He liked to work in dim light, so the fluorescent lights of the mortuary were switched off and just the table lamp was on in the corner.
Humming to himself, he leaned down a bit and inspected the surface of the Mahogany Number 47 he was polishing. He knew that it was only when you looked at the surfaces at a certain angle and in a certain light that you could determine where the smudges were. Smiling to himself as he caught two spots that no one else would have noticed, he stood up straight and applied his cloth to the casket, rubbing the smudges out with one efficient swipe.
“There you go, Mr. Wilson, all nice and clean and ready for your funeral today,” he whispered. “I’ll come back and get to work on your handles in just a second, okay?”
‘Thank you, Benny. I appreciate your attention to detail. You are a lot like me when I was alive, a real stickler for the small stuff. We both sweat the small stuff, don’t we, Benny?’
“That’s right, Mr. Wilson,” Benny replied. "Now, you just lie quiet there while I go into the next room for a bit. But I’ll be back real soon to get at those handles. Your casket is going to look just fine for the service today. Don’t you worry a bit, Mr. Wilson.”
‘I used to worry a lot, Benny. That’s probably why I’m in this box at age 49. But old habits die hard, don’t they, Benny. I bet you hear that a lot in here.’
In the other room, Benny flushed the toilet, tucked his shirt into his pants and called out to Mr. Wilson, “Yep, Mr. Wilson, I do hear that one a lot. But I don’t mind you double-checking my work from inside your casket, I really don’t. It’s just part of the process you have to go through to make it to the other side. And you’re doing just fine, Mr. Wilson. My job is to help you make it all the way.”
‘You’ve been talking to people like me for a long time, Benny? You seem to know what you’re doing.’
Calling out from the other room, Benny answered, “Since I was a kid, Mr. Wilson. My mom and dad died in a car wreck when I was four. That’s when I knew. They talked to me for weeks!”
Just then, Benny heard a car drive up in the alley behind the mortuary. He bent down and whispered, “Mr. Wilson, I got to go silent for a while. Mr. Browning just arrived. So, don’t you fret, okay? I’m still here and we’ll have another nice chat before your service.”
As he did every morning, the owner of Browning Mortuary opened the back door, turned on the fluorescent lights and just stood there in the doorway as the large back room slowly lit up. From there he could see each casket, verify their individual condition, and determine whether his utility man, Benny, had done his chores during the night shift.
With a heavy sigh he moved into the large room, closed the door behind him and called out, “Benny! It’s Browning. Get in here, now!”
Browning could hear the broom closet door close in the next room and then Benny emerged, a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other. “Yes, sir. Good morning, sir,” he said, a tentative smile on his face.
“Benny, I see the handles on the Wilson’s Mahogany Number 27 haven’t been polished. Get on it, Benny! We’ve got the Wilson Funeral in four hours!” Browning growled.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Browning. I’ll take care of that right away, sir,” Benny answered apologetically, putting down the broom and dustpan and grabbing a rag and some polishing compound.
As Benny scurried about his chores, Browning watched him closely, shook his head and wondered how a man like that could have any pride in himself, always doing someone else’s bidding. It never ceased to puzzle Mr. Browning, never.