Johnny America


Fishie’s Last Rites


Roy owned the on­ly dri­ve-thru fu­ner­al busi­ness in Maine. It said so in smudged black ink in the phone book. It al­so said that he spe­cial­ized ex­clu­sive­ly in pets, or “dear­ly de­part­ed hu­man com­pan­ions.” It was the on­ly pet fu­ner­al busi­ness in the state. The dri­ve-thru was a perk.

Wal­ly had won Fishie at one of those car­ni­val games where you try to throw a ping pong ball in­to a fish­bowl. It was his first pet and he was ec­sta­t­ic, as four-year-olds tend to be. It was with equal in­ten­si­ty that he ex­pressed his grief when Fishie was found float­ing bel­ly-up five days lat­er. Nor­mal­ly, I would have flushed Fishie or buried him in the yard be­cause — well, let’s face it — he’s a gold­fish. But Wal­ly had oth­er ideas. You see, we’d had a fu­ner­al for his grand­moth­er re­cent­ly. At the time, Ann and I had told him it was a cel­e­bra­tion of life. We told him not to feel sad for her. Boy, did that come back and bite us.

So Wal­ly cried and cried, beg­ging us to hold Fishie’s fu­ner­al. I told Ann that flush­ing Fishie down the toi­let was a sort of fu­ner­al. We were re­turn­ing him to the wa­ter. It would be what he want­ed, I in­sist­ed. But of course, we de­cid­ed that it was bet­ter if we tried to make it as au­then­tic as pos­si­ble, if on­ly to help our son through what was a tough loss. Smart aleck that I am, I asked her if I should go take a look in the yel­low pages for a pet fu­ner­al home. She tossed a phone book at me. I still have the bruise.

I called Roy, who sound­ed pret­ty nor­mal as pet fu­ner­al di­rec­tors go. When I told him we want­ed to hold a ser­vice for a gold­fish, even he took a pause. In the end, he told us drop on by the next day. When you run such a niche ser­vice, you’re prob­a­bly not that se­lec­tive with the clientèle.

While dri­ving to Roy’s es­tab­lish­ment, I won­dered how a dri­ve-thru fu­ner­al worked. What were the lo­gis­tics in­volved in run­ning that sort of op­er­a­tion? Was there a big enough mar­ket for pet fu­ner­als and were the sort of peo­ple who sought a pet fu­ner­al so par­tic­u­lar that the ab­sence of a dri­ve-thru was a deal breaker?

It was an old fast food restau­rant, com­plete with its old dri­ve-thru and in var­i­ous stages of dis­re­pair. We pulled in, rang a bell, and Roy popped his head out of the dri­ve-thru win­dow. He was wear­ing a sweater and jeans. There must be a dif­fer­ent dress code for pet fu­ner­al directors.

“What can I do for you folks?”

“I called yes­ter­day. We want to hold a ser­vice for Fishie here,” I said.

Wal­ly gin­ger­ly han­dled the bag in which the fish was held and gave it to me. I passed it through the win­dow to Roy. He gave us a brochure, which Ann gave to Wal­ly, who picked the most ex­trav­a­gant ser­vice in the book. I groaned qui­et­ly. Ann gave me a look.

I paid the man and he took my mon­ey happily.

“Dri­ve around back,” he said, “I’ll be out in two shakes of a lam­b’s tail.”

And that end­ed the dri­ve-thru por­tion of it all. It was as if Roy used the dri­ve-thru on­ly be­cause one ex­ist­ed. Hard­ly seemed worth it. I won­dered what they did with larg­er pets. What if we had a gold­en re­triev­er? Would I stuff that through the win­dow too? Would it fit?

There was a gat­ed gar­den in the rear with lines of tomb­stones of var­ied types and sizes. We wait­ed for fif­teen min­utes be­fore Roy came out. He was hold­ing a small makeshift cas­ket that looked like a match­box in one hand and a shov­el in the oth­er. He laid down the shov­el and asked Wal­ly to hold the cas­ket, which he did with rev­er­ence. Roy went back in­side and re­turned with flow­ers and a CD play­er. It was the pre­mi­um deluxe ser­vice af­ter all. No skimping.

He led the way to the bur­ial site, where he laid the flow­ers and played the mu­sic (Bob­by Darin, “Be­yond the Sea”). He dug a hole in one scoop and Wal­ly put the cas­ket in it. We cov­ered it up and Roy stuck a piece of card­board at the head of the grave. “Fishie,” it read.

“I’ll have the head­stone en­graved in a cou­ple of days. Would you like to come back when it’s ready?”

I in­formed him that it was­n’t nec­es­sary. He re­cit­ed some somber words about the pass­ing and bur­ial of Fishie which I’m sure are stan­dard in his line of work. Then he asked if any­one had any­thing pre­pared. Wal­ly looked up ex­pec­tant­ly with sad doe eyes. Ann looked mean­ing­ful­ly at me. Sure, let Dad take care of it.

I cleared my throat and chan­neled fish thoughts.

“To­day we cel­e­brate the life of Fishie,” I be­gan. “Fishie was a good friend, es­pe­cial­ly to my boy Wal­ly. He was a good fish as fish go. He was gold. He swam re­al well. Seemed to like food pel­lets. We’ll miss you.”

Ann touched my arm and smiled. Wal­ly was hap­py and so was I. We left as Bob­by’s croon­ing fad­ed out.

Back in the car on the ride home, Wal­ly asked, “Can we get an­oth­er fish?”

“What about a tur­tle?” I asked.

Filed under Fiction on December 28th, 2008

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Lane Turnbow wrote:

Did you try sub­mit­ting this to I think it would have worked well in the fall 208 edition.

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