PseudoPod 724: Flash on the Borderlands LIII: What Dreams May Come
“The Funeral Coat” is a PseudoPod original.
“Cherry Wood Coffin” first appeared in Apex on May 29, 2018
“Grave Mother” was first published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal and The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, 2014.
The Funeral Coat: “I wrote “The Funeral Coat” specifically for Pseudopod’s flash fiction contest. I remember seeing someone tweet about having a specific coat for funerals, which led to me brainstorming various “what if” scenarios. I also was interested in the origins of family traditions. Together, that sparked a whole mythos I wanted to explore. Some stories are grueling to write, like pulling teeth, but this one just bled out onto the page. It was a really fun story to write, and I hope write more set in this world someday.”
Cherry Wood Coffin: “This is a story that sprang from a prompt I read in Codex’s Weekend Warrior competition in 2017. Suddenly I was stuck with this very strong image of a talking coffin and wondered what the coffin would say or ask. The answer while pretty obvious didn’t clue me in on what the plot should be about, so I let the idea shimmer for a weekend and speed-wrote the story at the last minute in its complete form.”
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.
The Funeral Coat
by Lyndsie Manusos
narrated by Carlie Bergey
When I was five, my grandmother took me to Macy’s to buy my first funeral coat. It’s tradition in my family to have a separate coat for funerals. Something black, sleek, with sharp edges and elaborate buttons. A coat with high collars, to hide our pulse and the tender arc of throat to shoulder. By the end of the day I was crying, exhausted from trying on dozens of coats. My grandmother had to carry me out of the store with the coat she chose wrapped in tissue paper under her arm.
Grandmother bribed me back to calm with a frosted cookie at a nearby bakery.
“It’s a sensible matter,” she said while I stuffed myself. “Only wear it to funerals and on holy or sacred ground.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Different coats for different weather,” she said. “You wouldn’t wear a rain coat in a snowstorm. Don’t wear your funeral coat to a birthday party.”
Perfect logic for our family. Later on I discovered not every family took funeral coats so seriously, or even owned funeral coats, for that matter. Nor did people go to as many funerals as we did.
My college roommate, Candy, was confused by the idea of a funeral coat, having only been to two or three in her lifetime. She wore loud pastel-colored coats. To her, funerals were an end, not a cycle. Her skin was sun-kissed in a way that made me want to rub my nose from her chin to collar bone. I knew I loved her the moment I met her, from her bright curly hair down to the delectable sweetness of her name. She had a boyfriend, though, so I stuffed myself with cookies every time she went on a date.
Candy didn’t know I’d been to fifty-two funerals since my first coat. Grandmother had her own funeral the year before. She’d worn her coat in the casket. I’d made sure–during my turn at the wake–that all her buttons were properly done, all the way up to her chin. Her funeral coat had buttons made of whale bone, carved into tiny ships. She’d been born on a whaling ship some time ago. Her father had carved the buttons himself.
“I wish I could meet your father,” I told her when I was in middle school.
My grandmother had smiled and said, “You will.”
I didn’t realize that roommates share everything, didn’t think Candy would take the funeral coat. It was December, and she’d vomited on her yellow parka at a party over the weekend. On Monday morning, while I was in my anthropology seminar, Candy took my funeral coat and wore it to her chemistry lab.
She never made it to class.
After getting the call, I fell to my knees in our dorm room, clutching my throat. I imagined her walking under the stone arches of Memorial Union and into the far end of campus. She would’ve looked a vision in my coat, but no doubt she wondered, quite suddenly, why so many around her wore similar black coats. Coats with sharp edges and elaborate buttons. Their faces would be confused, even angry, recognizing the calling, the coat, but not the face. She wasn’t on holy or sacred ground, near loose earth, which they fed on hungrily during each funeral. A suitable alternative to flesh.
Instead, they found a woman with a sugary name, who did not button her coat properly, revealing the perfect curve of her throat. Her heartbeat pulsed before them, and there was nothing to quench such hunger.
Poor, sweet Candy.
My grandmother likely stood over her body, whispering, “Not the most sensible thing.”
Cherry Wood Coffin
by Eugenia M. Triantafyllou
narrated by Omega Francis
The voices begin three days before someone is to die. The coffin-maker wakes up covered in sweat. He has been talking in his sleep again, his wife says, in the language of the dead.
He looks at her under the waning light of the candle. Edna’s face is pallid and lined with a liquid transparency. Dark circles nestle under her eyes. He kisses her cheek and goes to work in the middle of the night.
The coffin must be of mahogany, he knows that already. An important person will die, a person of wealth and power. He will figure out the rest as he goes.
The coffin whispers louder and more coherently as the days pass.
No, the hardwood explains, as he tries to note the measurements. Not for an adult. This will be a child’s coffin. He clenches his fists and his head stoops more than usual, but he keeps on with his work.
All this time the coffin-maker is locked in his basement alone. Only once a day does his wife come downstairs to bring him bread and tea. She caresses his hair as he leans over his woodwork. She covers her mouth with a handkerchief; a stain of blood taints its whiteness.
“Go rest, Edna,” he whispers. “You are sick.”
The client comes on the second day, as the coffin-maker picks the coffin’s fittings. They are shaped like golden doves that fly towards the sky, albeit wounded. Seems most appropriate.
She is wrapped in a red velvet shawl and smells of expensive soap. The coffin cuts in, She is the mother.
She sits on the only chair he keeps in the basement. He offers her tea, but she refuses politely. When she lowers her shawl, the coffin-maker recognizes her. Mrs. Griggs, the merchant’s wife. She is upfront about it. Her son is dying, she says. It won’t be long. Surely he knows. She points at the expensive casket on his workbench.
The coffin-maker’s face tightens.
“Please,” she says. “My boy, my beautiful, fragile boy.”
Her voice breaks, but she retains an air of pride people of her class naturally have, even when they are begging.
She offers him gold. Double, no, triple what her husband will pay for the coffin. He doesn’t even have to do it himself. She has people. They will take the coffin and turn it into kindling. Then her boy can stay with her forever. He won’t face the darkness.
The coffin-maker avoids the woman’s stare. “It’s against the law,” he says, trying to sound stern. He wishes it were that easy. That the woman would bow and apologize for the disturbance, then open the door and leave. But she stays there, with her red eyes, her pouch of gold.
“I won’t put my boy in the ground.”
The coffin-maker sighs.
She is not the first to ask him this, and she won’t be the last. She doesn’t know what she is asking, though. That’s the reason there are laws about this. The dead must be allowed to rest.
“Follow me, madam,” he says.
The woman gives him a perplexed look but gets up and follows him upstairs.
His walking is slow, burdened. Hers is light and rhythmic, more like dancing. He can hear her heels tap-taping on the stairs.
He gestures towards the closed door at the back of the house.
“Darling, is that you?” Edna’s voice comes from inside.
The smell as they approach is putrid. The woman brings a scented handkerchief against her nose.
He stops in front of the door and turns to face her.
Mrs. Griggs pauses and takes a step back.
“I … I don’t want to go in there,” she says with unease.
He opens the door wide and lets her peer inside.
Even in the half-darkness of the closed drapes and the candlelight, she can see the unnatural shape. The empty eyes. The handkerchief falls to the ground and Mrs. Griggs flinches. A muffled scream escapes her lips.
“I am sorry,” the coffin-maker says, but she is already on her way out.
It’s late and the coffin-maker has to finish the job. He has to varnish the casket. Tomorrow the child will die and once he is in the coffin, it will finally fall silent. But the cherry wood pile he keeps buried in the basement will never leave him alone.
by Sarah Read
narrated by Madeline Ruth Somerville
The grass grows thick and green on both sides of this rail fence, each field fed with the early dead. On the right, stone lambs sleep beneath sentinel angels that weep over piles of wilted roses. On the left, granite sheets coated in lichen sink into the dirt, names worn shallow in the stone. And my face, here on the rail, an eroded marker—marble made grey with age. Here lies Margaret—Meg, to those who knew her—which was no one, not even me.
Outside the fence, the stone-toothed hill slopes down into the woods. Trees push back up onto the hill, roots lifting the desecrated stones, wreaking unseen havoc on the small, unconsecrated heads resting below. Roots thread through soft fontanelles.
The fence presses into my tailbone where I straddle the rail. Rose stems prick my right foot, thistle weeds jab my left. Margaret stabs my left, buried deep in her fallopian tomb. I bathe the rail in blood.
I saw her heart beat for a moment—three quick flashes of a fluttering valve on a black screen. But altogether in the wrong place, to the left. I signed the papers on a Thursday, to end her and save me.
When it rains, old roses wash under the fence and down the hill, where they tangle and make a dry bramble arching over the leaning stones. Their seeds dry to husks before they ever take root.
On the right, dates stretch the stones wide, from weeks to years. On the left, a single day, maybe three. On my face, the lines carve a lifetime, counting backward from the day that should have been Margaret’s day. They soaked her in poison on a Friday. They said if I didn’t, I’d die.
I saw her tangle of bones, a compressed nest all in the wrong place. They said some would pass through me and some would become me, but some stayed, and turned to stone. And I mark her, everywhere.
The babes deep inside the high hill rest till rapture, while Margaret and I—we waited for rupture, and now it’s come.
I swing my right leg over the fence, sink my feet into the weeds to the left, turn my back on the rows of angels. The warm coat of blood running down my legs soothes the nettle sting and thistle prick of the bramble by the woods.
I find us a place in the tangle of roots, like the tangle of her stone bones, and I lay us down. Here lie Mother and Margaret, and as I fade into the earth, she’ll remain, watching over me, my own stone angel, my sleeping lamb. And I, the ground for Margaret, all in the wrong place.
About the Authors
Sarah Read is an author, editor, and librarian living in the frozen north of Wisconsin with her husband, two sons, a cat, and thousands of spiders. Her novel The Bone Weaver’s Orchard and collection Out of Water were both released from Trepidatio Publishing in 2019, both were shortlisted for the Stoker Award, and one came home with a haunted house. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @inkwellmonster, or on her website at inkwellmonster.wordpress.com.
Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. Currently, she’s querying her collection of short stories, Everything There Is To Love On Earth, while also working on a novel.
Lyndsie grew up in northwest Illinois and now lives in Indianapolis with her family. She is a freelance web producer and writes for Book Riot.
Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist. She writes ghost stories. She currently lives in Northern Sweden with a boy and a dog. Her short fiction has appeared in Apex, Strange Horizons, Black Static and other venues. You can find her on Twitter @FoxesandRoses or her website https://eugeniatriantafyllou.wordpress.com.
About the Narrators
Madeline Ruth Somerville
Madeline Ruth Somerville is a political messaging strategist, writer, musician, and lapsed cosmetologist from North Carolina, and a podcast fiction super-fan.
Carly Bergey is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in voice therapy. Her passions for voice care and writing intersect in her voiceover work. For bookings or voice coaching, check her out at www.carlybergey.com
Omega Francis is a writer from Trinidad and Tobago and is a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus. Omega works as a copy-editor, writer and blogger and her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Harness Magazine, Outlish Magazine, SPED, UWI Today, UWI STAN magazine and Intersect.anu.