Cresswell’s Child Crematorium

A Short Story

The crematorium we enlisted the services of to incinerate and mason jar young Nephew Timothy had a cheap golden placard fastened to the space below the reception booth. Those that would sit in the waiting room — spouses, relatives, friends of the deceased — distracted only by the months old collection of gossip magazines strewn on the low coffee table, never failed to take notice. I think it helped to remind some of them where they were — an unlikely scenario for those close to the deceased, but still.

The waiting room at Cresswell’s Child Crematorium looked exactly like any other waiting room one might find themselves in throughout life. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, mortgage brokers, psychiatrists and many more besides. Low plastic chairs with insufficient cushioning. A pot plant in the corner, kept alive only through the shrewd watering of the receptionist. The beige walls. Cheap art in cheaper frames. A water cooler and the collection of crinkled plastic cups that had all missed the bin upon being thrown. A clock above the receptionist booth, reminding those waiting exactly how long it was past their scheduled appointment time. 11:34. For Jack and I, we had been waiting for fourteen minutes. Jack is my older brother, and is now recently an ex-father. Tim was his son. Now, perhaps he might not have forgotten where he was, but I, lost in my mind as I so often am, had, until I looked at the sign.

It fitted the decor of the room well, and when I say this, I mean it looked cheap. Not so cheap that the letters were falling off, or it was a dingy neon sign that might, in another life, have signalled the location of a dive bar, a Thai massage parlour, or a brothel (the latter two, mind you, are closer than you think). There were no arrows pointing at the small corridor that lead to the offices and furnaces out the back of the crematorium — just like there might have been with a Thai massage parlour, with the words “Happy ending!” affixed to the blunt end of the arrow. No happy endings existed here at Cresswell’s Child Crematorium. For some, happiness exists in death, but not so often for children, who can so easily find it in their daily lives. Adulthood saps this happiness, like a disease whose symptoms include a forty-hour work week, mortgages and exposure to excessive advertising. Some become so disenchanted with the whole enterprise that they think they will find happiness, or at least satisfaction (like the massage parlour and the brothel, a closer pairing than you think) in death. Suicide, for some, is just the purest form of nihilism.

For parents like Jack, who still has not been able to extract himself out of the daze that the grief blanketed on his demeanour, there are no happy endings for when their child dies before them. I glance at him. He is slouching in his chair, three day’s stubble shading his face. From feet up, he is wearing thongs, tracksuit pants with paint stains and a plain green t-shirt. His long face, strong chin, bushy eyebrows are downcast. Eyes, too. They’re lost in a stare that’s either perusing the gossip magazines or the patterns in the carpet. It’s too low to be focused on the sign. The black sans-script stares at me now. I can’t figure out exactly what the font is, but my eyes are telling me Helvetica. I’m a bit peeved that I can’t figure out what it is, but at least it’s not Comic Sans. There is little room for comedy in death. Maybe at the funeral, sure, or the wake, but the majority are sad affairs. Especially when it’s unexpected. I had loved Tim. He was a great kid. He had had his father’s sense of righteous air, like all eldest brothers carry on them like a musk. He had had his mother’s looks (self-deprecatingly, Jack would often cry “Thank god”) and her mannerisms (“It’s just as well,” Jack would say). His father’s skill with a cricket bat. His mother’s steady hands. I still don’t think it’s sunk in for me yet, that he’s gone. I’m ashamed there haven’t been any tears yet, but I’m sure they’ll come. They eventually do. Right now, though, my mind is doing what it normally does, and that is cyclically acknowledging the facts. That Tim is gone, his life taken by a driver five times over the legal limit. His mother is bedridden, under blankets and the grey rug of depression. My brother needs me here, to support him while we cremate Tim. That the sign is undoubtedly true. And, in the little space reserved for humour during the affair of death, funny.

“No parent should have to bury a child. Cremate them instead!” it read.

Matt Querzoli wrote this. Cheers to Scene & Heard for republishing it.