The man looked down at the lifeless weight lying in the casket with no discernible emotion. He was most proud of his work on the cheeks. The throat looked smooth and alive again as if oxygen were still caressing its walls, in and out. But the cheeks intrigued him still, their whitened, pale color contrasting with the bleeding mahogany surrounding them.
A young woman walked up behind him and put a consolatory hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said.
He only nodded and continued looking behind the deceased woman’s ears for any discolorations. He found none.
The man thought how this time he’d been mistaken for a relative rather than a member of the funeral home’s staff, and he wasn’t sure how that made him feel. Most of the time people would only walk up to him and ask where the bathrooms were or if there were a place where they could go to smoke.
He made himself leave the casket and walked to the back of the room. He leaned up against the wall and surveyed how many people had come to the service. The room wasn’t empty but it was far from full. He thought he could do better than this.
“Hello, Sir. I’m very sorry for your loss.” A young man with a shaved head and a neutral expression approached the man and held out his hand.
“Have we met?”
“I don’t believe. I’m the mortician and owner, here. Is there anything I can get you?”
“No, no… I’m fine. What about you?”
“Is there anything I can get for you?”
“I don’t believe so, Sir.” The mortician looked confused and uncomfortable.
“All right. I’m just making sure. I always try to be very helpful when I can be. Say, you wouldn’t care to answer a quick question for me, would you?” He kept his voice low.
“Not at all, Sir.”
The man put his lips close to the mortician’s ear and covered his mouth with the side of his hand. “Tell me, what kind of shape was she in? Her face, I mean.”
The mortician at the man, not sure if he should answer. He finally relented, feeling that answering such questions was part of his job. “They were…they were very difficult to work with. And the neck had some bruising.” He swallowed and looked toward the ground.
“Cut from ear to ear, I’ve heard,” the man whispered. “Awful, isn’t it?”
There was an awkward silence but the man kept looking at the mortician as if to lengthen the conversation as much as he could.
“Did you know her very well?” the mortician asked.
“Me? Oh, only very briefly. Just before she passed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. She was a beautiful woman. Let me know if you need anything, Sir.”
The mortician walked off, unsure of how he’d handled the situation.
The man started toward the door slowly. Before he left he glanced down at the casket one last time, admiring his work on the cheeks and cursing the mortician for masking it so well.
Joplin Rice is a writer who resides in a rural town just outside of Lexington, Kentucky. He will be attending the University of Kentucky in the coming semester where he hopes to study Secondary English Education and further hone his writing skills.
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