Eighteen, straight outta school and I wasn't yet a citizen. I had applied for university earlier the last year. It was before I had found out that if I were a permanent resident I would need to pay my school fees up front. I applied to become a dual citizen. It would take some time to get processed. The speed might have been due to the need to grow small ferns which they gave to each applicant. I had to wait. I also had to pay the six or seven grand I would need for the years tuition.
The fish and chip shop job wouldn't cut it. Not close. The solution presented itself in a strange timely manner. At a party I was chatting to an old high school friend. He was in a black suit. Cheap. One of the cheapest I had seen. Even after living through the fashions of the turbulent formal season. His black shoes, belt and tie stood stark on the white suit shirt. It had the appearance unusual to a suit in that it had the look of hard use. With eyes unfocused it was reminiscent of a boiler suit.
Why was he wearing it I remember asking.
Accordance with my new work. Word got to me you were in the need of some. The old brother was drinking at the Auburn Hotel and sat next to bar fly wearing a similar outfit to I. Turns out the man was an undertaker. Fella worked for an outfit by the name of Bells Funerals.
He told me as the conversation went they eventually got back to the discussion of work. Company, as it turned out, was looking to improve it's somewhat shaky appearance. Workers attracted to the industry were usually characters unsuited to other forms of work. Or outright disqualified. Anyway he went on to say that they were hoping to pick up some younger guys, you know, to create a master and apprentice look. Make Bell Funerals look like a family business and all.
I needed work. Sounded interesting and I considered that I was studying science. It could amplify my learning in some anatomical way. Coincidentally did the opposite but that's another story. Only one real qualifier I needed.
What was the pay?
He leaned back and swept his hand from the ungainly tie knot all the way down the circumference of his belly. Ain't exactly what you would call a traditional payroll system there chief. This little bit of information will be the decider if you want to do this job. Consider your response as the formal interview. If you can do it with this part considered then you're hired.
So Bell Funerals has the coroners contracts. That means if someone dies and the body needs to be seen by the coroner we get a message from the Victorian Police to come act as middle man. We get paid by the coroner forty bucks per body. On a good week we can do thirty to forty bodies. That is the coroner's primary interest. Bell Funerals have their own priorities. If we manage to get the people who were responsible for the body to go through our company when organising the bodies funeral then we get a finders fee of one hundred dollars.
Someone die at home, we go in and offer our services as death guides. We couldn't directly say we would sort out the funeral for the family. But we could offer a phone service which explained to the people the things which happened upon someone's death. If at the end they are oh so desperate to get someone to take away this confusing burden then we can go on to suggest Bell Funerals as a company that would make everything better. Ain't many who are prepared for a death of any kind. Almost none who are prepared for their own. Explains the whole life insurance racket. We get quite a bit of business through the contract, that much is definitely true.
Before I finish I will give you a quick anecdote. Amid the other one. Saturday night me and the main old company bloke, Dave, were doing a weekend shift. We were broke for different and similar reasons. Guy, Mick, was living with Dave after getting fired from Bells and was dealing drugs out his bedroom. That factor didn't help.
Later down the track Mick, the housemate, would show me his loaded and fully functional crossbow to give me a glimpse into his cracked mind.
This particular weekend, he says, was quite slow. The numbers were shit. No one was dying. It was Saturday night and we were stuck out in the deep southern suburbs. Wanted a job between the city where the coroner was and the current location. We had the radio on and the hourly news was soon up. Traffic report was where it was at when scouting for work. Turns out there was a multiple fatality on the Princess Highway further out. A mini van carrying a family had collided with a cow. Got to the scene and SES were getting the only wedged survivor out of the wreck. We took the rest of the passengers. Had room for five bodies and we were fully stocked. Turns out the family didn't even see the cow. Difficult to see a black cow standing motionless in the middle of the highway at night. Didn't matter if the night was fucking full moon, it was a dark and messy cow. Unlucky having a black cat walk in front of you? Least of your concerns I do reckon.
All I can say is that when I heard the report of the dead family my initial reaction was that of excitement. I was excited that I could earn a few extra dollars to waste on me and my girl. The family didn't factor into that idea that I needed to be payed. That, over the tragedy, certainly made me turn up for work the next day.
My formal response to the interview was a silent grimace. I took the job but I flipped a switch early on. To do the things I did at eighteen. To see and smell the others. I had to change how I saw reality. I started looking at things in a similar fashion to how I looked at my friends dirty suit. Unfocused. Quite a time later I quit. Didn't flip the switch for some time after.