He was seventeen years old, attractive, athletic, popular and in a body bag.

I was only about two years older than he at the time.

The charred remains of this boy’s life was revealed as the director unzipped the body bag - his potential had reached its end. I don't remember his name, I remember the sound of the opening bag and the sound of his father's gasp as the bag peeled away from the corpse.

Jerry, the Director at the mortuary, brought the body up from Fall Creek, downtown, at the request of the father. I was supposed to be available if he needed anything. I stood outside of the room, behind the father, as he stared down whispering to the corpse in the open bag.

I looked at my shoes, embarrassed that I was wearing my casual high-top Nikes and levis. Jerry had told me I wouldn't need to dress for this call but I felt out of place, uncomfortable, disrespectful. I felt that I should wear a tie if I 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.

Jerry turned and looked at me with concern at first, seeming to notice my discomfort and he leaned over to whisper in my ear. “You need to go get some tissues.”

I lifted my hand to my 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 my misunderstanding. “Just bring them back” He pointed silently back to the offices and I scurried over and found an open box and returned. I handed it to him and stood back in my place - out of the way.

We waited just outside the calling room as the father spoke to his son for five or ten minutes, leaning over the body and trying to juxtapose the face of his son on top of this - thing. These remains that could have been anything - they barely resembled a human being- let alone his strong, handsome son.

When his 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. His lips, nose and chin were flecked with ash and his face was red and blotchy with tears.

Jerry 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.

Jerry zipped the bag and wheeled the body to the back room as the father left the mortuary. I retrieved a broom to sweep up the dust on the floor.

Tomorrow, they would take the remains and cremate what was left of his body - all that the fire in the van hadn’t consumed - for the funeral on Thursday.

I had to walk through the calling room in order to get back to my apartment and I passed picture after picture after picture… I tried to juxtapose the face on the body and failed. I wondered if the father had. I wondered if the father had ever spoken the whispered words to his son when he was alive - and I figured that he’d never said them before - thus, the midnight duty to see him. I hoped, however, that he needed to repeat some well-used mantra of love just one more time. That seemed so much better.

When I went back to my apartment I turned off all the lights, blew out every candle in the room, and listened to my heart pound in the darkness.

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