Sitting at his desk, Augustus Thyme checked his calendar for the third time that afternoon. The florist, Jack Mills, was a day late with the delivery of two dozen white roses. The Wilson funeral was scheduled for first thing in the morning, and if those roses didn’t arrive, it would be the first setback in Augustus Thyme’s twenty-seven years as funeral director. The thought did not sit well with him, not at all. He stood up, smoothed down his shirt, and straightened his black bow tie.
Of course, Augustus hadn’t heard of rock-and-roll, or about the extra traffic and chaos a popular music group had brought to Roseland. Thyme Funeral Home had been built back in the day when Roseland was more commonly known as Stumptown, up on the hill away from the bustle where the dead rested soundly among the groaning evergreens with branches whispering their secrets in the wind. Augustus had an old radio filling the corner of his small office, but he only listened to big band music, soft jazz on occasion. He hadn’t heard about the accident.
On weekends, Mabel operated the lines, and she was already greeting him before the earpiece even reached his ear. Gus, she called him. Everyone in town did even though he politely corrected them too often to count. Her voice, always chipper no matter how grave the news, carried the words that froze Augustus still. Jack Mills had died instantly the night before, run down by a Fifty-two Ford. The driver had been dodging teenagers rushing across the road and ended up on the sidewalk, according to the report. The operator had her doubts. Drunk driver, likely.
Mabel offered to put him through to Jack’s daughter, Susan. This was the first Augustus had ever heard about a daughter. Mabel rang Susan. As Augustus waited, he prepared for the business at hand. As his father had taught him, he focused on the solemn place in his mind where jazz met blues. Always carry a soft, respectful tone when speaking, the old man had instructed on nearly a daily basis while passing on the family trade.
After apologizing for the late delivery, Susan Mills promised to bring the flowers over. Augustus offered to pick them up, but Susan quickly refused. She needed to make arrangements for her father. They needed each other’s services, and after the necessary polite exchanges society demanded, the conversation ended abruptly.
Susan Mills didn’t arrive until well after dark. Instead of the florist’s van, a black Cadillac with ridiculously tall tail fins swung through the roundabout and stopped between the two lamp posts at the end of the walk. The Cadillac sported flashy chrome bumpers and white-walled tires. Susan emerged from the passenger side, and the trunk popped open seemingly on its own accord.
Augustus hurried over to give her a hand with the flowers. As he knelt over beside the Cadillac, he peeked inside. An older man sat in the driver’s seat. He had an unsightly length of long, gray hair tied back. He wore a dark frock coat with a burgundy ascot, a rare sight even in those days. The man payed him no attention and simply sat quietly staring out across the small parking lot off to the side of the roundabout. Augustus couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about the man made his skin crawl.
Inside, they set the flowers down beside the entrance. Augustus led Susan to the showroom. He pointed out what he believed Jack Mills would approve of then let Susan look around as he watched for the usual cues showing interest or confusion. Susan didn’t express much. She simply strolled around the display models, running her fingers along the wood grain of the most expensive casket. She tugged at her skirt, spun around, and pulled at her auburn hair. Repeating the same routine again, she seemed more like she was stalling for something. Augustus took the opportunity to look her over. Young, barely out of school at the oldest. Her snug blouse left little to the imagination, and her pleasant shape complemented her delicate, professional attire.
Suddenly, she tapped the lid of a casket beside her. “What do you believe Daddy would say about this one? she asked. Her words poured out like honey, almost as sweet as her appearance.
Catching himself staring at the young woman, Augustus coughed into his fist trying to hide his distracted mind. Susan noticed, and smiled coyly.
That was how it began. Not love at first sight, but Augustus knew right then and there that Susan was meant for him somehow. And it was confirmed in the garden overlooking the graveyard. She had asked for a look around, and standing there in the moonlight, he stole a kiss. He didn’t know why. Undertaker’s weren’t popular, and he wasn’t about to analyze the situation. Susan kissed him back, and that’s all that mattered.“Jasmine,” said Susan. “He liked Jasmine.”
It sounded like a swell request for a funeral.
As Augustus saw Susan to the car, the driver gave him a look that chilled him to the bone. The big Cadillac lumbered away like thunder rolling down the hillside and into the woods.