Man Catcher: a short story by Jon Frank

Man Catcher is a story set at a funeral first introduced to our audience in Episode 5 of When Fact Met Fiction.

In the episode Mel addresses Jon.

” You had to write an article about a funeral?” He continues, ” Nothing like exploring food beauty at a wake.”

Jon’s article is hardly focused on the food, although the reference is there as always. His story is a hilarious excursion into one woman’s attempt to catch the ‘man of her dreams’, or at least the man who ,”was so hot and so handsome,” from her office.

You may want to watch Episode 5: The Ultimatum , to get you ready for your read of the following story.

Man Catcher

By Jon Frank

Lauren pulled her car over to the side of the little road that wound its way through Lewis Memorial Cemetery. Even though traffic had yielded to the funeral procession as usual, she was so far back in the car line that she hadn’t even parked by the time the family gathered at the graveside. Her stomach was rolling from anxiety and hunger, and the scent of turkey casserole wafting around the car interior didn’t help. Well, at least the rain had stopped, and the sun was now flickering through the clouds. Excellent. Spencer would see her strolling up in perfect light.

Lauren had started a new office job only two months ago, and she had immediately noticed Spencer. He was tall, black-haired and grey-eyed, with a strong jaw and a body that had regular dates with the gym. He worked at the opposite end of the fluorescent-lit common room, but she could see directly into his office from her cubicle. Lauren made countless excuses to walk past the other cubicles and his office to get copies or more coffee. Truthfully, she detested coffee, but pretending she needed a constant supply was worth catching glimpses of him. Normally, she wouldn’t be so flirtatious, she told herself – but he was so hot and so handsome. Plus, she was sure she had caught him looking back a few times.

Lauren knew she wasn’t supermodel material, but the looks-decent fairy had left her with a modicum of petite cuteness. However, maintaining a fit body was a herculean effort. She managed to remain slim, but there was that slight pudge no amount of spin classes would get rid of. She had finally accepted it because she was sure she had ridden that stationary bike to the top of Kilimanjaro and back at least a dozen times.

When she had taken the job she had three decent office outfits. She couldn’t afford anything expensive and the clothes she had didn’t scream high-end department store as much as thrift store. With her first paycheck she splurged on several outfits she could mix and match. She chatted with her best friend Julie on the phone while she shopped, and Julie talked her into purchasing a new bra and a couple of push-the-edge-of-modest blouses to catch Spencer’s eye.

When Lauren strolled by his doorway or paused near him at the copier, she tried her best to suck in her little gut or turn so her fit calves showed to the best advantage. She felt she had finally gotten a bite on the line the other day when he had talked to her in the break room. Well, not talked to her, exactly. He had asked for the creamer, but they made eye contact and their fingers touched briefly when she passed it to him. Connection.

Now, Spencer’s grandmother had “passed,” and Lauren was attending the service as a show of support in his time of need. When the office sympathy card circulated, she signed her name and added, “Here if you need anything at all.” Nice touch. Even better, she was fortunate to be the last employee to sign, so she personally delivered the card to Spencer’s office. He was working at his desk. What a trooper; he was so strong.

Lauren handed him the card and said gently, “Hey, how’re you holding up? Do you need anything? We’re all here for you.” She gave him her best concerned smile, trying to make it look as genuine as possible. He nodded and said, “Thanks.” Lauren felt sure she succeeded in exiting the doorway looking both supportive and alluring.

She returned to her cubicle and immediately searched the local listings for the service time and place. Then she read the obituary thoroughly to familiarize herself with the particulars. After work, she spent three-and-a- half hours selecting a black dress that would both beckon and console. The dress was a shocker of form and perfection. Modest in neckline and hemline and constructed of soft chiffon, it slimmed and draped all the right curves Audrey-Hepburn fashion. Well, if Audrey Hepburn were three inches shorter and wearing Spanx for tummy control.

Attending the graveside service was crucial, but she hoped to close the deal at the family visitation afterward. It was tradition in the South to bring food for the mourners to eat while gathering for comfort, stories, and memories. Other people might bring something from a store or restaurant. However, Lauren’s plan required a certain type of homemade dish. On one hand, the recipe must be so sumptuous that Spencer – or maybe even his parents – would notice she was not only easy on the eyes, but was quite a cook as well. On the other hand, if she made something too elaborate, it would seem like showing off. And, even worse, she would be expected to cook like that forever. Checking her bank account balance, she knew it also had to cost next to nothing. So it had to be cheap, easy to prepare, and absolutely delicious. And there was only one dish that would do: The Man Catcher.

She contacted Julie for the turkey casserole recipe. Julie’s mother called it “The Man Catcher” because it’s the reason her future husband had noticed her at the church picnic, and she continued to make it often over the years – which might explain why Julie was one of six kids. To display the dish, Lauren purchased a real casserole pan, not aluminum foil, with a lid and carrying case, fancy enough that Spencer would feel obligated to return it or, dare to hope, ask her to come by and pick it up.

When Lauren finally arrived at the graveside, the mourners were all pressed together around the perimeter of the funeral-home canopy. Leaving her raincoat in the car so the fabulous dress would be on full display, she weaved through the standing crowd to the family seated in front. With a somber look, she positioned herself strategically to Spencer’s left at the edge of the row. The preacher had just begun his remarks when a peal of thunder heralded the rain’s return. The shower quickly became a downpour that ushered most of the mourners under the canopy, and caused umbrellas to sprout like mushrooms among those unable to fit.

Lauren scooched in tight between two blue-suited elderly men, which allowed her to stand at the head of the casket immediately in front of Spencer. He glanced up but didn’t seem to notice her yet. Lauren thought quickly and made a grand show of wiping “tears” with a silk handkerchief. That did it. Spencer’s steel-gray eyes bore into her and he nodded his head to acknowledge her presence. Yes, she said to him with her eyes. I am here for you, my beloved.

The preacher’s sermon droned for a bit. The steady rain thrummed on the canopy and made Lauren painfully aware of her need to pee. She gritted her teeth and shifted her high-heel dress shoes on the cheap green outdoor carpet placed around the grave to hide the dirt. The preacher finished and asked the mourners to bow their heads in prayer.

At the same moment he said, “Dear Lord,” the rain-swollen canopy overflowed and a torrent of freezing water poured down Lauren’s back, causing her to invoke the name of the Lord as well. She staggered forward, but her spiky heels lost their grip on the wet carpeting and rain-softened grave edge. Her feet flew out, her bottom hit the ground, and she rode the carpet like a water slide under the casket lowering device and down into the grave itself. There was an ominous ripping sound as she fell the entire six feet and landed on her bottom again, causing her to release her bladder, as well as more appeals to the Almighty.

She looked up to see several sets of eyes, including Spencer’s, peering down around the edges of the casket. A glance at the hole she slid through also revealed a muddy swath of black chiffon dangling from a bracket of the lowering frame above her head. As she stood there in her new bra and mud-crusted, urine-soaked Spanx, one of the older gentlemen she was previously standing beside deftly unhooked the dress between pinched fingers and dropped it gently to her. She missed catching it, of course, and it landed in the brown puddle already drowning her new high-heel pumps.

_________________

Lauren leaned on the doorbell of Julie’s house until she opened it. “What? Oh Lauren, oh Lauren,” she cried. Her best friend stood before her in a black dress that was ripped, mud-plastered, inside-out, and backward. Lauren’s mascara and snot were wiped across her face and her hair looked like Barbie’s after being in the bathtub. In her hands was a casserole dish with matching lid. Through blubbering lips she spoke. “I need a shower, and a fork.” To which Julie replied, “I’ll get the wine.”

The End

If you have any funeral stories that top this one we would love to hear from you.

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