Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Deliveries and deliverance

   The corpse was all ready for me when I entered the mortuary’s preparation room. The coroner’s people had done a good job of sewing her up again with small, neat, skilful stitches and there was very little tissue damage apart from the examining surgeon’s cuts. The deceased was a well-developed girl with breasts so large and firm that one could scarce avoid calling them a rack. She had been a pretty brunette of eighteen or nineteen (as I suppose she was intended to stay that way forever by whatever individual had intruded into her life.) It wouldn’t require much cosmetic work to make her seem smooth and inviolate again as the family would want. The former family, I mean. Pardon my excessive alliteration – it’s a hazard of my lonely lifestyle to play word games in my head.
   Nestled inside a newly-made body cavity were the organs that the medical examiner had removed to test for the poisons or pregnancy or drugs that he probably never found, and then replaced according to the demands of the Human Tissue Act. They’d been squashed up together in a plastic bag; all higgledy-piggledy like the giblets in an oven-ready turkey. Looking at her colour it was pretty obvious that exsanguination had played a large part in her demise even if it wasn’t the proximate cause. I poked at a switch and Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor played while I gowned myself and pulled on an apron and heavy surgical gloves over my usual thin disposables. I ran skillful, professional fingers over the trays to check the instruments of my craft: hooks and needles and thread; superglue and cotton wadding; rubber tubes for the fluids. Gruesome stuff, but it’s a living. I touched another button on the remote control and the ceiling lights came on in bright white panels of sixteen bulbs each (and to hell with your carbon footprint) across the whole ceiling.  There were a couple of unlit squares above the doors to the Chapel of Rest and to the back yard we use for deliveries and taking away.
   Speak of the Devil; at that very moment the outer door was tugged open and there was the silhouette of a man outlined by the security lights of the loading bay. “Will you please let me in?” he asked in soft, self-satisfied tones. “I mean, I know this is nobody’s actual home so I don’t really require your permission , but I firmly believe that following the proprieties is important to  establish and maintain a cordial, courteous - and most importantly from your point of view – a long-lasting professional relationship.” Blue metal glittered in his hand in silent tribute to the police’s success at keeping illegal guns off the streets.
   “Why bring the gun if you can just walk in here anyhow?” I asked, grasping the remote control as if my life depended on it.
   “There’s always the possibility that the undertaker or a member of his staff actually lives on the premises, making it a little home from home. The divorce rate today, the mortgage crisis, high rents; it’s shocking how many folk choose to live above the shop. That can make breaking and entering uncomfortable.”
    I thought of my nest under the rafters of the wing used to garage the hearses. Be it ever so humble, etc. “Okay, I refuse to invite you in, given the context. Are you responsible for this lovely child here?” I waved the remote at my patient who lay there, well, patiently.
   “A new Bride for a new Millennium,” he replied; smugger than two very smug things in a Blackadder repeat. He gave a foxy, toothy smile; sharp but not yet doing the thing with the scrunched-up nose and the eyes. I bet they love doing that bit. ‘Bit’! See? I’m a punster genius. 
“You’re a little late for the new Millennium, aren’t you? It’s been twelve years and, ah, counting?..” ‘Counting.’ Get it? Count? He’s a vampire and I said… Oh, please yourself.
   “It’s been a busy decade for us;  humans are growing  too knowledgeable. I blame electricity generation; with all those well-lit streets at night it gives you too much security and far too much time to read and write and to make films spreading the lore wider than before.” 
Oh, he was a rhymer this one: cute. As if OCD and a Henry Ford attitude to clothing colours weren’t camp enough. It went together with the too-smart suit and dress shirt and the so-fashionable-he-must-be-gay patent leather shoes. 
He went on. “But we’re doing something about the electricity by making them afraid to generate enough of it. Our principal cat’s paw has such an appropriate name.”
   Yeah, yeah; rhymes with ‘paw’. So that’s lights out for Mankind if we’re not careful. Better be careful, then, my girl. “So, this one is going to rise from the dead and join you on your Dark Whatever, yeah? Does it happen often and if so why aren’t the authorities on to you lot and closing you down?”
   “They are - in some places - but they’re prone to budget cuts like everyone else. And where does any modern government do anything efficiently these days?” I thought of the paperwork required to dispose of a single body these days; a task that had been done simply and efficiently in England since Tudor times until they devised this brave new world of managerialism, health and safety, carbon sustainability and light heavyweight tickboxing. “Besides,” he gloated on, “Most mortuary staff are, er, excuse me but what is your name please; Miss? Mrs?...”
   “Dinah. Dinah the diener,” I replied proudly.
   “’Diener’?” he asked; a puzzled frown furrowing that perfect, foxy, hollow brow.
   “‘Diener’; from the German word meaning ‘servant.’ It’s a generic term for those who handle and clean dead bodies. You can Google it if you don’t believe me. And it’s ‘Ms’.” Really upsets the old-fashioned types; that Ms. I like to keep individuals with the power to rip my throat open just a little bit off balance, okay?  
  He shook his head as if to clear his tiny mind. “Where was I? Ah, yes. Most mortuary staff and coroner’s people can be easily persuaded that they’re very poorly paid and so they go along with us. Showing them Polaroids of their children or their wives at the ante-natal clinic intimidates otherwise incorruptible would-be slayers.”
   ‘Polaroids’? Baby Boomers; don’t you just love ‘em? I swear they’re the most conservative generation of them all. And don’t I love pointing that out? I’m Generation X through and through myself; punk and proud. I nodded at the corpse whose long hair was now being ruffled by the draught that Young Einstein was letting into the room. 
“This one was sporty. Look at those thighs and belly; such muscle tone. Her tissues are in prime condition. I’m thinking she took at least two or three swims a week plus maybe a couple of trips to the gym? You must think of her as being practically free range. A looker, too: what a rack. You’ve chosen carefully. ”
   “Organically produced. How she bored me with all her wholefood chatter and vegetarianism. But when choosing a companion to share the Night Hunt for centuries one selects for beauty and physical strength. How else have we remained the top predator on Earth for millennia?”
   Not by recruiting for intelligence; that’s for sure.
 “But if you really are the planet’s top predators, why are there so few of you and why aren’t you already running the whole show? And have you ever wondered why so many of the new ones come back damaged: stumbling revenants that you have to destroy to avoid exposure? Can it be something to do with their innards being mangled during  modern autopsies?” His perfect face showed no sign of understanding; none at all. “Okay then. You can come in,” I said, pressing a new button on the remote control. The darkened ceiling squares above the thresholds flashed ultraviolet for a few seconds and then I walked over to close the door.

   Any gourmet will tell you that - good though free range meat can be - the nicest meat in the world is the strong, gamey flesh of predators. It’s been flavoured over a lifetime of hunting by the fear absorbed from its quarry's blood. It’s nicer still if it’s well hung before eating. That works in a couple of ways, though Mother always taught me that that sort of thing’s tacky. Which was pretty rich coming from someone whose outraged and recently bereaved former in-laws nicknamed The Spider. Predator meat is best of all when lightly braised or flash cooked to seal in all the taste and all the nutrients.
I looked down at hands that despite frequent manicures and a clutch of chunky Goth rings (though I’m thinking of going steampunk – I just love that brassy look!), and despite being habitually clad in gloves,  I can never wholly disguise the evolutionary purpose to which Nature has adapted them. Now that’s a ghoulish thought indeed. No pun intended. 
But here’s a pun for you if you like: Dinah the Diener is also a diner.

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