The Undertakerby Sarah Martin

Competition: Short Story Challenge 2017, Final Round

Genre: Open   Subject: A sunrise   Character: An undertaker

Original Illustration by Yevgenia Nayberg


I bury Muffins every morning at 6am. I don’t need an alarm clock – I just wake up. I have to walk down the stairs very slowly so they don’t creak. I hold Muffins under my left arm and hold the railing with my right hand like Dad told me to. My box of stuff is by the back door. I put Muffins on top of it and pick it up and go outside.

            There’s a picture of Muffins and me in the hospital when I was born. He was bigger than me back then. He had a pink bow around his neck and his fur was clean and fluffy. Mummy bought Muffins for me before I was born. I asked her why he’s called Muffins and she said that was the name on the tag. I love Muffins very much. I asked Mummy if she loved Muffins too and she said yes but that she loved me more. I told her that she needed to love us equally because if she loved me more Muffins would be sad. So she said she loved us equally, and Muffins and I were both happy.

            Muffins and I both wear coats when we go outside in winter. Mummy knitted him a coat that’s the same as mine so we could be twins. It’s made of red wool and has big black buttons. It’s winter at the moment so I bury him in his coat, because the ground is very cold.


I told Father Gregory at Sunday School that I want to be an undertaker when I grow up. He laughed and said “What?” and I said “An undertaker.”

            “An undertaker?”

            “It’s a person who buries dead people.”

            He laughed again and said that was rather morbid, and I asked him what morbid meant and he said never mind. I told him more about what an undertaker does but I didn’t tell him about Muffins because my dad said Muffins might not like that.


I take my box of stuff to the corner of the garden where there’s a bit with no grass. At 6am everything in the garden is dark grey, like an old photo. I use my hands to make a hole in the dirt. I like how cold the dirt feels in winter. I squat on the grass and my pyjama bottoms get a bit wet.

            I take Muffins’ coffin out first. I painted over the Nike label but you can still see it a bit. I open it and put the lid on the grass. Next, I take out the black silk, which is actually a pillow case but it looks and feels like silk. I put this in the bottom of the coffin, and then put in Muffins’ pillow, which I made myself in art class. It’s a hanky with my initials, C.B., written in curly writing, filled with cotton balls and then sewn together. I put this at the end of the coffin and then lie Muffins down with his head on the pillow.


Father Gregory asked me why I wanted to be an undertaker. I explained to him that it’s important to give people a good death because we are dead for much longer than we are alive. He said nothing so I starting telling him about formal-dee-hide which is a chemical used to make dead bodies look alive. He patted my head and said that we never really die, but our soul is released from its prison of flesh. He said we will be very happy on that day. I nodded but I don’t really think that flesh is a prison, because a prison sounds cold and hard but flesh is soft and warm and smells a little bit salty.


Once Muffins is in his coffin, I straighten his coat and brush his fur to make it neat. I bow my head and say a prayer by mumbling made-up words like Father Gregory. Then I put the lid back on and place the coffin very slowly in the ground. I push dirt over the top of it and pat it down. Then I sit and wait quietly in the grey garden. Slowly, the birds start to get noisier, and a little bit of pinky-orange light comes through the trees. The clouds are the colour of my dark jeans, but they are slowly fading to pale blue. Mummy said that before sunrise, the world belongs to us. And that when the sun comes up, we need to share the day with other people. So when the sun comes up and the day begins, I dig up Muffins’ coffin and put everything back in the box.


I don’t put make-up on Muffins like they put make-up on Mummy because that would be silly because he’s a bear. When Mummy was buried they put her in a very nice wooden box. Dad told me that inside the box Mummy was wearing a black dress and red lipstick and her hair was all wavy. He said she was lying on silk and a comfortable pillow.

            I asked Dad who gave Mummy the black dress and lipstick and he pointed to the old man by the sandwiches.

            “That’s Mr Cartwright, the undertaker,” he said.

            I went up to Mr Cartwright and asked him why Mummy needed silks for her box and a black dress and red lipstick because she was dead and wouldn’t notice. Mr Cartwright smiled and I thought he was going to pat my head like Father Gregory always does but instead he put his hand on my shoulder and held it there.

            “What’s your name?” he asked.


            “Well, Christopher. When we love someone very much, we want them to have a good life, don’t we? So we also want them to have a good death. In my opinion, a good death is as important as a good life, if not more important – for we are dead far longer than we are alive.”

            Then I got really worried because I knew Mummy’s favourite lipstick was pink and I thought she wasn’t having a good death with her red lipstick.

            I didn’t know what to say because I felt bad, so I just said, “I wish Mummy was here.”

            “She is here,” said Mr Cartwright. “What did your mother like doing?”

            “She liked drinking tea and watching TV shows,” I said. “And having baths with candles that smelt funny. And playing Candy Crush on her iPad and trying to get a better score than me. She also liked waking up really early and waking me up too and going outside to watch the sunrise from the deck. She’d always let me have a bit of her tea but it tasted bad because it didn’t have any sugar in it.”

            “Well then, that’s where you’ll find her,” said Mr Cartwright. “Wake up early and watch the sunrise. She’ll be there with you, even if you can’t see her.”

            I liked Mr Cartwright so I told him that Mummy didn’t like red lipstick and I asked him if she was going to have a bad death. I was worried he was going to laugh but he just smiled again.

            “No, Christopher. The colour of the lipstick isn’t important. What matters is the ritual.”

            “What’s a ritual?” I asked.

            “I can explain it to you sometime, if your dad agrees,” said Mr Cartwright.


When I am finished putting everything back in the box, I stand up and look at the patch of dirt. The sky is bright now and the garden is colourful, and I can see that the grass is very wet. I go inside and put my box of things by the back door and then wash my hands before breakfast. I have a little brush to help me get the dirt out from under my nails.

            “How was the sunrise?” asks Dad.

            “Pinky-orange,” I say.

            “You’ll have to start waking up earlier,” says Dad. “The sun is starting to rise earlier.”


Before sunrise, the world belongs to Mummy and me. But once the sun is up, I have to share the world with other people. I put Muffins back on my bed and give him a hug goodbye. Then I brush my teeth and go to school.




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Sarah Martin is an English teacher living in Melbourne, Australia.








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