Ryan kept an eye out for the rest of the afternoon waiting for the boy with the posters to walk past.
“Eh, any chance of a poster lad?” Ryan asked. The boy stopped, closed one eye and scrutinised Ryan with the intensity and curiosity of youth. “What’s your boss paying you to put up all these here posters?”
“A penny a day, sir.”
“What if I were to pay you a penny for just one of those posters.”
The boy looked around to see if anyone was watching. Ryan got the feeling it wasn’t the first time the boy had been accosted for a poster by one of Eliza’s fans.
“If anyone asks, you can say I took it to put it up in the shop. Can’t be getting you into trouble with your boss.”
“In there?” the boy asked, wide-eyed. “Is that right, sir? I mean…”
“We only build coffins here lad, there be no dead people in here. And Mr Jeremiah is a big fan of Miss Eliza’s.”
“Yes. And as for us keeping bodies out the back here… you can come in here and see if you want. It’s just piles of wood, tools and what not. But the place I worked in, back in Scotland… they had dead people there. They were undertakers and coffinbuilders.”
“Really?” the boy’s eyes widened. “So you’ve seen a dead person.”
Ryan nodded solemnly. “I’ve seen lots of them. We call them bodies when the person isn’t living any more.”
“What’s it like. I mean – what are they like. The dead… I mean, the bodies. All scary and disgusting looking. My friend Kevin says they’re really bad, they smell worst than anything. And their arms fall off.”
“They can smell bad sometimes. But not all the time. They look just like they are sleeping and they’re arms don’t fall off.”
The boy looked unimpressed. “That’s it.”
“There’s really nothing terribly interesting or digusting about death lad. It comes to all of us, we just hope our time is longer than we expect it to be.”
“Can I really come in? Kevin’s never been inside a shop like this.”
“Sure,” Ryan said, leaving the workshop to open the front door for the boy, leading him through to show him the skeleton of the coffin he was currently working on and even opened the lid of one of them he’d finished.
“Wanna climb in? I bet Kevin’s never been in a coffin.”
The boy shook his head, then after more consideration said, “OK. Just a short while though. You’re not going to nail me in.”
“No,” Ryan laughed and held the lid off and put it on for just a few seconds before opening it again to see the white-faced boy more wide-eyed than before.
The boy got out and looked around, still buzzing from his trip inside the coffin.
“You could be building barrels, or wheels, or anything in here.”
“Indeed. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the lad said, pulling free a poster and handing it to Ryan with a cheeky grin. “It’s only been me that’s in here. Seen it. And I’ve been in a coffin.”
And Ryan knew that within hours there would be fanciful tales about dead people in the back of George Hutchinson’s and Son, and how this very lad had seen them all, even laid in a coffin with one.
Ryan clapped the boy on the back and set him on his way.
“And not too fanciful.. those tales.”
The boy turned with a surprised look.
“I was once a lad too, with a quick and rich imagination.”