The Undertakers’ Jolly
by Conor Houghton
On the first weekend of every May, just as the whitethorn makes the hedgerows so beautiful that it is an agony to know you could never count every petal, all the undertakers in Limerick go on their annual trip. They don’t go far, usually Lahinch, once as far as Dingle. They get dressed up and have a big meal, with pints of Smithwicks and Guinness for the undertakers, wine spritzers and shandies for their wives.
The conversation starts with sports but quickly turns to their trade: the best makeup for dead skin, plastic undergarments to keep the burial clothes clean. With the peach melba, they share the stories, told as if they were funny, that are the real purpose of the trip. Some really are funny, take Paddy Sherry’s tale of the priest, the underground cinema and the red haired corpse: while few people actually like Paddy, all are happy to laugh. After that come the stories that no telling could make funny, the funerals of children, of whole families, of forgotten men. Finally they turn to death. “It comes to us all” Paddy would intone, his face wet and red.
This particular year, sick of her husband and his talk, Mary Sherry stepped out for some air. As the hotel door closed and she walked towards the water, she heard fiddle music from a pub, she heard the hiss and rattle of the ocean turning the one million times turned stones along the shore, she heard the silence. Far out in the moonlit water she saw a group of dolphins surface and dive, swimming north. She fancied she could hear, somewhere under the silence, the sound of their breath and she wished that when she died her body could be let sink, untended to, into that dark brine.