Fingers make mistakes but fingers learn. Few weeks and we were professionals already, I mean even better than professionals. Even Nano’s caterpillar-thick fingers had perfected the art of covering thin hair-like wounds or big swamps of wounds with a swish of a magic brush. And Carbo? It was as if he had found his calling or something. He had changed. Really changed I mean, also like as a person. His loaded arms could do delicate brush swishes? Who knew? Who knew! So huddled inside we worked away, not knowing day from night and night from day. It was always dark inside, anyway. Outside the Mortuary House, life was happening to everybody else. Somewhere not very far from here, they barbequed chicken and guinea fowl, or drank hot chocolate and actually tasted all of that in their mouths. Bees pollinated flowers lovers played with each other’s hair. The sun shone like a big blot in the sky that nobody could wipe out. Inside ourselves, termites chewed at our bones, broke – bonds, molecules, atoms. Carbon rose like fumes. Death brewed and rigor mortis set in. We fasted and wasted and believed make-up holy, concealer sacred. That lip color would brighten our lives like our lips. The truth is, over three shades of lip color on our mouths made us look worse than whores. We looked like maniacal whores. We smelt of dead rats. And we wished nasty things on each other. Cooked up curses all night to launch them in the morning. We stuffed Roth’s mouth with raw, muddied potatoes when he couldn’t eat. We robbed the first bite of angel food cake from his mouth and crushed it under our bloody boots when he tried to eat. Roth did the same to us.
Don’t know why we did it. Know us all, we just had to.
Don’t know how we resisted the urge to draw the knife through each other’s bellies. Don’t know what was happening to us. Something weird. We were hounds? No, we were not even dogs. We were puppies. We whined, we whimpered, we even meowed sometimes. And with every passing day, we became sadder and sadder but also better and better at what we did, and we could not stop. We mended those bodies perfectly no matter what it took – cosmetics, m-seal, glue; we made them look freshly dead even if they had been dead three weeks. We scented them and refrigerated them. When we fell short, we gave them our refrigerator. We refreshed them with our water. Every day we cooked ourselves a deathly life and let it simmer some more. Then bubbles came, big ones and little, and we just kept it brewing. But every day we also hoped something would change, that our Mortuary House would have dainty laced curtains and a round table in the center draped in white table cloth. Jam and bread and milk and cups of coffee and cakes and everything nice on the table would make us happy and…right. We would shower, and dress neatly and butterflies would sit on us and make us beautiful.
But butterflies wouldn’t sit on something like ourselves, would they?
We are survivors sick of surviving, but we take our chances in the jungle all the time. A family is a prison, only worse. In prison you learn the law of the jungle, in a family you just learn the law. Violent like a slap in the face with a metal spade that takes the correct 45 degree angle before it smashes into your face. Our face. Everyone’s face. Till we have none. We were law-breakers, us four. We only did prisons. But they weeded us out from our jungle and penned us together in the Mortuary House like a family coop. Like dough you can’t get off your hands after kneading. Like blistered skin you can’t peel off because it will bleed and turn red, purple and yellow. It was frustrating. We were so close to each other we began to hate each other.
This wasn’t our first time dealing with human flesh. In the prison, we used to be hounds, literally. One of us had ripped a chunk of flesh off the right shoulder of a prison guard who had an issue with aggression. He would take it out on us, so we took him out – his left arm, and played catch, curse, cuss and crush with it in the prison. We partied to his wails until the day they suddenly shut down, like someone had turned off the radio at the favorite part of a favorite song. No wails, no cries, no cussing. Seriously? When we saw him next, muscle had melted from his legs and thighs. His face had become the shrunken face of an old swallow grown friendless as the night embarked. There was no voice inside his throat. It was as if we had ripped off his soul along with his flesh. When his wails were gone, we dropped the flesh and never even looked at it again. It wasn’t fun anymore.
We feared nothing but fear itself, is what we had told ourselves. So we never backed off, we never backed down and we always had fun. But like every cheap magic trick that turns on itself, we were the fairies that had wrecked themselves. Our boldness became our fatal flaw. Assuming we feared nothing, not even death, the police robbed us of sweet death and sentenced us to a life we never even could have imagined. Vans came right up to the porch in the dead of the night. They made no noise, shone no light on our faces and their faceless drivers never spoke. Only the splash of blood, the thud of organs and the piercing crinkle of plastic bags. Our heavy breathless breaths and the rush of adrenaline heated us up like a furnace in the peak of a winter night. Bodies, sometimes three or four were poured on the porch. Sometimes some fingers stuck to the shriveled corners of the bags. Whose was which? It was up to us to decide.
Different vans every time, different drivers. They had no names, no faces. But we knew them. We knew them all. We were the same, weren’t we? Angry, ravaging hounds that whined when no one watched. And no one did. No one had ever watched us. So we hid ourselves away and turned angry and green. Very green. We pledged ourselves to wrong as if it would somehow make us right. The vans also brought cosmetics. We were going to be make-up artists. It wouldn’t be too hard. We were already sort of Made-up and Artist, in a sense, you know? Delicacy of hands was key in these sort of things, we already knew. Concealer was everything. EVERYTHING. And there were always so many shades. No shortage in concealing in this life.
When he came, we named him Juno. His passionately wounded face sort of broke something inside us. Even us. It looked like someone had cut through the middle of his face, ripped it outwards from the center, then dug in full swing, claws and all, and used a blender to mash the insides. In the Mortuary House, Juno’s face kinda fell apart and almost fizzled into the thick air inside the house. No face had done that before in our career. We did not ask ourselves, who could have done it. Anybody could have. We could have done it ourselves. But to Juno? That was different…Juno was different. Juno must have had the face of a dove or a lion or like a mix of both. Even from his gash of a face something almost like thick moonlight shone. Bright radiations of something special, and golden and royal, that we could not put our finger on. Juno had more peace in being hammered to death than we had had all our lives fighting for whatever. Juno deserved better and Juno knew it. But he had not fought back because it did not matter to him. Because he was truly fearless. Fearless. It was on his face.
It's not like we didn’t try. We couldn’t m-seal Juno or put any concealer on him. Something stopped us. It felt…wrong? A bit like sinning. Transgressing even. We were afraid too. That it would fall from our hands as we drew close to Juno armed with our silly make-up brushes, or that our fingers would melt and stick together even if we tried to spray a dash of make-up on his face from a foot’s distance. Juno would not be made-up or magicked. We dare not. Nobody could paint Juno’s face. Anybody who knew Juno even a little would know that. And we did, we knew him. He stayed with us for a week and another. We fixed others. We magicked them, while Juno decayed calmly as a swan. Juno sailed sea waves, surfed storms. Juno remained unbothered by us and what we did in front of him. Juno knew what we were, he expected no better of us.
Them bodies kept piling and there was no space for Juno, so we did not refrigerate him. To be honest, we didn’t want to…put him away, you know? We liked him with us, where we could see him – he was medicine to hearts that didn’t know they were sore. So we pushed him against the mirror at the end of the hall. And that is where Juno sat and watched us work, fight, bleed, whine through the night. The bodies around him did not bother him, what we did with the dead did not surprise him and he was not at all afraid of us. After knowing Juno like that for two weeks, we almost felt know-ed. He had seen us for who we were – puppies, and hadn’t judged. A good man. Extraordinary, actually. Not a speck of make-up on his face, Juno decayed openly. But at the end of two weeks, we knew we could not go on like that. With Juno just sitting around watching us. It would be selfish. Juno was worth living with, don’t get us wrong – he could be a real brother, he would know how. But he was dead, and so now there was only one thing to do for a man like that: the lawful thing. Juno was to have a funeral. We were to give it. There was no other way, nothing felt so right before. We slept well, knowing that morning at 6, we would tell Juno goodbye. So come morning, and we stepped out of the Mortuary House for the first time. We were five-in-the-morning-fresh but we still smelt like we had been dead two weeks. But outside, was different. It was cold and quiet. There was no sun but there was light.
So then mornings like this had happened every day?
A myna chirped on a mango tree. In the bald ground, worms crawled out of their homes. Snails were moving out too and were in no rush. There were no flowers but bees and butterflies still searched. And caterpillars were waiting on the grass to grow. The air made a sound that sounded like air. It smelt like air too, and we feel to our knees. At 6 sharp, we stood up and we began. We had never done it so we did not know how to do it, but we did it. At 6 am sharp, in the front yard of the Mortuary House we had a little funeral for Juno. But we wept; we wept for ourselves.
Samiksha Ransom is an Indian writer. Her work has appeared in Tint Journal, EKL Review, The Chakkar, Live Wire and more. Samiksha likes quiet people who are not afraid to be loud when they want to.