Let Me Smell Him

Just One More Time

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Late one night, around 11:00, a hospice nurse called to notify a funeral director, Derrick in this case, that Mr. Robert Miller had died in his home in a small community about eight miles outside of town. Note: You may recognize Derrick from the weed story, “That was His.” He’s in a lot of these. It’s like these people just wait for him to be available before they pass on. Anyway, Derrick and Stanley met up at the funeral home and headed to the Miller place. Now, had Mr. Miller died in a nursing home or hospital, Derrick would have asked if any family happened to be present at which point the nurse could have told him yes and that there were a ton of them and that they were weird. But he died at home, so Derrick didn’t ask, so Derrick didn’t know.

At the Millers’ house there were cars everywhere—in the driveway, in the yard, halfway in the ditch in front of the house by the road, halfway in the ditch on the other side of the road—which was the first sign of trouble. I understand that most of you have never tried to wheel a six-and-a-half-foot-long Ferno funeral home cot (maximum capacity 1,000 pounds, if you’re wondering) into a small-to-medium-sized, chopped-up house with an estimated 400,000 people in it, but, you’re smart folks who can figure out that it’s not any fun at all. That many cars outside means more maneuvering and dodging and ducking, more innocuous conversations, more “How long you been down there?” (translation: “How long have you been employed at the funeral home?”) from people who aren’t even related to the guy in the back bedroom, neighbors who “saw all the cars and decided to come see what’s happening,” and, at eleven 11:30 or so at night, that’s not what you want.

When Derrick and Stanley entered the house, they saw more people than they could have imagined. Apparently, the cars outside were clown cars, or a bunch of people walked to the house in the dark. Besides its volume, this was a crowd of what some would call rednecks, but I would never use such a term to refer to any of God’s children. Included in the group were all the backwoods greatest hits, the lady with the raspy voice who is either a rough 45 or normal 85, the lady who’s just taken A LOT of pills, a man with a pouch of chewing tobacco in the bib of his overalls and no shirt on, a man with a pouch of chewing tobacco in the bib of his overalls and with a white v-neck t-shirt on, the country preacher eating the family’s food and drinking their coffee. It also had two more obscure, B-side types. The first was a large man in tapered jeans, white sneakers, and a t-shirt holding a chihuahua, and, the second, a pretty girl in her 20s who somehow looked like she had her life together but also like she was related to most of the people in the room. It’s rare, but I’ve seen it—a genetic anomaly.

Derrick and Stanley wound and twisted and squeezed through the crowd to find the hospice nurse who had them sign her paperwork and then promptly escaped to her car. After that, they made their way through the crowd a second time to the back bedroom to find Mr. Miller. Asking that everyone please step out and give them a moment (yes, there were people in there too), they placed Mr. Miller on the cot, strapped him in, and began the journey upstream toward the van.

As they pushed through the crowd like Chris Hemsworth leaving Comic-Con San Diego through the regular exit or something, Derrick looked over to see the pill lady forcing her way toward him until she was right there, staring him in the eyes, her breath hot on his face.

“Can I smell him?” her gravelly voice slurred the words out of her pain-killer-affected head.

“Ma’am?”

“Can I smell him?” she repeated, a little clearer this time.

Derrick had heard plenty of insane requests but never that particular one. Either way, he reluctantly agreed and pulled back the cot cover exposing an emaciated face, wide-open eyes, and a gaping mouth.

Quick Lesson: If you’ve only seen dead bodies in movies or in caskets, then you might think that people die with their eyes and mouths closed. That is not always the case. In fact, I’d say it’s not mostly the case. Much of the time when people die their eyes and mouths are wide open. Embalmers close them back at the funeral home. There are other things that happen too when people die that you don’t see in movies or caskets, but I’ll leave those for a time when we know each other a little better.

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Pill Lady, who it turns out was one of Mr. Miller’s daughters, leaned over placing her nose directly over her dead father’s open mouth and proceeded with the longest, most indulgent sniff you’ve ever heard. It was like she was walking through a royal garden, but, instead of roses, it was death. Then she looked up at Derrick from her smelling posture.

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome.”

She stood and pushed her way back to her seat, staggering like she’d just come out of anesthesia past the mystery pretty girl and the man with the chihuahua to the other side of the room.

Derrick gave Stanley a look that could only mean, “We’ve got to get out of here right now!”

They passed the kitchen table with what they thought was a clear path to the door. At the last minute, the other daughter, the rough-living, raspy-voiced one, stopped them to ask questions. What did she need to bring with her when she came to the funeral home? What time did they say she needed to be there in the morning? Did her dad have to wear a suit? She took enough time that her sister had approached again. Pill Daughter interrupted her Raspy Daughter’s questions with a question of her own.

“Can I smell him one more time?”

Seriously?

Derrick again agreed hesitantly, thinking the sooner she smells daddy the sooner they get out of the house. She was slowly leaning forward when she tripped, bracing herself on the funeral cot and forcing it forward. Derrick immediately found himself pinned between the head end of a gurney and the plaid-papered kitchen wall. As the daughter regained her composure, she continued to stabilize herself on the siderails of the cot shoving it into Derricks abdomen. He couldn’t move.

“Thank you. I just want to smell him one more time,” she said as Derrick struggled to breathe.

As she leaned forward again, the top of her head grazed the front of Derrick’s necktie on its way toward her father’s face.

Derrick tried to distract himself by looking around the room at literally anything else. He saw the shirtless overall man talking and laughing, the pretty relative sitting quietly and uncomfortably by herself as though she’d just realized she was somehow different from the rest, some neighbors approaching the door to return home now that they knew what was going on with all the cars. Then he spotted the large man with the chihuahua who was not looking good. Suddenly the man’s head dropped, and he started shaking, more and more, until he was sprawled in the floor in full-on convulsions.

“Oh no! Dan!” someone shouted. Apparently, this man’s name was Dan.

The conversations stopped as folks watched Dan writhe in the floor. Derrick couldn’t help because he was still pressed against the wall. Stanley wouldn’t help because he’s not into that kind of thing. As Derrick watched helplessly he noticed the look on the chihuahua’s face. Its eyes were bulging out of its head. It couldn’t breathe. Dan was killing the chihuahua, his grip tightening with every passing second of the seizure.

The dog’s life was passing before its eyes when finally, the pretty girl leapt into action. She rushed toward Dan, forced his hands open, and snatched the dog from him just in time. The tiny chihuahua gasped for air. Then two other people helped Dan back into his chair. The commotion distracted Pill Lady and Raspy Voice, and they ran to check on him.

Derrick saw his chance.

“Well, we’re going to go. Let us know if you need anything,” he said as they rolled Mr. Miller away from the chaos.

Dan finally regained control over his body as well as possession of the now terrified teacup dog. The daughters turned back to Derrick and Stanley, but they gone. They’d slipped off into the night and were speeding back toward the funeral home to close Mr. Miller’s eyes and mouth and help him to smell much better.

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