I wasn’t really looking in the shop-window, I was listening to the children on the corner. They were about eight or nine, a boy and a girl. What got me interested was that the boy had said the word “mortuary”. When I listened in I found that he seemed to be taunting the girl, that she hadn’t known that there was a mortuary in the town; and I got the sense from his tone – which was knowing – that he was aiming for a kind of cruelty in doing this; what I imagined was (though this was not said) that the girl had recently experienced the death of a friend or relative, and the boy was reminding her of this.
They didn’t stay long. It occurred to me that I – like the girl – didn’t know there was a mortuary ‘in town’ (though in one way I did know – of course, there was bound to be one: perhaps ‘not knowing’ in this case means ‘not thinking about much’). As I wandered I thought about this, and wondered where it was, the mortuary (just repeating the word in my head was creepy). Then I remembered I needed to make an appointment to see a doctor, and the surgery was nearby, so I headed off there.
The design of the surgery is unusual: on entry you find yourself straight away in the waiting-room, confronted by chairs – for those waiting – against a wall of frosted glass behind which is the reception area. On this occasion as I entered I noticed that the place was empty, apart from a woman sat on one of the chairs. She was leaning forward and she held her head in her hands. Because of her hair, which was blonde-ish and short, I had the feeling I knew her, so I said “hello”. She lifted her head. I didn’t know her. She looked tired I thought. “Ah, you’re here,” she said. She stood up and offered her hand, which I took, though I didn’t mean that to indicate that I knew who she was. “I’m sorry,” she said, “usually they apply some make-up to make them look ok, but in this case they haven’t – I think they haven’t had the time as yet.” She walked over to the wall, a wall of filing-cabinets, and pulled one open, beckoning for me to come over and look inside.
The inside of the drawer seemed bigger than I’d imagined from the size of its front. I looked down at the body – “it’s my father-in-law,” I said. She didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say – “I’m sure he’d prefer it,” I said. She looked at me. “Not to have the make-up,” I said. We both turned to look at him again, and after a short while I noticed some movement in the face, around the mouth. I said to her, “he’s moving.”
Now his eyes were open and he was looking up at me. He looked angry. His mouth started to move as if he was speaking, but I couldn’t hear anything. “He’s moving,” I said again, “his mouth.” She looked at me and smiled – “no he isn’t” she said, with a look that suggested “I know that’s what you want to be the case, but it can’t happen – he’s dead.”
“I can see him moving,” I said – “either that or I’m going mad.” Her look indicated that the latter was the case.