Short Fiction from Featured Artist, Anne Walsh Donnelly

Anne Walsh Donnelly isn’t just a poet. She also writes fiction. Her debut short story collection, Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife, will be published by The Blue Nib press in September 2019.

Here’s an extract from the title story.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash 

Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife

Maureen was about to start one of her rants when she looked to see who was in the coffin. The surface of the rant gave way to tears. She fumbled in her handbag for tissues, the bag with the Guess label on it. 

“What’s Jack doing here? I thought his funeral wasn’t till tomorrow. Are they not waking him in the house tonight?”
“No, his father wants it all done as quick as possible. Straight to the church from here this evening.”
“What the hell are his two dogs doing in the coffin with him?” she said.
 “Maureen, his family will be here soon. It wouldn’t look good for you to be seen crying.”
She looked at me and I didn’t know what was in her eyes. The fact that they were half closed and still full of tears didn’t help. She came over to where I was standing at the other side of the coffin. For a minute I thought she was looking for a hug and you know I’d nearly have given her one. Then I remembered our son’s words at the airport, before he got on a plane for Canada.

“I saw them in a black Audi.”
A black Audi. Jack had a black Audi. Fuck, how could I have forgotten?

Maureen took her hand off Jack’s body and used it to rub her eyes.

“Are you having an affair?” I asked.
She sneaked a quick look at Jack’s face but I caught her.
“It’s him, isn’t it? Or should I say it was him,” I said, saliva hitting her in the face as I spit the words out.
“It’s over now,” she said, turning to walk away.

I grabbed her arm and the blood left her face. I would have frightened myself as much as her with my tight grip only that the picture of her and him in his black Audi was tormenting me. If she had apologised or offered some sort of an excuse, it might have helped calm me down. 

“I’m too upset to talk about this now. Anyway I told him last week that I couldn’t see him anymore,” she said, trying to pull her arm from my hand.
“Is that supposed to make everything alright? So what are we supposed to do now? Kiss and make up? Forget this ever happened?”

I was shouting and laughing at the same time but didn’t loosen my grip. She didn’t answer and to be honest I don’t think it would have done any good if she had. 

It’s funny but I can never recall what happened next. All I remember was thinking how they were a perfect fit. Herself and Jack Costello. 

Her warm corpse clung to his, as I screwed on the lid of the coffin. It was a difficult job getting it shut. My heart was thumping and hands shaking. I managed to squeeze the Guess handbag between Jack’s shoes.

I had to take the two dead dogs out of the coffin so there’d be enough space for Maureen. The weight of them nearly killed me as I dragged them out back and put them in the boot of my car. I’d bury them in the garden later, under her rosebushes.

I put the photo, Jack’s niece had brought in earlier, on the coffin lid and sat down in the chief mourner’s chair to clear my dizzy head. The shock of it all ripped through my body like a tornado. I steadied myself, which was no mean feat, given the circumstances. Then I put on my undertaker face, stood up, left the room and locked the funeral home’s front door. I badly needed a pint before the wake.