer. “You’re losing cargo.”
“It’s all right,” said a gentle-voiced female who Waldo assumed owned the lost bones. “I’m Mary Ann Whallando.”
“Waldo Wilden. Nice to meet... er most of you.” He felt her anguish, vowing to fight harder for exhumee rights.
What if I’m incomplete? He thought about that old folk song as he took stock of himself. Yep. Every bone was present and accounted for, though nowhere near their proper configuration as delineated in those lyrics or Gray’s Anatomy.
Waldo cursed when the driver hit a pothole. He cursed several more times before his skull stopped rolling. “Now I know what a slot machine mechanism feels like.” Being a Teamster, he wanted to put the driver out on the side of the road after cutting his driver’s license up with pinking shears. With a clown like that at the wheel, he expected to lose at least one major bone and a multitude of minor ones before they arrived. Being ignored by that living driver pissed him off even more.
Part of him hoped they would slam into a tanker truck, be immolated, and rapidly reduced to ashes, figuring this would be poetic justice. He had always wanted to be cremated and regretted letting his children talk him out of it. How would it look? A Jew of his generation cremated? “Unthinkable,” they said. He thought it was not only very thinkable but also ecologically necessary. Still he went along.
Waldo cursed the ultimate indignity: being dumped into a pile with at least a dozen other complete skeletons and portions of nine others. In this every-bone-for-itself environment, he realized both bones and workers could benefit from collective bargaining.
“Listen to me,” said Waldo’s skull. “I know you feel there’s no point in working together because you think we can’t change our situation. Or worse: somehow we deserve to be graveless. Deep inside, you know that’s not true. Trust me. Trust one another. If we work together and with the living, we can tell the company about our needs.”
Waldo’s skull spoke to everyone. Maryann was the first skeleton to agree. Waldo found he liked it when her bones mingled with his. Her support gave him the self-confidence necessary to continue arguing with the others until they agreed. The workers put him on a little pedestal but most diggers and drivers joked about him or ignored him. When they found out how much being ignored infuriated him, they did it all the more.
One younger fellow named Joe Dravil paid attention. With his help, a few other crew members agreed. They spoke with members of other crews and their union stewards. Waldo’s request that the diggers’ and drivers’ union represent the graveless was at first denied.
He organized a haunting line. Any worker who crossed it experienced the scare of his or her life. Martin Willinghaul believed his flesh was being eaten as he watched. Sal Vertizoro thought he was drowning. Michelle Upshort thought she would forever live in pain and anguish, her super-fit body wasted away to skinless bone. Their illusions ceased the instant they backed out beyond Waldo’s haunting line.
He felt satisfaction, something he’d not experienced since the strike of ’65, the year before his first heart attack.
None of the union workers experienced any haunting after Dravil convinced them not to recycle any exhumees. At his insistence local 1969 agreed to represent the interests of the graveless.
Scabs brought in by the company refused to cross the haunting line. The grapevine worked particularly well in this matter. The company soon gave up on scabs.
Waldo’s annoyance with Huqabooloo turned to festering bitterness when the bimodal tried dictating a settlement to the striking workers. He made the bimodal believe it was becoming permanently dissipated and would soon perish.
Huqabooloo rapidly decorporealized.
When he should have celebrated a small victory, Waldo felt a chill, as if ice was suddenly flowing through every portion of his bones that marrow formerly inhabited.
Waldo’s anxiety intensified when the saw the approaching motorcade. The flashing red lights on the roofs of the black Ford Explorers made him again wish for eyelids. He hardly noticed the beige limo in the phalanx center.
Joe mentioned, “It looks like you got their attention. The big boss is coming to negotiate in person.”
The limo drove out of the phalanx to within seven feet of where Waldo’s skull was perched. A tuxedo-like HAZMAT suited figure emerged. It removed the helmet. Waldo barely recalled the days when he saw that face in his morning mirror.
“I’m Marshall Wilden. Are you Grandpa Waldo?” asked the familiar face with an all too stylish haircut.
“I’m Waldo Wilden, or what’s left of him. Why did you put me out of my final resting place?”
Marshall avoided eye contact with the skull at first. Waldo sensed a certain amount of queasiness mixed with a larger portion of guilt.
Marshall looked at him. “I didn’t know about it until this morning. I’m a doctor not a bureaucrat. The CEO called me when he realized it was you who started this rebellion. That’s the first I heard you had been exhumed.”
Waldo felt moisture in his eye sockets when he noticed his grandson’s tears.
“No one’s rebelling. We want fairness for those who can no longer meet their final obligations.”
“I thought we arranged for your complimentary accommodations. That’s why we altered things. I wanted to free up more money to endow causes you believe in. There was a clerical error. I still don’t know how it happened. It was not my personal mistake, but I’m responsible and will make amends, grandpa. I promise.”
“Thank you. This is Maryann.”
Marshall nodded at her partial skeleton. “I’m glad you’ve made Grandpa Waldo happy.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said.
“Do you wish to be interred together?”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“What about the others?”
Marshall looked at the other piles of bones and miscellaneous debris then looked back at Waldo. In the midst of head turning back to face Waldo, an ear-to-ear grin emerged onto Marshall’s face.
Waldo knew that facial expression well. He wore it many times when he found an obvious solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem. The kid who was no longer but would always be a child to him found a solution.
“Our family can endow a fund to assist those in danger of losing their graves. We’ll close the recycling department. You have my word.”
Waldo knew a righteous promise when he heard one. “I’m proud of you, Marshall.”
“Thanks, grandpa. Now can I take you home?”
“Not until every one of my friends who want it is re-interred.”
“As you wish,” said Marshall.
Waldo waited until this was accomplished then allowed himself and Maryann to be re-interred. He introduced her to his neighbors of thirty-seven years. Waldo was happy that he was no longer alone in his grave and was at peace with the family from whom he had been estranged for far too long.
Copyright © 2008 by Bob Friedman