She died. The value of the things in her house was not enough to pay for hauling them off. We had to pay an upfront fee – but, with an auction of salvageable goods, made back a quarter of our outlay. But the auctioneer plucked an amount equal to ours, and he was the one we originally paid to haul it all off. He also auctioned her truck. While he retained less for that, still with the earlier junk removal fee, the auctioned household goods, the truck auction profit, he made much more than the family out of this death. And what the family made was already spent. Our assets are not hers. Her obligations are not ours. The far too many machinations required to expunge her from this world are chargeable only to her residual wealth, not our current wealth. All the exotic fees end with the balance of her accounts. We have to be firm. A bare-bones funeral, basic cremation, no service, no flowers, mere transportation urn. The fire was not free. Then the back bills. No, what came of the auction did not fill the hole. Then the house. A sagging spot in the floor. A scuff of walls. Insufficient square footage for the market. Two old judgements. One buried so deeply the file had been closed, but the judgement not settled. Weeks to get the case reanimated. Fees and interest piling up. Creditors would not always work with the family’s agent. Only with the family. Fax your probate administrator’s assignment, fax the death certificate. Fax a copy of your driver’s license, fax copies of the death certificates of long passed relatives mentioned in the debt paperwork. Fill out the questionnaires, all of them. So many people to please, so many people to pay. All those supplying required services require compensation. A jobber wants the house. FEMA might reimburse for the funeral, first wants a death certificate and a receipt, later opines it needs an itemized list of services. The jobber is going to have to repair the house. It is not worth as much as we might think, at least until he has the title, blesses the house, and goes to resell it. Fees and penalties and interest add up. Critical mass is likely when the mortgage holder’s ever increasing payoff demand is large enough to consume all of the likely worth in the house. The family is hoping FEMA money will come in. There is surely someone with a claim for services to take that as well. We had to take the disposition of the deceased out of hide, the body had to be resolved. The goal is zero. We will not go below zero. But perhaps we are already below zero, the body needing duty. With all the fingers in this death, we just want to come away with nothing. We keep repeating we are not, personally, liable. That jingle has to be our abiding mantra. We have to cling to our desire for nothing. Nothing but an unfettered relative spread anonymously on the free wind.
Ken Poyner’s collections of brief fictions, Constant Animals, Avenging Cartography, Revenge of the House Hurlers, and Engaging Cattle; and poetry, The Book of Robot and Victims of a Failed Civics, can be located at Amazon, most online booksellers, and through links at www.barkingmoosepress.com. He spent 33 years in information system management, is married to a world record holding female power lifter, and has a family of several cats and betta fish. Individual works have appeared in Café Irreal, Analog, Danse Macabre, The Cincinnati Review, and several hundred other places. He has had so far seven Pushcart nominations without fielding a single win.