From “Immaterial Matters”

Reilly, the photographic studio owner, explains to Crane, his assistant, that making portraits of the deceased may save the studio…

CRANE: What’s this about, sir?

REILLY: About?  It’s about being rich, my boy!  Or, if not rich, staying open, and that’s saying something with this country in the state it’s in!  Why I was afraid I was going to dock half your hours—

CRANE: You were?

REILLY: Never mind.  But now, my little genius has struck gold in a river of black crepe.

CRANE: I did?  Well, that’s…wonderful!  I don’t understand.

REILLY: Your photograph.  They didn’t like it one bit.

CRANE: No?  No.  Again, I so regret—

REILLY: Hah!  They loved it!  Loved it unreservedly and with passion!  Why, I think they liked it better than they liked her!  One of them said: if only she’d been so peaceful and quiet in life!

CRANE: That would be Miss Mary.  How horrid.

REILLY: Horrid?  It’s stupendous!  Don’t you know that photograph’s likely to sit at her funeral?  Right up front with the casket, the flowers, and the candles!  And every soul present will ask, well, who made that magnificent picture?  Then they will say: Ah! It was that young Mr.CraneWordsworth of O’Rourke’s Fine Photographic Portraiture.

CRANE: So you think this will drum up a bit of business?

REILLY: I….  Well….  You don’t….  Wait.

REILLY dashes offstage.  Rushes back on, carrying a newspaper.  He mutters to himself as he thumbs through it.

REILLY: Ah!  Here!

REILLY folds the paper open and thrusts it at CRANE.


CRANE warily takes the paper.

CRANE: “Three fires of incendiary origin—”

REILLY: The other column.

CRANE: “CliffordBeckly has been diagnosed with acute insanity—”

REILLY: Further down.

CRANE: “An unknown man found hanging from—”

REILLY: Below the fold, Crane!

CRANE: There’s nothing below the fold but obituaries.

REILLY: Wrong.  There’s nothing below the fold but customers.  Look, you got these cheap bastards wouldn’t spend a penny when their kin are living. Most of ‘em hate each other anyway. But suddenly they’re going into the ground, never see ‘em again—or at least never want to see ‘em—and they’re all, “He was such a good man!  Loved by all. Boo-hoo.”  Whether or not that’s true.  I mean, you ever seen an obituary that reads: lying, thieving, good-for-nothing layabout, here’s hoping you fry in hell?  You do not.  And for those that actually love the deceased, well, it sells itself.  All we have to do is be there.

CRANE: Are you saying we should exploit the bereaveds’ grief by making portraits of their dead?

REILLY: Well…yes.  But, think of it this way.  We offer our customers a last chance—perhaps their only chance—to forever recall their beloved father, mother, husband, child, et cetera.  And…and to pass their likeness down to future generations who might otherwise never know what they looked like.

CRANE: Dead.

REILLY: Yes, yes, yes.  Look, Mr. Delicate Soul, the other alternative is to take their picture on their deathbed, and, truth be told, they probably look better after their spirit’s slipped away than while it’s going.  Despite all your hard knocks, being an orphan and all, you’ve grown a tad sheltered.  Having seen these poor bastards thrashing about their beds or coughing blood on a battlefield, I can tell you getting out of this world is just as hard as getting in.  That is, unless you get a cannonball straight to the head, which means it’s pretty quick, if not easy.  Yes, it would be preferable for customers to come to us while they’re still moving, but, if you look around, you’ll notice that isn’t happening.  And before you say something noble and foolish, ask yourself if you want to saddle the grieving with the unfeeling hack I’d inevitably have to replace you with.

One response to “From “Immaterial Matters”

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