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“Annika, likewise, eludes satisfactory description. One of the great beauties of our time. Gentleness beyond compare, an angel’s constitution. To say that she was the combined light of every heavenly body, every star in the sky, every stunning sunrise over the now desolate, frozen landscape of my life does not begin to convey it. Though the future is known only to God, I vouchsafe that I will not remarry, as there is not in all the world another woman who compares. My lone sustaining hope is that there is a world after this one in which we might be reunited.”
I lingered after the ceremony. All present meeting with me one by one to say their piece. I sincerely found scraps of healing in it, and told them so. The still living who knew her in life vowing not to let our shared memories of her fade. Last of them was a baron known to my father, whose own wife was one of those falsely believed dead, saved only by the little bell above her grave. Lucky him, I bitterly thought.
His wife, who’d accompanied him to the funeral, appeared lily white to the point that I imagined I could see through her skin. Symmetrical, doll like features shielded from what little sun broke through the cloud cover by a veil and frilly black parasol.
The baron, a great mountainous beast of a man, offered his heartfelt condolences. As well as a business card. I inquired about it but was hushed, and told to call the number on the back as soon as I returned home.
What a queer thing to do at a funeral. I assumed I would find it was well intentioned when I called. Perhaps someone who specializes in memorializing the deceased. I thanked him for his kind words, pocketed the card and headed home. The gravity of the day crushed, again, my will to resist the bottle and I soon resigned myself to a long night of drinking.
In this piteous stupor, I remembered the card. Stumbling to the coatrack I fished it out of my jacket pocket and studied it more closely, even as the sharp black print swam around on the paper in defiance of my efforts to read it. “Beady and Scholls Resurrection Services”. The address, surprisingly, was directly adjacent to the graveyard I’d just returned from.
I wondered at the name. A metaphor of some kind, but it wasn’t clear what for. I don’t recall when I passed out, only that it was in the livingroom, for that’s where I next regained consciousness. A loud rapping at the door pierced my skull with every impact. I cringed at the thought of appearing before some door to door salesman, a man of my stature, afflicted with such a hangover.
Instead, it was my sister. Accompanied by a lovely young thing in a sky blue dress and floppy sun hat. “My dear sister”, I stammered. “Whatever can you want so early in the morning?” She looked disturbed. “It’s four in the afternoon, Charles. Goodness, don’t tell me you’ve taken up drinking again.” I glared. Her face softened somewhat, presumably recalling why it is she’d found me like this.
The girl with her glanced around nervously, most likely unsure of whether she was wanted. I invited them both in. Shortly, my sister introduced me to the visitor. Beverly Wainsborough. I dimly remembered meeting her at a charitable gala.
Pretty enough, with long brown curls falling down either side of her face, a petite upturned nose and high, narrow cheekbones. I silently scolded myself for looking appreciatively on the features of some strange woman, just a day after Annika was given over to the worms.
This private shame erupted into rage when my sister clarified the purpose of her visit. I am not a hateful man, and under better conditions not the least bit unstable. But despite myself, when it became clear that my sister meant to set me up with this stranger not more than twenty four hours after Annika’s funeral, all restraint evaporated.
“OUT! BOTH OF YOU!” I bellowed, nostrils flared. “You’ll not mend my heart so easily as foisting some new woman on me, the very day after my wife was laid to rest! The bed not yet cold, her wardrobe still full! That you would dare try this nauseates me! Get from this house and bring nobody after this!”
I knew I’d pay for it later. And really, I’d reacted too strongly to what I knew in my heart was a well intentioned gesture. Yet I could not bear what she’d done. For a woman to have so little understanding of the ways of the heart astonishes me, but is not unprecedented for my sister, who because of that quality remains unmarried.
She must’ve meant for me to spend the day getting to know poor Beverly, who I expected would have some choice words about me for her family and friends. I resolved to smooth it over sometime soon. Should her family still be as influential as I recall, I might’ve put my foot in it by turning her away so rudely.
Yet, I now found myself with the day freed up. The hangover still beating at my brow from the inside, I judiciously shelved my liquor and instead rang the number on the business card. The recollection was so vague I wondered if the card had said something more mundane.
“Hello? Re….Resurrection…services?” I mumbled, not anticipating how difficult it would be to hold a conversation in this state. “Indeed! First things first. Who referred you?” I fed the voice on the other end the baron’s last name and the nature of my family’s connections with his. “Very good. When can you stop by our offices? It’s best to get things moving as soon after death as possible, for freshness.”
I raised an eyebrow. As soon as Annika’s death made the paper, being that I am a man of wealth I was approached by all manner of hucksters peddling “electric spirit-phones”, seances, and other purported means of speaking with the dead. I worried this was something along those lines. Sensing this, the man assured me they dealt not in the supernatural but in cutting edge medical technologies known only to those with the means to pay for them.
“What use are medical technologies to the dead?” I asked rhetorically, mostly just thinking out loud. “The line between life and death is ever changing, dear fellow. That mysterious threshold driven ever backwards by advances in our understanding of what forces animate the human figure, why they cease, and how to replenish them. But if you find all of that too dubious, simply come to our offices. I’ve arranged for a small demonstration.”
Sickness. To prey on the hopes of a man who has lost the great love of his life. But they must count on that nagging splinter of doubt which I found tugging at the back of my mind to budge potential customers. It did the trick. Before long I found myself motoring back to the graveyard, those cages and bells still fresh in memory.
I’d paid handsomely for Annika’s little Baker electric carriage to be fished out of the water, repaired and reupholstered. Everything she’d ever touched was to remain immaculate, for however long I could keep it that way. I’d finally found the limits of my desperation when, upon noticing one of her recent footprints in the garden, I considered making a plaster impression of it.
The little buggy is somewhat embarrassing to drive. The primary market for electrics these days is women, and it shows. The cockpit is like a little sitting room, comfortable plush seating all around, small ornate electric lanterns completing the feel of piloting an unusually cramped tea house down the road at a modest twenty miles per hour. It still smells of her perfume.
What would I find there? What could I possibly find? Some ruse to tug at the wreckage of my heart, sucking the money from my bank account like hungry little ticks. How the vultures eagerly circle when the wife of a wealthy man passes away. Yet I drove onward, soon arriving at the squat two story brick building across the street from the cemetery.
“Welcome! I expected you sooner. Traffic?” He glanced over my shoulder at the Baker electric. “Nevermind. Come in! Let me take your coat.” He introduced himself as Roderick Beady, one half of the titular Beady and Scholls. My inquiry as to where the other half was hadn’t fully escaped my lips before the fat bearded fellow entered the room.
The two made a comical sight. Scholls portly to the point of hanging over his belt, Beady every bit as stickly thin as his name would lead a stranger to visualize. It’s satisfying when a name fits somebody so well. With the three of us seated, Beady began his spiel.
A brief history of the company, the basis in mythology for humans returning from the dead, that sort of thing. “Did you know the pyramids were intended as sun powered resurrection machines, to cast the spirits of dead pharaohs into the sky?” a song and dance I knew to anticipate.
“You said something about a demonstration.” His eyes lit up. “Oh yes! Just a moment.” He scampered off like an excitable little goblin and returned with a dead frog on a plate. I groaned. Did he take me for some sort of rube? Voltaire’s experiments with using electricity to momentarily animate the muscles of frogs are known to every schoolboy.
Stay Tuned for Part 3!