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.
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