A Short Story, As Yet Untitled

Bernard Wilmott Alastair McTavish III, known to all as “Big Al,” was getting his way, even though he was dead. Although he had lived in Mooresville, Indiana for 69 of his 72 years, Big Al steadfastly refused to be assimilated and had forced his eldest son to swear not to bury him with the rubes in the local cemetery. Big Al wanted to be buried in Illinois, lest he be condemned to be known in perpetuity as a Hoosier. “Hoosier,” to Big Al’s way of thinking, was an insult akin to calling someone fat or backward, of which Big Al had considered himself neither.

“Never mind that it’s illegal to take a body across state lines,” Bernard muttered under his breath, cursing himself for giving in yet again. Bernard Wilmott Alastair McTavish IV had been giving in all his life. Bernard remembered one night when he was ten years old he had declared during dinner that he did not want to be called Bernard anymore, but wanted everyone to call him Skippy. Big Al had betrayed his disdain with a derisive snort. “Boy,” he thundered, jabbing in Bernard’s direction with his fork, “you are weak and peanut-buttery enough without advertising it to the whole danged county. You’re name’s Bernard and that settles it.” As indeed it had. Secretly, Bernard wondered what life would have been like if he had been called Skippy. Probably he’d have been happier. More carefree. Certainly he would not be driving his navy blue Explorer toward Chicago with his father’s dead body wrapped in a garbage bag and duct-taped to the tailgate.

Taking Bernard’s SUV had been Chucky’s idea. Bernard argued that they should take Chucky’s pickup truck, but Chucky pointed out that if they took the SUV Pippa and Isla would have more leg room. And, Bernard thought darkly, that way if the police pulled them over and discovered Big Al’s body, Bernard would have to take the fall since it was his vehicle. Bernard had been taking the fall all his life. From the day Chucky was born on Bernard’s first day of kindergarten, Big Al had preferred his younger son. Chucky was athletic, Bernard was not. Chucky drove a forklift for a prominent construction company, Bernard was an accountant at a payroll advance business in a strip mall. Chucky had just married his third wife, Trish, a peroxide blonde with big bangs and frosty pink lip gloss, while Bernard still hadn’t worked up the nerve to go on his first date. And of course Chucky was the one who had told Big Al that he knew a guy just north of the state line who would give them a 40% off discount on funeral arrangements, which was what had given Big Al the idea of being buried in Illinois in the first place.

Not that the twins had taken Bernard’s side. Pippa and Isla had flown in for Easter weekend from Las Vegas, where they lived off of casino winnings and dinners purchased for them by a string of admirers. The girls saw the trip as an adventure, plus Chucky had told them that his pal at the funeral home was a bodybuilder. They had been giggling about muscles ever since the SUV pulled out of the driveway and they were driving Bernard crazy.

As they drove north on I-65, the McTavishes passed a Honda Civic carrying a couple and their baby, dressed in their Sunday best. “Looks like that car got dinged something fierce in that hailstorm, eh?” Chucky asked.

“The guy was pointing at our car, I bet they noticed the body and they are going to call the police,” Bernard said, “Great, this is just what I need.”

“Oh lighten up, Bernard,” Pippa interjected from the backseat.

“Yeah,” Isla agreed, “besides, they look like they’re on their way to church, and even if that guy did think we had a body strapped to the trunk, his wife probably didn’t believe him.”

Church, Bernard thought, yes, church. Because it’s Easter and that is what people do on Easter, unless they are illegally driving their father’s carcasses across state lines. Bernard told himself that the only reason he had given in was because as soon as his father was safely interred in a pine box six feet underground, Bernard would finally be free. Free from the endless responsibilities and recriminations he suffered at the hands of his demanding father and siblings. Free to do what he had always wanted to do. The voices of his siblings faded as Bernard daydreamed about his new life. He would call himself Skippy and he would take Louise the receptionist to dinner at the Olive Garden…

Sirens destroyed Bernard’s reverie. Looking in the rearview mirror, Bernard sighed in resignation and pulled over. Chucky, Pippa, and Isla argued about how to handle the policeman who was sauntering up to the car. “Quiet,” Bernard growled, and rolled down his window.

The officer flashed his badge. “Josh Shaughnessy, Indianapolis Police Department. We got a call about your cargo. That’s not a dead body on the back of your vehicle, is it?”

It was at that moment that Bernard saw his chance to escape. The recent torrential rains, hailstorms, and tornados had turned a creek into a muddy swampy river of sorts, punctuated here and there with scraggly trees. Without warning, Bernard peeled off the shoulder and deliberately crashed the Explorer into the muck, hitting three trees in the process. The vehicle came to rest in the middle of the creek with a glug. Bernard smiled as he watched his fender float down the stream, with his father’s body still attached. “Sorry, Big Al,” he whispered, “looks like you’re a Hoosier after all.”

By the time they were rescued, Officer Shaughnessy had forgotten all about the body-shaped package in favor of issuing a big ticket to Bernard for reckless driving and criminal endangerment. Bernard sustained no injuries, but Chucky and the girls each broke several bones and all needed to lie in traction with around the clock care for several months. Since Pippa and Isla were just visiting, and Chucky and Trish’s double-wide was too cramped for hospital beds, Bernard grudgingly gave in and let them all move in with him. Bernard had been giving in all his life.

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