Was it her first job choice? Of course not. Who wanted to transport dead bodies all day? Ferrying them from one location to another like some sort of Charon. But, as they say, “A job is a job.” And considering Iona’s lack of people skills, there were really only so many “professions” she could choose from. If by profession what one meant was completely menial non-job that an automaton could perform. These were the types of “positions” she found herself gravitating toward. Mainly because they seemed to be the only ones with employers who would respond to her patchy resume. In truth, Iona couldn’t understand why occupations such as these bothered to ask for one’s “curriculum vitae” at all. Considering all you really needed to be was breathing in order to perform them. But one supposed these types of employers wanted to weed out the riffraff as much as they could. Though that tends to be impossible when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff in the funeral industry.
To Iona’s surprise, there were more candidates vying for the position than she would have thought. Evidently, a lot of people were looking for a way out of actually having to communicate with the living while on the job. She couldn’t say she blamed them. But she knew she was bound to stand out from the rest when they were informed that funeral transporting involved more than just “driving the body” away from the place it died—it also entailed “decedent removal.” At first, Iona had read that description as “decadent removal,” which sounded a bit harsh and uncalled for to her. Just let people have their debauched fun, you know? A closer glance at the wording made her realize more fully that this truly wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. Though definitely for someone whose heart still beat strongly, and would not palpitate in the face of a corpse—no matter how grisly. At thirty-three years old, Iona hadn’t seen many dead bodies in her life. Just those of her grandparents, who had both opted for open-casket funerals. She could never fathom why anyone would want such a thing. It seemed like a sadistic way to inflict discomfort and pain on others from beyond the grave. As though forcing them to be reminded that their own mortality was nigh, no matter how young they believed themselves to be.
Of course, to please the owner of Cadaver Bros. Funeral Home, Iona told a little white lie to give her an edge: that she’d seen plenty of dead bodies before (said in a manner that didn’t make her sound like a serial killer). And while she had never carried one, Iona assured Mr. Columbarium that she was more than capable of lifting upwards of two hundred pounds on her own (“I lift a lot of weights,” she winked). That should be “competency” enough to deal with any old stiff. No matter how doggedly rigor mortis they were. Mr. Columbarium appeared to be sold, if not by Iona’s actual experience, then certainly her enthusiasm for the gig. And unlike enthusiasm expressed in men who had held the position before, Mr. Columbarium was certain he wasn’t going to catch Iona fucking any of the bodies, or trying to “sell fucks” to other people with predilections toward necrophilia. No, no—he truly got the sense that Iona was genuine. Trustworthy. He wasn’t entirely wrong. He just didn’t account for the many fast food and Starbucks drive-thru runs Iona would go on with a body in the back of her car. She was aware that “technically” it was a “misuse” of “company time.” But she figured the spirit of the person she was hauling would understand. Especially if they had ever tasted the deliciousness of In-n-Out.
What Iona didn’t anticipate vis-à-vis body transportation was just how awful some of the corpses could smell. Depending on how much time had passed since they died, as well as their age (in Iona’s opinion), the stench could definitely be enough to put Iona off any eating plans she might have previously had while on the job. Another curveball she was presented with early on included encountering her first decomposed body. At some point, this “thing” has been an overweight woman with severe hoarding tendencies. Iona was called after one of the neighbors at the apartment complex insisted that the door be kicked open by the police to find out what the hell was going on in there. Well, in addition to the garden-variety gross smells that usually come with hoarding, there was also a dead body in the apartment. So that oughta do it, foul stench-wise. Iona did her best to bypass the hysteria of the woman who had ordered the “break-in,” for she kept mindlessly shrieking at the mere sight of the interior of her dead neighbor’s apartment. Perhaps she hadn’t seen anything like it before, not even on Hoarders. But “fortunately” for Iona, she had gotten familiar with the condition thanks to her own mother, who was the catalyst for her getting this job in the first place: she couldn’t stand to live with her another second, and would save up as much money as possible to get the fuck out. She had only been living with Dez (short for Desdemona) for a few months since she lost her old job. Laid off from being an Amazon warehouse worker like so much damaged stock on the shelves.
Alas, the rash of layoffs occurred at a moment when she had absolutely no savings and no one else to turn to but Dez. Of course, Dez wasn’t one to make her daughter feel as though she were actually welcome, repeating to her every day that Iona was lucky to have a mother so warm and inviting. With “warmth” like this, Iona was liable to need several thermal layers. So she got out there as soon as she could, nabbing this funeral transporter position despite her lack of “experience.” But hey, she could drive and she wasn’t squeamish. These appeared to be her most valuable qualities in life right now. If she had known that was going to be the case, she would have never bothered wasting four years in college, at which time she had also spent any spare hours working odd jobs to support her misguided English major. A fat lot of good it was doing her now, other than enjoying reciting choice passages from Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. She had no idea how relevant the novel would end up being to her own existence, so she supposed she was glad that so much of it had stuck with her, including the lines, “I wept as I remembered how often you and I/Had laughed about Los Angeles and now ’tis here you’ll lie;/Here pickled in formaldehyde and painted like a whore,/Shrimp-pink incorruptible, not lost nor gone before.” Iona didn’t agree with Dennis Barlow’s (a fellow funeral transporter, even if “only” of pets) cynical take on L.A., but she enjoyed the tragedian flair of the poem he had written for his friend, Francis Hinsley. She imagined the corpses in the back of the SUV did as well. Because yes, it was an SUV she used, not a hearse. Much to her relief. She really didn’t want that kind of spotlight on her while driving through the highly judgmental streets of Los Angeles. Plus, what if someone she knew from high school saw her or something, what with all the University High alumni tending to linger within the city long after graduating. The last thing she needed was a former classmate finding out what she’d been “up to” lately. There was no dignity in dying, but there was even less in working with the dead.
One day, while stopping at her usual In-n-Out of choice while on the job, Iona was met with bleaker thoughts than usual. By now, she had been funeral transporting for almost a year. And as she drove away from the window with her order and parked the car in the lot, she realized that she was effectively no better than a stooge of the grim reaper. Ultimately performing all the dirty work after he executed (no pun intended) his glamorous task of offing these people. She was a stool pigeon, a betrayer of the living. Even if they had just died. Some part of her wanted to believe that if you didn’t transport a body anywhere, after a while, it would be given no choice but to reanimate. How else could one explain so many “false” sightings of Elvis? Immune to the dead body smell that once put her off eating, Iona bit into her burger with gusto, turning around occasionally to check on the being behind her as though it were sentient. So this was life now, huh? Nothing but death. Meeting her at every turn (literally). Closing in all around her. But the reaper needs his soldiers like any general, and Iona figured there were more nefarious armies to be a part of.