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 boys 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
The father whispered quietly to his sons blackened, burned remains, his
voice rose only as he choked back tears or held his sobs with slow, controlled
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,
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 sons 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
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 hadnt 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 hed 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.