(adj.); gloomy, morose, or morbid; bad-tempered, irritable; from the Latin agra bili(s) (“black bile”)
“Caleb stopped, massaged, then stopped again, as though he felt something under the skin. ‘Too big to be a morphine pump,’ he said cheerfully. At 32 years old, fresh-faced and boyishly handsome, he looks less like an undertaker than like the member of an a cappella group.”
—Eric Puchner, from “Death Becomes Him”
When we think about places that house the dead—funeral homes, cemeteries, mortuaries and the like—atrabilious is a fitting term to describe the kind of aura surrounding them. Congenial cheer, on the other hand, isn’t normally one of the qualities that comes to mind. Enter Eric Puchner’s recent article on Medium: a humorously wacky and surprisingly interesting interview with Caleb Wilde, a sixth-generation funeral director. The story brims with unsettling situations punctuated by Puchner’s quirky humor, such as comparing Wilde opening a corpse’s chest with the “scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, when the high priest reaches into the guy’s chest and pulls out his beating heart … Imagine that, if the high priest had had the geniality of a plumber.”
On a less lighthearted note, this week Randy Kennedy also reports on some of the controversies still hovering over the estate of famed children’s author Maurice Sendak, who passed away in 2012, from opposition to turning the author’s secluded house into a museum to mixed feelings over the fact that Sendak’s executor is his former housekeeper.