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I Wrote For The Dead

“The problem with being the obituary writer in a dying small town? I have to write fiction to help pay the bills.” — Anderson Hohl

“Mahalia Drace, 73, born, raised and died here in Dirt. Owned Drace Hardware with her husband, Drake, for 42 years. Survived by her son, Darrell, who has run the hardware store for 16 years now. RIP Mahalia.”

Another day’s work off to the printer.

That’s it. That was the sum of excitement for my day. I’d write two or three lines about the latest person no longer walking around Dirt and get it to the printers. We still have a local newspaper here. 55 readers.

Correction, 54.

But that’s not why you’re here, is it? You want to know how some small town hack could get into bother writing fictitious obituaries.

Miss Mahalia? She was the first person to die locally in nearly three months. Others have left town. The place can’t feed a family of one, let alone a family of 12. But what am I going to write about them? Their forwarding address?

Look at that graveyard photo up there. That’s my patch of Dirt. Notice all the small, simple stones? Those are locals who never got to even walk around Dirt. Their time was up before they barely got started. One mamma asked me to write her baby’s obituary as if he’d had a full life.

When a young woman comes asking you to write a fictional obituary with tears on her cheeks, what am I supposed to do? Turn her away and continue staring at my typewriter? Yes, I said typewriter. Couldn’t afford both electricity and the Internet.

Two days later, the Daily Dirt published my first fake obituary. Everyone knew it was phoney. We may be Dirt, but we ain’t stupid. They liked the story. Turned out the little baby Silas had made good.

“Went off to the big smoke and got an education. He returned to North Dirt and settled a cattle farm with 8,000 head. Made it to 68 years of age. Would have lived longer if he hadn’t used so much dynamite that last day.”

After that, I got more requests to fill people’s lives. “Give my little darling a life,” they’d ask. I’d interview the family, visit the cemetery, get a feel for the departed. I’d let that inspire my obituary.

But eventually that business dried up too.

So I started making up life stories for those forgotten little graves that had no one left in town to remember them. And that’s why you’re coming around these parts, asking about Nathaniel Dirt.

In the cemetery there, one stone only has the name “Nathaniel,” nothing more. No family left around here to interview, so I just went with my gut feeling. It was a bad feeling. That obituary ran in the paper six months ago.

“Nathaniel Dirt. 31. Left Dirt at a young age. Reported to have had deviant troubles with the law. Died peacefully at his home across the river.”

That’s all I wrote. I gave him the surname of ‘Dirt’ because he was born here. How was I supposed to know he was still alive?

“Nathaniel ‘Dirt’ Collins, of Tusket River, was found yesterday, beaten to death in his home. Police have charged three men with Mr. Collins’ murder. Mr. Collins, originally from nearby Dirt, had recently been acquitted of charges of deviant behaviour. The police would give no further comment.” — The Tusket River Tribune

I don’t need to see the Tribune article again. I’ve read the papers. Like I said, I no longer write fiction for the dead. I still write the occasional obituary, but I write for bigger publications these days. Online publications.

I can do that now, I’ve got the Internet.

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