Martin Fall is the protagonist in a world where the air at the planet’s higher altitudes suddenly becomes unbreathable.
“Skylight” is available in bookstores and from online retailers.
My first task on the morning after is to attend to the morbid protocols of the burial arrangements. In normal times, were a spouse or a child to die, one would hold long and somber meetings with unctuous funeral directors, planning the burial ceremonies with all the delicacy of a contract negotiation. What color casket would you like? Wood or metal casing? Silk or rayon lining? What about the headstone—will it be a single or double? Would you like our premium maintenance package, with fresh flowers ten times a year?
When I buried my father several years ago, i became convinced that questions like these were meant to allow the bereaved to purchase some small recompense from their grief and guilt more than they were to help ensure the dignity of the deceased. Jeannie and I weren’t offered that many decorator choices when we bought our new home. My father loved football, almost never missed a game. I could imagine him calling from wherever the dead go, urging me to sign up for the Mega sports Burial Plan, complete with an in-casket flat screen TV and 100 channels of cable.
But there will be no luxury burial plans today, no funeral directors we can summon to dress the bodies. The few local morticians who survived the night surely would have been pressed into service already, pulled in countless agonizing directions by desperate families seeking their help. other funeralists, less civic-minded or just afraid for their own lives, long ago would have joined the desperate on their trek out of the city.
Not that I could have contacted any of them even if I had wanted to. The phones still do not work, and I had not thought to inventory the local funeral homes before we left on our vacation.
And so I consider our options. It doesn’t take long, for the options are few.
I can leave the bodies to the cold anonymity of public disposal, or I can take them with me. If I do the latter, I will have to transport them in the van. There is no other choice, distressing as it may be. The ambulance no longer runs, and there are no trailers about that I could attach to the van even if I had the tools.
I close my eyes for a moment, contemplating the inescapable, eviscerated by the chore that I seem forced to choose. Jeannie. Cassie. Ray. Sara. They all deserved better than this, but it is all I can offer them. I was unable to do anything to help them last night. Providing them with a private if simple burial is the least I can do.