Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

Rite of Passage

 

Every morning he rode his bicycle to university. He worked in the morgue. His job was to prepare the cadavers for dissection for the Surgery 103 – Anatomy course. All entering medical students had to take it. The cadavers came to the morgue already prepared. His job was to pull a white knit sock over their heads and hands, nothing more. For the fresh students the first encounter with a dead body was a rite of passage, but for him the vaguely human forms under blue bags aligned on stainless steel tables in the cold silence of the morgue were friends or acquaintances he could have met in another time.

He carried a war in his face and a dead soldier’s boots on his feet. In the summer, his feet were red and itchy and they peeled skin, but the war in his face was always there. He maintained a furtive look, as if ready to cross the border illegally any moment. His hair had deserted him early. The top of his skull was bare and he used to do the combover until somebody said, be a man, shave it off. So he did. He blinked hot tears down his face, in front of the mirror, not because he was sad to lose his last hair but because of the pain. The same way he sheared the terminal syllables off his name, which was once a real name, the kind you could track on a map of Eastern Europe. 

They hated him at the university and called him “the creepy guy from the morgue.” They played sour pranks on him and he felt miserable most of the time. Every night at home, he attempted to kill his dejection with big glasses of cheap red wine he drank while chain-smoking and dreaming about killing them all.

The war in his face was more obvious at those times.

He knew it was wrong to think that way, but he had seen worse. He was okay with death. He read thick medical books at night and he was fascinated with terminal diseases. He imagined the moment when all hope was gone and the serenity of imminent death. This one is finito, he said every time he read about an incurable case. Or, to another with emphysema, triple by-pass surgery and a pacemaker, mate, you should stop smoking, you are gonna kill yourself. From one of the thick books he learned that his clubbed thumbs were the sign of a genetic trait called brachydactyly type D, or the “murderer’s thumb,” as the fortune-tellers called it.

One day at work, he was more morose than usual. They had laughed at him all day and he overheard two cleaning women mocking him. I don’t think he’s got what I need, one of them said. He knew her, she was overweight and he felt closer to her in what he thought of as  freaks’ solidarity. To make the day even worse, someone had stolen his bicycle and he had to walk all the way home in a heat that melted the asphalt. All he could think about was his colleagues – dead in his imagination, their bodies decomposing in the heat. He would be glad to pull the white knit sock over their heads. When he entered his house, it was dark and cool, maybe a bit mouldy. He ignored the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and the mounds of clothes on the oppressed couch in the lounge; he discarded his boots, grabbed a beer from the fridge and went into the back garden.

The space was wild: young trees and old trees, shrubs and bushes, overgrown hedges and timid water features strangely intertwined like crippled arms of old men grappling plump breasts of young girls. Dainty flowers once emanating sibylline fragrances were now choked by prickly poisonous weeds. He loved the vegetal anarchy of his garden and he wouldn’t change a thing. Only in the front yard had he planted pansies. He called them violas: purple with yellow streaks, ink blue, red speckled with pink, tender white, azure blue.. He would touch the velvet of their petals and the tremolo in his fingers would cross his whole body. He would close his eyes and drops of sweat would stud his bald head.

He sat on the ground and rummaged in his head for a solution. Go back to where you came from. He’d heard it numerous times. He hated them, too, their easy-goingness, their down-to-earth and nothing-to-lose attitude, the laziness of their history, their sadness-free past. No deaths, no anger, no iron fingers clutching, piercing your soul. No war to carry in their faces.

There is no racism in death. Death is uniformity. He drank more beer, then wine. He smoked many cigarettes but no brilliant idea came into his head. He stumbled into the house when he could no longer see his hands and fell flat on the rumpled bed, a mess of faded sheets and quilts, of inebriated twitchings  and nightmares.

In the morning, the hangover added to his normal depression. He caught the bus and got a seat. People moved away from him because of the stench. At work he prepared the bodies for a new series of students. The scent of embalming fluid hovered in the air more intensely than usual. After class, he closed the blue bags and put the cadavers back into the cooling drawers.

The cleaning lady came to wash the floor. His blatant stare attacked her full body, while he remembered what she’d said the day before. He followed her to the back room where she went to empty the bucket. There was a wide sink against one wall and a large stainless steel table on which he prepared the bodies. She dumped  the bucket and then wiped the table with a cloth. He came behind her and bumped her down onto the table. She giggled. His pants with the heavy buckle fell with a thud on the dead soldier’s boots. His hands with clubbed thumbs pushed down her shoulders to squish her ample breasts against the cold of the stainless steel. It was like an order. His hands fumbled to lift her grey coat and groped for her privates. He put two fingers inside her and moved them in and out. The woman groaned. He took the fingers out of her and hooked them in her mouth. I am disgusting, he thought, but it felt good. He pushed himself inside her and started thrusting, skin hitting on skin, harder and harder. The woman’s body shuddered and her mouth was crammed by his fingers. Sweat streaked his bald head and trickled down from his armpits. He remembered the green meadows of his childhood, the old photos in the good room, the geraniums in the window, his first taste of grappa and the poverty. He closed his eyes. He felt liberated. Tears welled in his eyes.

He found the bicycle in the carpark: rims bent, tyres slashed and no chain. On his way home, he carried the sun on his head and the dead bicycle on his shoulders. He went into a shop and bought bread, milk, red grapes and English breakfast tea. At home, he examined the mail and sorted it into bills to pay and others. When the heat mellowed, he watered the pansies and pulled out a few weeds.

He went into the scruffy garden and began to cut the overgrown branches. One by one, as if ordering books on a shelf, alphabetically or by genre.

 

Rain came down from the sky. Big heavy drops that startled the leaves. They fell on his head and he took it as a kiss. He spread his arms.. He took off his shirt and twirled it above his head.. He remembered a dance they had taught him in school. He kicked his heels together and stretched his arms towards imaginary dancers on both sides. He heard the music, it was all there, and he was floating with all the others. And the whole village looked on.

 

  

 

 

Florina Enache was born in Romania and now lives in Australia. Her first story appeared in Caliban Online. This is the second.