The Guest

Brittany Sparks

The undertaker sat across from the crackling fire with a contented sigh, letting the waves of gentle warmth wash over him. It had been a long day, indeed. He held his cup of tea for a moment to allow it to bring life back to his numb fingers before raising it to his lips and taking a long swig. It burned his tongue and the roof of his mouth, but after enduring the frigidity of the mid-December day, he welcomed it.

Silence blanketed him almost as much as the warmth from the fire, but he wouldn’t be alone tonight, and that made the unease dissipate. With what he had to endure due to his job each day, it was nice to have company to distract him. He glanced over at his guest sitting in the rocking chair by the fire, nothing more than a silhouette against the flames. The old woman would be gone by dawn, leaving the undertaker alone once more. But for now, all that mattered was that he was not in solitude.

“This year has been especially difficult on those living near the lake,” he began conversationally. The old woman had been sitting with her head leaned back against the headrest of the rocking chair, but at the sound of his voice, her head fell forward to rest her chin against her collarbone. Creak, creeak, creeeack, went the chair as it began to rock gently. The undertaker knew she wasn’t listening, but he continued anyways in a soft voice so as not to disturb her rest.

“The only way into the village is across the lake. This year’s winter has been cold, but not cold enough to where the ice can support the weight of horses and what have you. So many have tried crossing only to fall in. That means good business for me, I suppose. And good company,” he added, smiling over at the woman gratefully.

The old woman slumped forward a little more as her body thawed, causing the rocking chair to creak forward a bit again. The undertaker sat back in his seat and closed his eyes.

Creak, creak, creak, went the chair.