The Obituary


“When in the hell are you going to fix that goddamn air conditioner?”

The kitchen was extremely small.  The table sat two uncomfortably.  And with two piles of photocopy paper, a few blue pens, and a large stack of newspapers, Henry was taking up most of it.

A woman with curlers in her hair and a sweaty scowl on her face sat down across from Henry.  Though it was mid-day, laziness kept Doris’ nightgown on.  Annoyed that her section of the table was being used, she shoved the newspapers towards Henry, jarring him from his writing.

“I said, when are you going to fix the air conditioner?  The bedroom must be a hundred degrees.”

Henry continued writing, not bothering to look up.  “It’s not that hot in here.”

“That’s because you’re sitting next to the window,” she answered.  There was venom in her voice.  “And I’m sweating my ass off.”

Not necessarily a bad thing.  Henry mentally noted how much weight Doris had put on over the years.  A little bit of sweating might get that cottage cheese ass under control.  He was about to respond with a slightly tamer response when a howl boomed through the apartment.

“Will you please go and shut that thing up,” he said.

Doris folded her arms defiantly.  “Roger is on the bed panting like crazy from the heat.  I hope the poor dear does not lose control of his bowels again.”

Henry closed his eyes for a moment as he paused in his writing.  The image of the Basset Hound on the bedsheets relieving himself was almost more than he could bear.  The previous accident had taken six washes to remove the stench from the linens.

Doris picked up one of the newspapers and began to fan herself with it.

“Could you please put that down?”

“What?” she said, looking at the newspaper in disgust.  “You care about this old rag?  Why are you even holding onto these?  It’s just more clutter that we don’t need.”

“I need it for my writing.”

She slapped the newspaper back onto the pile.  The small gust of air made the sheet Henry was writing on flutter to the floor.  Bending down to retrieve it, Henry tried not to look at the filthy, crumb-laden floor.  He couldn’t remember the last Doris time had cleaned it, or for that matter, anything else in the apartment.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to interfere with your writing, especially considering how much money you make from scribbling about dead people.”

“Obituaries,” clarified Henry, for what felt like the thousandth time.  “And the Sentinel pays me decently.”

“Oh, yes.” Doris waved her arms around the kitchen.  “We just live in the lap of luxury.  Our refrigerator is as large as a microwave.  The stove is older than most college students.  As for the dishwasher, I can’t even remember the last time it functioned!”

“I don’t see you working.”

Doris sat up from the chair in anger.  “You know about my bad back, Henry!  The doctor was very explicit about not aggravating my condition.”

“Working as a secretary is hard labor?”

“Go to hell!  If you had it your way, you’d see me work until I was wheelchair bound!”

The dog wailed again in the other room.  A moment later a foul smell began wafting in.

“Oh, my poor baby,” said Doris.

Henry placed his pen down.  “Would you like to listen to the latest one I wrote?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Obituaries.  I try to make each of them sound interesting by giving them a bit of flare.  It keeps the readers from getting bored.”

A disgusted look washed over Doris’s face.  “That’s really sick, Henry.  How can you make light of something so tragic?”

Ignoring her, Henry picked up the piece of paper and began to read:


Services for Doris Ann Heath, 58 will be held at Saint Denis Church in Ramsey, NJ.  Mrs. Heath who died on Monday was the miserable wife of Henry Heath of 26 long, torturous years.  Mrs. Heath was unemployed her entire life, complaining of various illnesses that no doctor could ever substantiate.  During her life, Mrs. Heath held the record for the longest amount of time a carpet was owned without being vacuumed.  Mrs. Heath died from accidental electrocution.  Surviving her is one relieved husband.  No children.


“Do you think it is good enough?  You’d be amazed if I told you how much time I spent working on it.”

Doris looked at him in aghast.  “Is that supposed to be some sort of sick joke?”

“Nothing funny about it.”  Henry put his feet up onto the table, grabbed the garbage can that was next to him, and tipped it over.  Instead of trash, several gallons of water spilled out across the floor.

“I thought I would get the Obituary done ahead of time,” said Henry as the water rushed past Doris’ feet and crashed against the dishwasher.  The live wire that was between the washer and the cabinet suddenly supercharged the water.

Henry watched the lights flicker for a moment before the circuit breaker caught.

But it was long enough to get the job done.

Doris tumbled headfirst to the floor, her head smacking so hard against the linoleum that her hair curlers sprung outwards.

From the bedroom Roger suddenly let out another ear-shattering wail.

“Don’t worry,” mumbled Henry.  “It’s almost time for your walk.”

~ fin ~

Mike Penn’s story, The Cost of Doing Business, originally appeared in Thuglit, Issue 24 won the Derringer Award for best mystery. One of his stories, The Converts was recently filmed as a short movie.  Another story The Landlord was recently translated into a play. Fiction of his can be found in over 90 magazines and anthologies from 6 different countries such as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the USA, Here and Now in England, Crime Factory in Australia.  Comic book publishers include IDW and JKOR Graphics.