It was a big box joint, out on a low overhead stretch of highway. The pink neon sign arching over the entrance to the parking lot read CRYPTS, a division of Marshal Memorial Inc. Below that was a flashing white neon sign reading Drive-Thru. I drove on, and waited in line for the order window. There was only one car ahead of us, a red Cadillac, circa 1975. The driver had been talking into a speaker next to his driver’s side window for several minutes, before two men arrived at the passenger side of the car with a gurney. Opening the car door, they pulled the body of an elderly man out of the car. He wore a rumpled brown suit and only one shoe. The two men placed his body onto the gurney, while the driver watched and waved a slow, sad good-bye. Then the dead old man was wheeled away, as a slot below the speaker spat out a paper tape and credit card that the Cadillac man took, before he drove away.
I drove forward to occupy his space as he did, and cut the engine, tapping my toe on the clutch pedal for a quiet moment before a young woman’s voice welcomed us over an intercom.
Vivian, my wife of 25 years, had just passed away of cancer. She was in the back of the Subaru. A hospice grief counsellor had recommended several funeral homes. This one hadn’t been at the top of her list, but it had the best prices and fit well with my tendency toward doing things myself.
“Welcome to CRYPTS,” said the young woman, “a Division of Marshal Memorial. This week’s specials are double Air Miles for all conventional embalming treatments, Armit Kevlar Headstones, purple and tangerine colours only, at 25% off, all sales final, and Carlucci Himalayan Granite Plinths—buy three and get the forth plinth for free. There are many more specials in this week’s flyer. Be sure to ask how you can be put on our mailing list, and receive 25 CRYPTS Points absolutely free. My name is Kim, how may I help you? Our conversation will be recorded for quality assurance purposes.”
The speaker squealed, and then Kim came back. “You’ll have to speak up, sir. Are you distraught? At CRYPTS we understand. CRYPTS Brand Bereavement Counsellors are available to help, should you require their assistance. And this week you can speak to a CRYPTS Brand Bereavement Counsellor for only ten dollars a minute. That’s a 30% savings and you still receive full Air Miles and CRYPTS Bonus Points. You don’t even need to leave your car. Will you be using Visa, Master Card, Amex or Discover Card?”
“Discover Card? You take Discover Card?”
“Yes sir,” Kim said. “And this week, you earn triple CRYPTS Bonus Points when you use your Discover Card.”
“Who even has a Discover Card anymore?”
“I do,” said Norm. Norm was a friend. He had helped me put Vivian’s body into the back of the car, and now sat in the passenger seat.
“I’ll use my Master Card,” I said. “And I don’t need a counsellor.”
“Ok sir, please place your Master Card into the slot marked Payment. That’s great. Now, how may we help?”
“It’s my wife, in the back,” I said with a sniff.
“I understand,” Kim said, and taking my name from my credit card, she said, “And you wish to inter her with us, Mr Owen? Thank you for choosing CRYPTS, a Division of Marshal Memorial.”
“Yes…,” I said, “…inter.”
“Do you wish her interred locally?” Kim asked.
“Of course, where else?”
“Interment locally is more expensive than the CRYPTS Roll of the Dice Program. With the CRYPTS Roll of the Dice Program, we place the deceased in a cargo container, with others taking advantage of the terrific value, that’s put on a bulk carrier. We guarantee that the loved one is interred at the first port of call that has space. Please note that embalming is mandatory for the CRYPTS Roll of the Dice Program. An important embalming benefit to you is that cosmetics and hair styling are included in the price. That adds even more value!”
“Local,” I said. “But does she have to be embalmed? I mean it seems a bit unnecessary if she’s going to be buried.”
“If the family wishes to say a final farewell, it is. At CRYPTS, we believe it’s important for family and friends to say a final good-bye to the loved one. In life your wife would have bathed and used an under arm deodorant, I’m sure.”
“I guess,” I said. Then, “Well, of course she did.”
“And she did so to be pleasant and presentable?”
“Well,” said Kim, “embalming is like underarm deodorant for the deceased. It allows for the final adieus to take place without any unwelcome odoriferousness.”
“Odoriferousness? That’s not even a word.”
“Oh, but it is,” said Kim. “Odoriferousness, antiodoriferousness, quasidoriferousness, megaodoriferousness and polyodoriferousness are all trademarked words belonging to CRYPTS, a division of Marshal Memorial. And they’re slated for inclusion in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.”
“Gawd,” I mumbled, ”you’re killing me.” I was beginning to feel a little disgusted. I caught Norm squirm, out of the corner of my eye.
“What an odd thing to say, Mr Owen,” said Kim.
“Whatever. What’re the alternatives to embalming?” I asked.
“Well, there’s refrigeration and ice,” Kim said. “We can store the deceased in refrigeration, and display the deceased on ice during the Final Farewell. It’s not unlike a salad bar.”
Kim invited me to park the car, and accompany her into the CRYPTS ten acre display space to choose a casket and the place of internment. I declined her invitation. I chose to stay in the car, instead, and selected CRYPTS Convenience Package B from the large colourful plastic menu next to the speaker. It included CRYPTS trademark Embalming Lite for the environmentally minded, a patented CRYPTS Brand China-made styrene reinforced pine aggregate casket with fabric liner made of recycled plastic beverage containers and bronze coloured hardware made from imported, repurposed parts from bicycles bought at the Beijing Police Department’s stolen property auction.
For Vivian herself, the package included a sateen choir gown with CRYPTS, a Division of Marshal Memorial Inc., tastefully embroidered over the heart. As for the headstone, the package included the CRYPTS Brand Kevlar-Patriot Headstone, guaranteed bullet and holocaust proof. It came in 35 CRYPTS copyrighted tertiary colours. I chose Genoa Olive over Norm’s suggestion, Rings of Saturn Magenta.
Kim counselled me that the best place for Vivian to spend all of eternity was a small memorial park called Frog Hollow Grove, a Division of Marshal Memorial Inc., near the border between Canada and the United States. She assured me plots were selling for a song at Frog Hollow, as low as $20,000. And the US Department of Homeland Security drones made an ever-so pleasant buzzing sound as they regularly passed over, day and night.
I knew my Drive-Thru experience was nearly over when I heard the tailgate open, and looked down to see Vivian’s left hand disappear slowly from between the front seats, as she was taken out to be placed on a gurney. That’s when I noticed that her engagement and wedding ring combo was missing. I looked up at Norm who was holding the two rings out to me in the palm of his hand.
“She won’t need these where she’s going,” he said.
I smiled and took them, and said, “Thanks Norm, for being here today.”
The slot under the speaker spat out my receipt and Master Card.
A black, late model Mercedes behind us revved its engine. In my rear view mirror, I was able to see someone in the Mercedes’ passenger seat listing far over to the left, held in place by the seat belt. I started the engine, and drove back onto the highway.
Life goes strangely on. Norm and I went for a late lunch at Uncle Bob’s Big Box Chicken Infestation Restaurant, a Division Marshal Poultry Inc. Home of the Why the Chicken Crossed the Road Sandwich. We used several thousand of my recently acquired CRYPTS Bonus Points, and ate for free. As a result, I received 10,000 new Air Miles and 50,000 Uncle Bob’s Cross the Road Bonus points, redeemable at any division of Marshal Corporation.