(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One spring morning, eighty-three-year-old Melvin Combs awakes to find that his eighty-one-year-old wife, Maude, has crossed her arms, turned her head to the wall, and died during the night. Because the couple live in a rural area, on a hill above Chad Creek where cars cannot drive, Melvin knows that he must take the body into town to the undertaker by himself. The most difficult part of his task is carrying the body down the hill and across the footbridge to reach the highway beyond the woods. Telling himself that his wife is not all that heavy and that it will be easy to carry her body down the hill and across the bridge, Melvin first pours himself a drink of corn whiskey and looks at the body on the bed, the feet curled around like a baby’s and the head half-buried in the pillow.

He considers going for help but decides against it because his wife did not like anyone coming to the house unless she was expecting them. Repeating to himself that he is strong and that it will be no trouble, Melvin wraps Maude in a blanket and starts down the hill. Halfway down, he slips and goes sprawling; his wife’s body bounces several times and rolls out of the blanket, and Melvin hurts his shoulder. He goes back to the house to get another drink and once again considers going for help but continues to repeat his determination that he can get the body to town alone.

After managing to carry his wife down the hill and across the footbridge, he drops her...

(The entire section is 516 words.)