Yes, we worked for Mr Maths. We were professional coffin makers, so of course we worked for him – he was the best. Although we didn’t call them coffins, we had to get it right every time. He told us that he fired Garrick because he kept forgetting their proper name. He told us that as a warning but no one liked Garrick. Garrick was clearly going to be next. “Never call them coffins!” became his catchphrase. Anyway, we all knew Mr Maths was only pretending to be a furious undertaker. He shouted a lot but you soon learned he didn’t mean it. You should have seen him with customers, so lovely and patient. He had kind features on his old face. You can’t hide that. He looked like he knew all about old-fashioned sweets and trains, not fear and nails. He could be a snob though. Mr Maths always considered himself and his company to be a cut above the other undertakers in town, and that’s why, without fail, we called the coffins ‘resting boxes’.
Hugo and I started on the same day and we were called ‘measurers’, but again this was for undertakers’ ears only. To customers we were Mr Maths’ ‘death assistants.’ It was our job to measure the one who had passed on. We were bespoke, we could provide your departed hero with the right resting box for them. If, for example, we found the resting one was six feet in length, or six feet tall if you prefer, our resting box would be made six feet and four inches in length. They were always the same height: 13 inches. 13 inches is just right and this took several experiments by Mr Maths to get right. 13 inches is just enough to raise your head and see your feet waggling but not enough to sit up. Our resting boxes had very little room but it was the perfect amount of room. You couldn’t turn on your side in a resting box and we were aware that some would take comfort in that position but Mr Maths was way ahead of you. You’d have to break your arm to turn on your side. Or snap your leg in half! I’m joking.
You wouldn’t be able raise your knee very high and it would be hard to get your phone from your trouser pocket. And anyway, you wouldn’t get a signal. Even if you’d forgotten to take it, it would be useless under all that earth. No, Mr Maths’ resting boxes were a work of art.
Hugo and I became firm friends and always tried to be on the same shift as each other. Hugo was very good at acting. It was like his heart had been shattered into a trillion particles of pure sorrow out of sympathy and respect for the customers’ grief. Even so he made it quite clear to me later that he couldn’t care less. Between the two of us I was best at stoicism. I did what had to be done – like a cleaner at a beheading I’d mop everything up. I got on with it and the customers appreciated that. Making the passed-on raise their arms was always tricky. It was to fool the customer if they should catch us at it. And do you know the customers never questioned why we did this. We’d say it’s in case the customer would like their beloved on display, we would have to put him or her in their best clothes and dressing a stiff corpse can be tricky. But nobody wants to lie in state anymore – apart from dictators, and we wouldn’t get their business anyway. The real reason we did it was because we like to put the light switch in the resting boxes ever so slightly too far from the beloved’s hands to reach.