by Diane Root
“As I am now. soon you shall be.” Words inscribed on a gravestone.
The medical examiner held it up to the light. It was slim. Ever so slightly curved, translucent, pearly, in fact. Tiny and dangerously pointed. Had it been large, carved out of slim-sliced marble, he thought, how beautiful it would be. He would have liked to have been a sculptor had it not been for a foray in forensic medicine. His father, an undertaker, had insisted upon it. He obeyed the man who was very much the patriarch of the family. He often mused about the word: Undertaker—he who takes you beneath the earth toward the unknown and oblivion? However much that initially made him cringe, he was a dutiful son. His mother, whose life was rife with deaths, took his father’s side. “Think,” she said, ”you could make so much money. People die every second of every day—many under suspicious circumstances.” Hers, he observed, was the voice of reason. There was, it seemed, no exit.
The skeleton before him was one such example of a “suspicious death.” They had unearthed her several years after her demise. Many members of the family had deemed that the cause of her death was definitely undetermined, downright dubious, in fact—a mystery. They suspected a lover. She was young, they said, had no disease, nor did she do drugs. How then was this possible? Here again, the mother weighed in on the matter—“Dig her up,” she demanded. The father would have preferred to lay the matter to rest. RIP, he said. He did not prevail.
So that he, too, should rest in some sort of peace with the duality of his life, the ME came to look at the skeletons as works of art. He would trace the occipital orbits with his fingers, then fleetingly haunt their hills and valleys of ivory, halting briefly at times as if to hold the pleasure in his palms. His hands would roam in the “hollow round of the skull,” slip across the pelvis, slide down the smooth surfaces of the arms and legs; fondle the feet. They would slide down the silken sheen of the shins, skim the slim shoulders, delight in the nooks and crannies.
He fell in love with them.
But this one in particular. Beautiful bones so bare, so beatific, so blanched—the whiteness of a full moon, he thought. The hands still crossed across her breasts, once there when she still had flesh, now a ribbed cage of terror—the one that comes before the certainty of death. An echo of T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, came to him:
“Shall these bones live? Shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation.
We shine with brightness….
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness”.
For him, they did.
The ME held up the slender bone to the light for the police officer, a rookie, who was a lovely specimen of young womanhood. Blond hair straight as her nose, harp lips, curved and wide, a small chin and melted-chocolate eyes. It was her first visit, along with a couple of hard-nosed, gum-shoe detectives, to the morgue. Clearly, she was having a difficult time coping with cadavers, even if they were now reduced to bare bones.
“This,” he declared, “was what killed her.”
“That tiny thing,” they asked. “Just what the hell is it?”
“A fish bone. Salmon to be exact, not tweezed out of a filet. It probably punctured the esophagus and choked her.”
“Death by salmon? Surely, you jest!” The detectives laughed. The rookie didn’t.
“Who did you say she was?” she asked.
“She is you,” he responded.
Diane Root, a dual-national, was born in Paris of an American father, the journalist and writer, Waverley Root, and a French mother. Primarily known as a painter, she is, as she describes herself, “an accidental writer.” She never sought to be published but that notwithstanding, she was nonetheless published in the New York Times Magazine (“The Artful Dodger” about lunch with Picasso) and various other venues. View her art: http://matakia.com.