“Is that all?” she asks.
He offers her the strap of woven hessian. She runs it through her fingers feeling the soft weave.
“All natural materials,” he says, “natural colouring, as strong as steel and 98% recyclable.”
“What about the buckle bit?”
He hands her the item. She turns it and lifts the bar. The click is sharp and staccato in the over stuffed office.
“Recycled from decommissioned rockets. Has a working life of over two hundred years, precision made.”
He takes the item and gives it a couple of precise clicks to emphasise his point.
“We manufacture them ourselves, all materials are sourced here in the UK. The carbon footprint is 0.0002% per tonne.”
“Is that good?”
“Oh, yes, our competitors can’t get anywhere near those figures. Most of their items are shipped in from the India Territories or New Afro China.”
He slips the glossy brochure across the table.
“This is the site.”
He opens the first page.
“Looks beautiful.” She says.
“Sits at the head of the Dart Valley, one of the most beautiful areas in the SouthWest. It was specifically chosen for its tranquillity, plus a four knot breeze is recorded three hundred and forty days of the year. It far surpasses the government’s clean air protocol, radiation is as low as 180,000 parts per million.”
“Looks too good to be true.”
“What you see is exactly what you get. These photos have in no way been enhanced.”
“What’s that?” she asks.
He turns the brochure back towards himself, fine tunes his varifocal eyes and zooms in on her pointing finger.
“I’ve never noticed that before,” he says.
“Is that a dog?”
“No, no, our site is bird, mammal and pest free. It’s received a 96% ‘Clean Site Award’ for the last three years running. We pride ourselves on that record. How long do you think our reputation would last if wild animals could access the site. It would be carnage. It’s obviously a fault during the printing process some sort of glitch.”
“Looks like a dog to me, can’t have that, lost half his calf and his brother to an insurgents wolf-hound when he was a boy.”
“I can assure you it is not a dog, it’s a glitch.”
He spins the brochure back to her and turns to the rear page.
“Shall we look at pricing.”
He runs his finger down the list.
“As you can see there are three pricing options. I think mid tier is where we’re at.”
“It’s an awful lot of money.”
“Don’t forget the government subsidise up to fifty percent as you are opting for this totally green, recycling service. We would just need a few personal details and a scan of your bar-code. I could get the Jody 3 to run through it with you if you like.”
“No thanks, he would hate to accept money from the government, never took a penny in his life, apart from the sick.”
“How long was his illness?”
“He wasn’t well for the best part of forty-three years, six months, twelve days and a terminally long Tuesday afternoon.”
“You could opt for the entry level service, not as inclusive, but gets the job done.”
“He wasn’t a very inclusive man. What does he get for the money?”
“The basic service; an usher, two bearers, flowers of your choosing.” He turns the brochure back a couple of pages. “You can pick the floral tributes from the list here. The roses are always very popular.”
“Allergic to roses, can you do Lilies, he tolerated those?”
“I know Lilies are an extra. It takes a hell of a lot of work to get them looking realistic.”
His finger tracks down the list.
“Yes, two hundred and twelve pounds.”
“Oh, Daffodils maybe?”
His finger moves again.
“Are included for the full three weeks.” He reads from the brochure, ‘When in season they are provided freshly painted to your chosen hue of yellow. Protoplastic copies are provided when not in season.’ “He will also get a daily check on his progress with as many tightenings as needed and photos if requested.”
“People have photos?”
“Oh yes, professionally done, all tasteful, come in a lovely faux leather-feel souvenir package.”
“I can’t believe that, photos?”
“Beautiful some of them, the photographer used to work for Horse and Hound” he pauses and sighs, “before we were forced to eat all the horses” another pause “then all the hounds. He somehow manages to catch what they had in life, something in the eyes. That is also an extra, would you like to know the price?”
“No thanks, I’ve got a lifetime of photos with him in them. What are the tightenings you mentioned?”
“Oh yes, ours is a very personal service, no automation at our site, apart from the security gates, which, by the way, you will get three pass keys for. These are valid until the day after the mulching and spreading ceremony. There is a small charge for each, which will be refunded when they are returned and decoded. Sorry, went a bit off-piste there, so, tightenings, one of our wardens does a daily check to make sure the loved one hasn’t, well, slipped. For our service to be efficient and to meet the government land usage guidelines, each incumbent must remain standing. Once they slump, apart from being illegal, it’s a hell of a job to get them back upright. Their muscles don’t work after a week or so even in the inflatable rigidity suits. So the warden personally checks the tension of the straps and if needed.”
He clicks the ratchet to sell the point. She looks at the list she wrote with her son.
“How many will share the tree?”
“Depends, a mature Oak in the Atlantic zone can accommodate up to eight. The younger trees in the Tropical or Amazonian areas, two, three at a squeeze.”
“How much would it be to have the tree to himself?”
“Ah, that is the Platinum Service, that’s not in this brochure. Head office deal with Platinum customers. I’m afraid we only offer that service to celebrities and a few politicians.”
“Not his sort really, hated both. Can we choose who he is strapped with?”
“I’m afraid that is the luck of the draw.”
“He won’t be with any criminals will he?”
“No, no, they are dealt with at another facility, all ground down to feed the refugees.”
“Good, he hated criminals. What about perverts? I couldn’t stand the thought of him surrounded by pedophiles and weirdoes and what about liberals?”
“Pedophiles and the like are weeded out through our extensive vetting system and processed elsewhere. Most are re-used for scientific experiments for the betterment of the planet. Weirdoes, I cannot lie, do occasionally creep through. Liberals are a perfectly acceptable creed.”
“Not according to my husband. Do the aliens use your service?”
“Even after Mars?”
“The exodus did slow the flow but we are still an all inclusive multi-cultural world.”
“Another thing he disagreed with, thought it would change after the mass relocation.”
“Didn’t we all.”
“I voted stay. First time I ever voted and I got it wrong. Didn’t tell him, another first.”
“It was a very divisive subject.”
“My John was a very divisive man.”
He looks at his watch.
“In a hurry?”
“Another client at three.”
“Death keeps us on our toes.”
“Right, onwards,” she says, returning her gaze to the brochure. He turns to another page.
“Included in the price is an engraving on the tree he is attached to. It could be his name, his nickname, anything really, as long as it’s not over forty characters, anymore and…”
“It’ll be extra.”
“Yes, but his memory will live on as long as the tree is alive. There are twelve different fonts you can choose from in the basic package, twenty-six in the mid range.”
“Are you sure that wasn’t a dog?”
“I will check with security but we have had no problems flagged. Have you read our testimonials?”
“My son says those can be faked. He showed me an article on it. You only put up the good ones.”
“All our testimonials are true and accurate.”
“They are all verified by a recognised industry algorithm.”
“My son says we could do it at home.”
“DIY is not something the government encourage, health issues, awful lot of pathogens released. You must have read about Banthorpe.”
“Don’t read the papers anymore, full of bad news.”
“True, but Banthorpe was a real horror story. Half the population were wiped out when they tried a mass mulching on the cheap.”
“Sounds like Banthorpe, radiation was deep over there, genes all muddled. My son says it’s perfectly safe, we can get a kit from Googbaybook with all the disinfectants and coveralls and gloves, even the mulching bin, which will run from a battery drill, everything we need for a ‘safe and economic disposal’ it’s got five stars.”
“As you say those can be faked.”
“True, lot cheaper though, lot cheaper.”
“Do you want the last memory of your loved one to be one of decay, rot and stench?”
“We’ve got a biggish back garden with an apple tree in it, we could tie him to that. I’m sure the neighbour wouldn’t mind, she slept with him. Only time he was ever unfaithful – according to him. Never asked her. Now he’s gone I might broach the subject, see what she saw in him.”
“Yes, always best to clear the air. I don’t mean to be harsh but do you know how far the smell of a rotting body can carry?”
“I knew this, it was part of the invasion training wasn’t it. There was an equation, drift x altitude over something or other. No, it’s gone, not far though. We’ve got our gas masks.
“Up to half a mile. That is why our site is located miles from the nearest population centre, there are no public footpaths nearby and no public access. Even with the popular reanimation schemes death comes to us all in the end, and believe me, it is still a messy business, best leave it to the professionals.”
“At least we haven’t got a dog.”
“That was a glitch.”