Friday, June 11, 2010


Category: Short Story


It was a shock. She was my mother after all. You think you know your mother pretty well—she raised you, fed you, protected you, changed your dirty diapers for crying out loud. But who really knows another person? Even one who gave you life? One minute she’s bouncing you on her knee and the next thing you know she’s an old lady crippled with arthritis and dying from an assortment of afflictions. Then, one day she’s gone. Slipped quietly into the void.
It’s sad, sure, but she was old and had a good long life. Her medical directive called for cremation and that was fine with me. I called the Neptune Society to alert them to her death and they put me in touch with a local funeral home to carry out the process. A Mr. Wimscott called to say that, “Wimscott and Preston were saddened by the news of her death but would take care of all the details. Your mother pre-paid for the service but you can always upgrade to a better quality urn.” I declined the upgrade. If nothing else, mother wasn’t an extravagant woman. There was a small memorial service attended by my brother and her aids. The cremation was scheduled for the following day.
It was a great relief to have all that taken care of. The next afternoon the phone rang. I was expecting Mr. Wimscott to call and tell me the cremation was done and to come and pick up mother’s ashes. Instead it was a voice I didn’t recognize. “Mr. Clapper?” the voice said.
“This is Charles Clapper,” I replied.
“Mr. Clapper, I’m Jeremy Smoot, regional director for the Neptune Society. First let me offer my condolences on your mother’s passing.” I thanked him and he continued. “There’s been a slight problem. I was hoping you could come down to the funeral home and meet with us here.”
“A problem?” I asked.
“We’d rather not discuss it over the phone.”
I made an appointment to meet later that day. I couldn’t imagine what sort of problem would bring the regional director all the way to our little town. Surely the Neptune Society had done this millions of times before. I was pretty keyed up for our meeting.
I knocked on Daniel Wimscott’s office door at the appointed hour. Mr. Smoot and Mr. Wimscott were both looking properly lugubrious. Wimscott looked the part of prosperous mortician, graying at the temples, tall and thin. Smoot was dressed like a business man and was shorter and heavier than his funereal partner. They offered me a seat. Wimscott cleared his throat and began. “Your mother…”
He was cut off by Smoot, “I want you to know that in no way is the Society responsible.”
“What’s going on? What are you talking about? Did you do something wrong?”
“We did everything by the book, exactly the same as we do for all our clients,” Smoot continued, “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
“Nothing like what?” I was confused.
Smoot and Wimscott exchanged glances. “Maybe you’d better come with us,” Wimscott said, raising from his seat. He opened a door I thought was a closet and led us down a flight of steps to the basement. We passed the big cremation furnace and waited while Wimscott fumbled with his keys. He unlocked a door that led to a small room with a hospital type gurney in it. “This is one of our preparation rooms,” he said by way of explanation, “and those are the remains of your mother.” He pointed to a pile of charred debris on the gurney.
I came over and examined the remains. What I saw shocked me. Instead of the pile of lumpy grey ash I was expecting, there was a tangle of burnt wires, melted plastic and blackened metal bones. I looked from the debris to the two men and back to the remains. “Is this some kind of joke?” I asked knowing that these gentlemen were incapable of joking. They stood there stone faced and silent while the awful truth penetrated my brain. “But my mother was a kind, sweet, wonderful woman. I loved her. She loved me. she…”
“You see why we wanted a private meeting,” said Smoot. “I’m very sorry Mr. Clapper but it seems your mother wasn’t human, She was a machine.”

It took several months for me to get my head around that information. It’s been three years now that mother left us and I’m not sure I’ve fully come to terms with it. Wimscott and Preston didn’t have a receptacle large enough to hold all of mothers pieces no matter how much I was willing to spend. In the end I was forced to use a large metal tool box which I bought at the local hardware store. It sits on my mantle now. It’s somehow more fitting and appropriate than a fancy schmancy urn. Mother never liked extravagance.