The Living

-Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus.
Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

Thank God these aren’t higher up, she thought, while sliding the cadaver from the refrigerated compartment tray onto the stretcher. It was an old person, as so many were, though in equal numbers there were also young bodies; this body, still, like all of them, was improbably heavy, despite its shrunken and wrinkled frame; just pushing the body from the tray to the stretcher was enough to convince her it might be filled with sand, or ice, or something; the way it protested movement, until it sat at an angle, and then every granule of whatever it was rushed forth with an animation that did not suit the corpse and the whole thing positively leapt from its grave stiffness. So it was. She had learned to anticipate the lax weight that threw itself wildly around, demanding respect, even after death. Now, she awkwardly flopped the body face down onto the stretcher. The subject is to be wheeled to the autopsy table, and there placed on the autopsy table, face up, chest under the overhead lamp, is that clear?; Yes, Doctor, crystal; she thought it was funny to call him Doctor, given that the occupational objective of doctors was to save life, or at least extend it healthily; he invariably, and quite intentionally, put a period on the end of life; but she called him Doctor.
The stretcher rolled with much objection under the mass of the body; only the experienced attendants knew how to cajole the stretcher into maneuverability; she had to force the obstinate vehicle across the floor with great effort to keep the thing from toppling over, all the while one of the front wheels, how do you tell which?, squawked like a child on a violin; perhaps she should complain to the Doctor. Distracted for a moment by the question of whether the Doctor would not just nod his head acquiescently and wave his hand at her, she almost did not notice that the cawing demon stretcher was leaning more and more to one corner, and the sand, or the ice, or whatever, was forthcoming; the body was turning and slipping, his head and his ears, not a little like an elephant’s, were actually hanging over the side; she rushed to him and righted his body, leveling the stretcher and cursing it heartily, afterwards apologizing to the old man. The table was not more than twenty feet from the refrigerator, but every time she took a body from one to the other it felt like it was no less than thirty. She ought to bring a tape measure herself.
Presently, she arrived at the autopsy table; the stretcher had to be parallel to the table, and pressed against it firmly, otherwise the body would fall; God knows what the Doctor would say then. The instructions were very clear, were they not? You were to transport the subject from the refrigerator to the autopsy table and; Yes, Doctor, crystal. Working two arms underneath the sandbag body, she hoisted it onto the autopsy table. His skin was loose and felt like overripe tomatoes; that did not bother her, and neither did the nakedness of the man, really; she didn’t like the hue, however, that the flesh acquired with only very little development in the post mortem state; rather lusterless, she thought, like scotch tape or gauze; but they were very polite, weren’t they? Oh, that was wicked, she said to herself, or perhaps to the man, perfectly delighted.
Upon depositing the man on the table, she looked at him, for the first time; he had gone bald on the top of his head, leaving only a radically pronounced widow’s peak and a strip of thicker, greyer hair around his head; his skin in most places was dry and rough and cracked, especially at the joints, like rhinoceros hide; more peculiar, however, and this is the sort of thing she would spot, were his scars; his hands were dissected by them, his left calf was wrecked by one that stretched all up and down it, his right shoulder carried a lean one across it; that one in particular was still purple and had deformed his shoulder so that it appeared as if the top half of the deltoid had been tucked into the bottom half. How curious, she thought, with eyes traveling over and over the lifeless body with deep fascination. She did not wonder how the old man had died. She wondered, as any person would who lived among the dead, how he had lived. Overwhelmed by peculiarity, she placed her hand about the man’s grizzly chin and presided to open and close his mouth, in the same manner that one would operate a ventriloquist’s doll:

If I tole ye whunce, I dun tole ye three times whoman, don’t ye never, ever, touch my guns;
Pardon me, I ju ;
In fact, don’t ye even so much as think about lookin’ at em;
Well, naturally. I was only puzzling over your – well, your;
My whut exactly?;
Those scars. Do tell me how you got them!;
Oh these? These is nothin;
But they are something!;
Whail, iffin I was ta tell ye, ye wouldn’t believe me a scratch netheways;
Kindly let me be the judge of that matter, my dear gentleman;
Whull I’ll be – never in my life was I aspoken ter withn such a dandy whippersnappin!;
Dear me! Pray you, tell me about those handsome scars!;
Handsome she says! Whail, thisn here whu
;
Yes, yes that one!;
I’ma gittin ter it! Thisn here’s frum a mhare whut hadn’t been taimed er nothin. I were tryin ter impress this lass an’ whent ta act a fool. Thought I could rhyde that crazed colt an’ wink ter her an’ maybe git a wink back. Damned beast rheared up an’ tossed me frum his back! But that wheren’t enough fer mister mhare. As I where fallin an’ thinkin myself some kine a fool, he went an’ kicked backwhards and damn near tore my shoulder clean off! That back hoof a his sliced through my shoulder quicker’n a hot knife through butter. Ye shoulda seen the likes of it then! My arm hangin by a thread an’ the lass justa havin a fit over my sorry ass;

For this last she had raised the old man’s eyebrows to a height of extraordinary expressiveness and, with her pinky pressed lightly on his eyelid, had him perform the same wink he had administered to the young lady so many years ago, when the wild colt had propelled him from its bare back and with astounding cleanliness severed his deltoid; she coyly winked back.
Whail, ye ain’t too bad, whut fer a hifalutin guttersnipe an’ awll;
She turned on the overhead surgical lamp and blinked dejectedly at the prospect of wheeling the shrewdly judicious stretcher back to the refrigerator.

The Living

Glamdring

Pearland, United States

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

I don’t feel this is particularly necessary, but just for security’s sake: the semicolons are breaks. No matter where they are.

Also:

Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.

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