The Obituary
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Dismissal"
Originally featured on 05-23-2007
As part of our series "Endings"

“Obit in the box!”

I looked up from my computer screen and glanced around the office, hoping to see some movement from one of the other cubicles. But no one budged, either too busy or not too concerned. After a moment I sighed and got up; I really hated typing the obituaries.

As I made my way over to the large file cabinet that held the immediate copy box, I saw Margaret stand up from her desk. Maybe I won’t have to do this one after all, I thought and slowed my pace. Just as Margaret neared the box, she made a quick right towards the bathroom. I frowned.

As I reached for the copy, I heard the sound of squeaky wheels and an instant later the old, clunky mail cart came speeding around the corner, piloted by Bobby the intern. I hurriedly got out of the way — Bobby rarely stopped for anyone — and he whizzed by, nicking the edge of the file cabinet. His whirling trips around the office were an annoying yet common occurrence.

I glanced at the paper as I went back to my desk; the typed portion didn’t look that big so I was hopeful I could get it done quickly. I avoided doing the obituaries as much as possible. It was always incredibly depressing reading about a 97-year-old woman who was only survived by her eight cats or a young man killed in a car accident; and the fact that I had to type up their entire life, now boiled down to just a few paragraphs, always felt strange and uncomfortable.

Placing it on the document holder, I picked up my mug and took a sip of coffee. After a few mouse clicks, I found the right screen and began typing: “Beloved son and brother, Jerry Neuson. Born in-”

I stopped suddenly. Jerry Neuson? I must have read it wrong, I thought and stared at the paper. No, it definitely said Jerry Neuson. After I got over the initial shock, I laughed to myself. Although this was the first time I had to type up an obituary for someone with my same name, I’m sure it probably happened a lot; after all, many people had similar names.

I smiled and continued reading: “Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Jerry was the son of Mary Louise and Henry Neuson.” I stopped again. That’s where I was born and those were the names of my parents. What were the odds of that? Probably pretty high, I thought and began reading again. “Jerry attended Lincoln High School where he was the lead tuba player in the marching band.”

I was actually the only tuba player in the marching band but I used to joke that I was the lead. Now this was getting eerie.

“Jerry graduated from Ball State with a degree in Business and then moved to Saddle Falls where he worked as a file clerk.”

I had actually been a document clerk there but suddenly I was pretty sure I wasn’t reading a stranger’s obituary anymore. This had to be a joke; someone was probably having a good laugh right about now. I bet it was Jenkins, I thought and stood up, he was always pulling stuff like this. I gazed across the room at his desk but his chair was empty. Just then I remembered he was on vacation.

I slowly sat back down. This was ridiculous, how could I have an obituary, I wasn’t dead. Or was I? Was it possible I was a ghost? Now that I thought about it, I didn’t remember anyone saying anything to me this morning or even really looking at me.

I decided to test my premise and picked up a large rubber band. I aimed it at the back of Mark Stevens’ bald head and fired; it hit him in the neck and he shrieked. He spun around and stared right at me.

So much for the ghost theory.

“What the hell, Jerry?!”

“Uh, sorry, Mark,” I mumbled, trying to avoid eye contact. When he turned back around, I quickly scanned the rest of the copy. Everything was there, practically my whole life: my trip to Niagara Falls, my dismissal from the Boy Scouts, my fondness for Asian cuisine, it was all there.

I was really reading my own obituary.

I began feeling very warm and loosened my tie. This had to be some kind of mistake, right? How could this be my obituary?

Suddenly I felt a cold hand on my shoulder. I jumped. A sickly odor, like a mix of garlic and sweat, filled my nostrils. This is it, I thought, Death has come for me.

“Hey, Jerry.”

I looked up. And although he had pitch-black hair and a ghoulishly-pale complexion, it wasn’t Death, only Roger from Accounting walking by. As he passed, I realized that garlic-sweat smell was kind of his usual aroma.

I reluctantly glanced back at the copy. I grabbed it from the holder and squeezed it slightly, causing the paper to crease a little. Rip it up, I told myself, just rip it up and throw it away. This had to be an error. Rip it up. Who would know?

“Jerry! How’s that obit coming?”

I cringed and turned around to see Mr. Johnson glaring at me from his office door, his brow furrowed and his fat Adam’s apple twitching as it always did when he was agitated.
I quickly placed the copy back on the holder. “Um, almost done, sir,” I muttered.

“Well, hurry up, the guy’s not getting any deader.”

Just then Bobby and his mail cart whipped past him. Mr. Johnson flinched and took a quick step backwards.

“Damn it, Bobby! One of these days you’re gonna kill someone with that thing!”

I smiled, momentarily forgetting what was sitting in front of me. When I remembered again, my smile quickly faded. Just finish it, I told myself, finish it and forget it.

I slowly began reading again and froze when I got to the last sentence: “Jerry died tragically when.” That was it, there was nothing else. I flipped the page over but the back was blank. I peered under my desk to see if I had dropped the other paper. Nothing there.

I got up and practically ran back to the copy box. But besides a few real estate ads, it was empty. I frantically looked all around, behind the copy machine, in the blue recycle bin; I had to find out how I died, I mean, how this person died, or was it me?

That’s when I saw it: wedged between the file cabinet and the wall was a single sheet of paper. I dropped to my knees and reached into the narrow crack, extending my arm until it hurt, but I just couldn’t get it.

I tried moving the file cabinet but it would only budge a little. I leaned forward until my head was between it and the wall. I still couldn’t reach the paper but could see the words on it and was pretty sure if I just got a little closer I could read it. I stretched my neck as far as it could go and squinted.

After a moment the words came into focus: “he was crushed by a file cabinet at his office. Services will be held Thursday.”

Suddenly I heard a familiar squeak. There was a very loud thud and then I felt some intense pressure and a sharp pain on the sides of my head.

At least I don’t have to type the rest of my obituary, I thought, as everything went black.

Read More By Tim Josephs

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

Archives Archives