Andrea Finds a Friend

Jay Brodell
10 min readOct 14, 2023

--

Andrea stopped her bike halfway up the long driveway and studied the chapel on the hill.

“A very non-denominational place, as one would expect in a building that serves all comers… or all goers,” she chortled.

Following telephone instructions, Andrea avoided the double-door main entrance and parked her bike outside a side door. Inside she received a warm greeting from the man she had spoken with on the telephone, a Mr. Norman.

“Just call me Chase,” he said, “and please join the other four people over here.”

She studied the room. Clearly, this was a phone room with padded stalls each containing a folding chair, a telephone and a notepad.

“This is where we make the money,” Chase said. “The idea is to find prospects for me and another salesperson. This is just like any other business. One has to be proactive and not let a possible customer slip away to the competition.”

The competition, Andrea found, was in this case the municipal cemetery on the other side of town. Green Gardens, her new employer, had an unimposing presence on the main highway, but the property opened up within the first 200 feet to a sprawling expanse of grass punctuated in some places by white headstones. Her job, she learned, was to make telephone calls to potential residents of Green Gardens.

“We are starting a special program of pre-need,” said Chase. “We are seeking veterans, Vietnam or the Gulf Wars … We’ve pretty well run out of Korean and World War II by now…and we will offer them a special deal of a double gravesite for the price of one. We’re not really selling real estate here. This is an insurance program, and we salespeople hold insurance licenses. You do not need one just for soliciting by phone. But you will get a commission if one of your prospects buys our pre-need package.”

“I can do this,” Andrea said to herself. “After all, I need the money, or I’ll have to take out another student loan and put myself in debt for five more years.

She spotted the ad in the local newspaper seeking well-spoken individuals for part-time sales work. At first she thought that meant working in some kind of store. She had perhaps three hours a day to steal from her pursuit of a drama degree, and 10 to 12 hours a week at minimum wage would at least put Ramen on the table. The man she later learned was Chase outlined the job briefly on the telephone and invited her to her first sales meeting.

“I have a script here that you can use,” he told the assembled job seekers. “And all you have to do is set up a meeting sometime in the next two days. No longer than that. And then you fill out this slip and leave it for me. You have to be prepared to work by yourself because I either will be on the road selling or eating or sleeping,” he said. “I can’t work 24 hours a day.

When the time came to fill out a brief application, one of the four other persons, a man about 20, said he would have to think about it and left. Andrea mingled with the remaining trio, two young men and a woman. They shared names and picked out the workstation where they would begin making phone calls.

Andrea studied the script. It began:

“Hello. May I speak to the veteran in the household. We have a special opportunity.”

Chase later pointed out that about half the households in this small city have occupants who were veterans. The lists the team used in making the calls had been prepared especially for contacting older adults, he noted, adding:

“There once was a time when most of the young men either were drafted or volunteered for military service, so there are no shortages of prospects. If they say there are no veterans in the home, just mark the name and number, and we’ll get back at them later with another promotion.”

Andrea was surprised at the courtesy she encountered as she made her first night of calls. Hardly anyone hung up, perhaps because she said she was seeking a veteran. About half the people said there was a veteran in the household.

Once connected to a veteran, Andrea launched into the remainder of her script, promising a two-for-one deal on a cemetery plot.

“You can help your heirs by arranging your final repose,” she read. “And a double plot will keep you forever with someone you love. There’s no obligation. We would just like to show you the opportunity. Is tomorrow morning ok or would afternoon be better?”

Andrea recognized the alternate of choice she had learned as far back as high school in a consumer awareness class. The teacher noted that salespeople try to present options that are equally beneficial. “Do you want black or would you prefer white,” she remembered the teacher saying. “Either way, you have a sale,” the teacher, who had worked in car agencies, said.

Andrea talked to two persons who expressed an interest, and she filled out the forms for Chase, listing the name, phone number, address and anticipated time for a visit.

Chase still was there at 8 p.m. when he announced the end of the day. “We have found that you can create more antagonism than deals if you call after this time,” he told them.

Andrea was the only person who came on a bicycle. She joined with another woman, Sandra, who walked the long driveway to the main street in order to take a bus.

“I don’t think I’ll be coming back,” Sandra told her. “This is just too creepy. And look at all these graves. Just walking here gives me the willies.”

Andrea, who had experienced several family deaths in her short life, was more acceptant that everyone dies, so she was not as concerned by the dark sky and the rows of headstones. “They’re all dead,” she told Sandra, “so they are not going to do anything. That’s only in the movies or on YouTube.”

Sandra shuddered. “That’s for you to say, but I don’t think I can talk about death every afternoon.”

True to her word, Sandra failed to show up the next afternoon, as did a young man Andrea knew as Thomas. So for three days only she and Jason worked the phones. Both were successful in arranging appointments for Chase and his fellow salesman.

In fact, Andrea was so successful that Chase asked her if she would like to get an insurance license and become a salesperson. She had a professional yet caring manner on the telephone. Perhaps being a woman made her non-threatening to prospects. She had to tell Chase, though, that she was there for the money and just could not spend the time being a sales rep would take.

“Maybe when I graduate in two years,” she told him. Privately she enjoyed visions of her performing on stage in a singing and dancing role, perhaps even in New York.

The best day was Friday when Chase presented the checks for the first week. Andrea found an extra $20 in her check because one of her prospects had purchased the pre-need package.

“There’s a lot more where that came from,” Chase said.

Monday was both a good day and a bad day. When Andrea arrived on her bike, a funeral was finishing up at the chapel. She viewed from afar the mourning relatives and friends, and she watched as the casket went into the hearse for a short trip to an open grave.

“We’ve done well for that family. Kind of an all-in-one job, the chapel, the service, the grave,” she thought.

The bad news was when she learned that she would be the only cold caller. Jason did not appear.

Andrea steeled herself for working alone. She knew that Chase was either out on an appointment or at home with his family. She would be alone in phone room.

“Well, that’s more prospects for me,” she thought, shaking off the worries about being alone at night in a cemetery. “This is not a YouTube movie. Nothing will be barging in from the graves.”

Still, she was nervous when she ended her shift and turned off the inside and outside lights at the chapel/phone room/administrative offices as she had been instructed to do. The driveway to the main drag seemed longer than normal, and she slowly peddled to the bright lights.

Then she stopped for a moment because she saw a figure standing by one of the graves. The light from the highway outlined a man who seemed to be using a hoe. He was about medium height and could have been wearing bib overalls. Andrea issued a sigh of relief when the man turned in her direction and waved.

“Some man may be tending his wife’s grave after he got out of work at night,” she thought.

Andrea began to get used to the silence of the chapel at night. Once when she took a break she wandered from the phone room into the chapel itself. The place was just what someone would expect, kind of a raised altar area, pews for visitors on either side of a wide aisle to the front double doors.

“Kind of convenient,” she said. “There’s not all that shuffling of the body from the church and to the cemetery. All the activity is right here.” She figured she might be able to use that concept sometime in her sales pitch. “One-stop service,” she joked.

Andrea began to look forward to the end of her shift and the darkness that came when she extinguished the lights. On clear nights there was a great view of the autumn sky, particularly when there was no moon. Andrea would stop her bike just a few yards from the darkened chapel and gaze at the wonders of the universe: the many stars of various magnitudes, the swath of a white cloud that is the Milky Way.

One night as she tried to make the stars agree with the map in her mind from an astronomy class, she nearly jumped off her bike as a voice interrupted her concentration.

“It is just so pretty here,” said the voice. Andrea turned to see the man in bib overalls. He was smiling.

“Boy, you really scared me,” she said. “Do you work here?

“Just call me Al. I just try to keep some things in order around here. But I have been watching you, young lady. You are not timid. Not everyone could traverse a cemetery in the dark of night every night.”

“Well, just five days a week,” Andrea replied, “And you are the only thing that made me jumpy.”

“Well don’t worry about me. I’ll keep an eye on you when we both are here together. I enjoy the solitude, so you don’t usually see me when the place is busy in the day. But at night, its like being invisible, and if you let your eyes get used to the dark, you can almost see as well as in the daytime.”

Andrea agreed that this is the case. “Do you live here,” she asked.

“Nearby,” Al said. “But I sometimes use that little office off the phone room at night. I’m trying to write a novel.”

“I’m glad you told me. The clatter of a computer keyboard would scare me if I thought I were the only person here,” she replied.

“I used to own this land, but I had to sell it years ago because farming just wasn’t profitable. And then my wife died, and I’m left to putter around. These guys put up with me,” he said gesturing to the chapel administrative entrance.

Andrea admitted that she was happy to have some company around in case of problems. And, she agreed, it would be nice to have someone working in an adjacent office, even if it were an old man. He seemed nice enough, she thought.

During the late fall and early winter she saw Al periodically, always outside and always raking, hoeing or being otherwise involved in gardening work among the many headstones. Usually, he just waved, but once she heard him working in the nearby office, so she left on the lights, shouting a good-bye.

The next day Chase reminded her to put out the lights when she left. “You have no idea what that does to the electric bill,” he told her. She said nothing about Al because she did not want to get him into trouble.

She told Al that when she saw him next. “Don’t forget the lights, Al, otherwise I’ll be in trouble,” she told him. That gave him an opening to expand the conversation, and they ended up talking for about 15 minutes, mostly about her, her academic efforts and how she hoped to break into the drama and dance world.

He said little about himself, except to mention that he did miss his wife.

Finally, Andrea could not help herself. “Did you ever see anything strange around here,” she asked. “You know, being in a cemetery a lot of the time.”

“I can’t say that I have,” Al responded. “You know in most cases when you’re dead, you’re dead. It’s kind of a binary thing, one or the other.”

“What do you mean in most cases,” Andrea asked. He replied:

“Well, you have heard of ghosts, right. A lot of people think that some spirits linger on after death, maybe because they are bad people forced to walk the earth for eternity or maybe because they are close to some tangible object, like a house or a piece of land. There’s a lot written about that, and most of it is sensationalistic crap. You are in the theater. You know about the ghost of Hamlet’s father. An invention by the playwright to expand the script.

“The ghost’s called King Hamlet in the play to distinguish him from his son with the same name. They say that Shakespeare, himself, used to play that part. They also say that the multiple appearances of the ghost in the play could mean that Shakespeare believed in ghosts in the real world.”

“Well that was the early 17th century, and the only ghosts now are the ones in the movie,” Andrea replied.

Andrea worked at the phone room through the New Year. Then she had a chance to assist her professor in an introduction to drama class and for less time and more money. The only thing she would miss at the cemetery were her infrequent chats with Al. She told him so on her last night there. She found him hunched over the keyboard in the administrative office typing away.

“Any last minute advice for a would-be drama queen,” she asked with a smile.

He also broke a smile and said simply: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Indeed, that was true, Andrea agreed as she peddled down the long driveway for the last time. And there is a lot of truth even in old plays, as that line from the First Act of “Hamlet” proved. She wondered if Al would miss her.

— — — —

“Andrea Finds a Friend” is from the book “Brother Amos Gambles His Soul and Other Quirky Short Stories” which can be found on the Smashwords website and at other ebook outlets.

--

--

Jay Brodell

Brodell is a long-time daily newspaper owner, editor and reporter as well as a tenured college professor. Email him at jbrodell@jamesbrodell.com