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author:  Margie Culbertson

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Up In Smoke


Gary Presley

"We need a will," said my wife.

"A will?" I repeated, puzzled. Somewhere a lawyer must've asked his guardian angel for a new BMW.

I don't need a will. I have two worn–out vehicles, a dog, two cats, half–interest in a house the bank owns, and two teenage boys.

The cats can take of themselves, the dog will die before I do, and the boys can fight over the house like they do everything else.

Besides, I never buy anything I don't want to use. Who wants to use a will? Not me.

"Look," she explained. "Your parents are dead. Most of my family attends Doofus University. If we die together, we need someone to care for the boys." I hate being argued into a corner, especially the one with the table where we keep the telephone.

The lawyer's secretary said we could see him when he returned from Acapulco, and so ten days later we're admiring a pair of Gucci loafers resting on three acres of polished mahogany desk.

We're putting our best foot forward too. I'm wearing a faded Harley–Davidson t–shirt, Wranglers with a rip near the knee and a sweat–stained St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. My wife's more stylish — her Levis aren't faded — but I've forced her to leave her jewelry at home.

Cubix Zirconium can fool the best eye. When that woman lawyer fell down the elevator shaft on "LA Law," I lost all respect for the observational powers of the average member of the legal profession.

Snubbing proper fashion proved useless subterfuge — the lawyer's rate is still $275 a hour.

We outline the problem. He mutters encouragingly as he leafs through BMW leather upholstery samples.

What took us five minutes to explain requires notes on three legal pads. "I can have it done by the first," he says with a sigh, "if I work a few nights and clear out the next two weekends."

Translation:  his secretary will enter our names on the one–size–fits–all will template he got free when he ordered "Softjargon Legalese Perfect for Windows 95, version 6."

Of course, I didn't realize that until we dropped by to sign the documents. The tip–off was Paragraph XXI, Clause 2a —"The aforementioned Executor agrees to pay all costs incurred for the funeral services of the Party of First Part, including preparation, casket, and burial plot."

Reading that causes my hands to shake and my eyes to dart about the room. "Take this out," I say, holding the freshly typed copy and pointing to the sentence ordering permanent confinement underground.

I'm claustrophobic. I intend to be claustrophobic after I'm dead. I do not want to be pickled and placed in a sealed box and planted under six feet of dirt. Do you realize there's no way out?

My panic is reflected in the lawyer's eyes. Obviously he was absent the day the professor covered word processing cut and paste in law school. "Why?" he asks. "It's standard in any will. You're responsible for your funeral costs."

"Someone can scratch up enough money to pay for a memorial service if they want," I reply, "but I intend to be cremated. Put that in the will. Nobody's going to marinade my carcass and bury it like a dog bone."

The lawyer's gaze flickers rapidly between my wife and me. Clearly he trusts her to bring the discussion back onto a reasonable track. If I continue with these demands, he may be forced to buy the manual for "Softjargon Legalege." Overhead like that can eat into the BMW's option package.

My wife, however, offers no help. Marriage to me has given her a certain savoir faire. "Go ahead. Write it the way he wants," she says. "When I die, I'm going to pour his ashes into a whiskey bottle and have it put in the casket with me. He isn't getting away that easy."

Confusion flutters across the lawyer's face. He doesn't realize she's been a trifle headstrong since Iconvinced her natural childbirth would be better than anesthesia.

The new clause required two more legal pads and consultation with a law firm specializing in arson cases.

When we arrive for our next visit, the lawyer springs from his chair and smiles as he offers his hand. "I think we'll be able to proceed with signing today," he says.

I suspect the signature he most anticipates is mine on the check I'll soon owe him. My wife and I proceed to flip through the two wills.

"Wait just a sec," I say as my finger stops halfway down the third page of my wife's will. "This will directs my ashes be placed in her casket."

"But that's what she said last week," he says, nervously. His eyes stray to where my wife sits calmlyreading. He apparently expects her to don a black robe and overrule my objection.

"Look," I begin. "If I die first, I can order disposition of my remains any way I want to, right? Thenshe can't bury them with her."

He nods, waiting for my wife's response. His fingers drum restlessly on the desk and his eyes glaze over. He's frustrated, I know. There's simply no ethical method of representing both parties in a divorce case.

"Ah," he begins, "Let's see ...".

"OK, then. Here's what I want," I begin. "My will is to instruct my wife to take the proceeds of my lifeinsurance, build a new house, and pour my ashes in the concrete of the front steps. Then she can spend the rest of her life continuing to walk all over me."

The room grows silent. My wife finishes flipping through her copy of the will. She lays it back on thelawyer's desk, smiling sweetly, and gets up from her chair. "Everything else is OK," she says. "Fix up the new clause, and we'll be back next week."

The look on his face was almost worth the $275 per hour.

©Gary Presley

About the author: 

Gary Presley came to earth in California, made intermittent sojourns to four other states and two countries before settling into obscurity deep in the wilds of Missouri. He likes tea, oranges, and peppermint. He also likes dogs, cats, and horses and refuses to believe a snake or a lizard can show affection. He recently developed the middle–age crazies, bought a computer instead of a Porsche and a toupee, and decided he would attempt to get paid for writing. Much to his wife's amusement, he is married and the father of two teenage boys. He knew he'd found the right woman when he told her the only two words of English any wife of his would need to know would be, "Yes, Master," and she laughed. Lawyers and funeral directors offended by the exaggerations contained in his musings are urged to send flames to rather than to question the judgment of the webmaster.

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©Margie Culbertson

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