A long dark alley stood before her, as she tried to put together her scattered self in the corridors of the hospital. Her beeper had gone twenty minutes before, and she had slept early hoping no distractions of the world coming to an end today. Two hours later, she find herself standing in the hospital, quiet and not as swarming as she had left it in the evening. She walked towards the morgue, somehow the remains of the life with heartbeats numbed in the plastic bags intrigued her in a way she had never known. There was no rush, no panic- for the worst had already happened. She saw herself one day zipped in one of those blue plastic bags, with her beeper in her apron’s right pocket.
He was seventeen years old- attractive, athletic, popular and in the yellow body bag. The yellow indicated that he was found by the relative, close or distant and he would not have to depart alone. The ones in Blue body bag were those consumed by the electric crematoriums of the hospital. The yellows were like a Â parachute, bringing the soul closer to home, while the blue ones were like an ocean, swallowing the whole life, never to be found again by anyone.
The charred remains of this boy’s life was revealed as the director unzipped the body bag. She didn’t remember the boy’s name, she remembered the sound of the opening bag and the sound of his father’s gasp as the bag peeled away from the corpse.
Raul, the Director at the mortuary, had brought the body up from Burgess Rd Â at the request of the father. She was supposed to be available if he needed anything . She stood, behind the father, as he stared down whispering to the corpse in the open bag.
She looked at her shoes, embarrassed that she was wearing her casual white Nike and Levis. Raul had told her that she wouldn’t need to dress for this call but she felt awkward, uncomfortable and disrespectful. She felt that at least she should wear a tie if she were to view such an intimate moment.
The father whispered quietly to his son’s blackened, burned remains, his voice rose only as he choked back tears or held his sobs with slow, controlled breaths.
Raul turned and looked at her with concern at first, seeming to notice her discomfort and he leaned over to whisper in her ear. You need to go get some tissues.
She lifted her hand to her nose in dismay and looked up.
“No, no.” his voice was a sharp whisper. His face and voice was serious but his eyes showed amusement at her misunderstanding. “Just bring them back”, He pointed silently back to the offices and she scurried over and found an open box and returned. She handed it to him and stood back in her place – out of the way, wishing herself invisible.
They waited just outside the calling room as the father spoke to his son for five or ten minutes, leaning over the body, or whatever remained of it. These remains that could have been anything – they barely resembled a human being- let alone his strong, handsome son.
The air of the lobby was dense and she wanted to throw up. She clinched the right corner of the table behind her and wondered why the boy’s mother was not there.
When the father’s words had dried up and he was left staring, he leaned forward and kissed the face, then touched what was left of the arm and tried to shake his son’s hand. He stepped back for a moment and absently brushed the dry, charred flakes from his fingers and they fell to the tile floor. She noticed those flakes, parched and devoid of father’s last embrace.
The father’s lips, nose and chin were flecked with ash and his face was red and blotchy with tears.
Raul pulled out several tissues from the box and handed these to the father. He subtly indicated the end of his nose, lips and chin drawing line down them with his finger.
The father accepted the tissues and wiped the black away, crumpled the tissues – crushed them in his hand. He dropped them carefully into the trash as he walked away.
Raul zipped the bag and wheeled the body to the back room as the father left the mortuary. He said he would wait in the car for the body. She retrieved a broom to sweep up the dust on the floor.
Tomorrow they would cremate what was left of his body – all that the fire in the van hadn’t consumed – for the funeral on Thursday.
She had to walk through the calling room in order to get back to her apartment and she passed picture after picture after picture. She tried to put a face on the body but failed. She wondered if the father had. She wondered if the father had ever spoken the whispered words to his son when he was alive – and she figured that he’d never said them before and never probably would say those words again. She crossed the ward where she saw an old man sitting on the chair besides his ailing daughter but she knew she would get well. This old man probably too would never say those words again.
When she went back to her apartment, she turned off all the lights, blew out every candle in the room, and listened to her heart pound in the darkness. In her mind, she counted the number of yellow bags to blue bags and was glad that the yellow bags were a unit less.