by J. A. Buxton
If only she had a bell to ring like in olden days. The Writer's Cramp 08-03-2012 winner
|Please, somebody. I’m here, I’m in here.
“Does she have any identification on her?” Jake, the stocky police officer known for his abrupt attitude toward women, looked down at the body. Stretched out on the sidewalk was a young, dark-haired female who, to all appearances, was dead and had been for many hours.
The medical examiner, Natalie Jensen, knelt down to open the purse next to the body. After pulling out the driver’s license from a black leather wallet, she softly answered, “Mary Tischler. She lives uptown on Madison.”
Yes, that’s me. Mary Tischler. Why don’t you hear me?
“What the hell is she doing down here?” Jake muttered, looking around at the garbage-strewn alley. The smell of rotten food, urine, and other unpleasant odors assaulted Jake’s nose. A scrawny cat, disturbed by the arrival of the two people, skulked away into the darkness.
Natalie shrugged without answering. She also had wondered, but had learned to keep quiet around the misogynistic officer. Still kneeling, she gently turned Mary’s head facing away from her so the open eyes no longer stared back at her.
No, no, no. You have to see I’m trying to blink. I’m alive.
Tired of standing out in the rainy weather, Jake moved forward and nudged Mary’s nearest leg with the toe of his boot. “Well, what’re you waiting for? Here comes the M. E. wagon. Load her on it so I can take another call.”
After the ambulance driver helped Natalie place the dripping-wet corpse into the back of the vehicle, they headed toward the county morgue. Natalie sat in back with Mary Tischler and began filling out the required form. Every now and then she glanced over to the well-dressed body. “Mary, I wish you could tell me why you were so far from home.” Natalie suddenly looked closer, having thought she saw a slight movement in Mary’s left eye. She stared intently for a couple minutes, but eventually decided she was imagining things. “I’m just exhausted from the double shift I’m working.” Even after saying this, she continued to watch the corpse for any sign of life during the remainder of the short trip.
When she looked out the back window of the ambulance, she saw they were pulling into the morgue’s parking lot. Natalie pushed the damp hair off Mary’s pale face, not understanding why she was giving this unknown woman one last bit of female dignity.
Inside the autopsy room, one of the other medical examiners on staff stripped the damp clothes off the comatose body. He failed to check for life signs before giving her a quick external once-over. Because of his rush to finish the last autopsy of the evening, he decided to not take the time for a toxicology test. This pudgy, middle-age man only had thoughts of his sexy mistress and simply gave the Mary a quick once-over before filling out the routine autopsy form. “Simple heart attack, don’t you agree?” He asked this of the morgue orderly while motioning for the young man to help him place Mary’s naked body on the gurney.
What do you mean, heart attack? Once again Mary’s voice went unheard. Oh my God, what are you doing? She silently screamed out in panic upon finding the gurney she was on pushed into one of the morgue’s drawers. When the door closed to leave her in complete darkness, nobody was there to see a single tear leak down her cheek.
* * *
“Is this your wife?” The bright lights blinded Mary when Natalie pulled her body out of the morgue’s drawer.
Her sight returned slowly until a blurry face looking down at her materialized into that of the man who had tried to kill her.
“Yes,” Dr. Aaron Tischler softly said, looking down at the face of his spouse. From where she stood behind him, Natalie was unaware of the triumphant expression on the handsome man’s face. This had disappeared by the time he turned toward her. “You say the police found Mary in an alley near a prostitutes’ hangout?” He turned back to stare into the sightless eyes of his wife. “She was angry about my staying at the hospital overnight.” Aaron finally turned to face Natalie before saying in a sad voice, “She’s done this before, searching out strange men to punish me.”
You liar! You were home having dinner with me. I thought the wine tasted funny. Why did you do it? Mary screamed out that last sentence, but no one heard.
She watched Aaron take the release form from Natalie and sign his name to it. After that, she now realized she was officially considered dead. She also knew Aaron probably had discarded the empty bottle that once contained her baclofen medication. He had recently brought it home from the hospital for her recently diagnosed cerebral palsy. After finishing the glass of wine and feeling the effects of the overdose, she understood what her husband had done.
“Make sure her body gets to the funeral home today.” Aaron was walking out of the cold room when he turned back to issue this order to Natalie. “Our religion demands a same-day burial with no need to embalm her.”
* * *
In this way, Mary found herself lying in an open casket, still unresponsive and unable to communicate. Her husband, a wealthy podiatrist, recently Googled for drugs that would mimic brain death. After 15 years of marriage, Aaron had fallen in love with another woman and needed a way to marry her without going through an expensive divorce. Reading about baclofen and knowing he could easily get it at the hospital pharmacy, he put his plan into effect.
“She looks so alive,” said Sylvia, one of Mary’s friends, dabbing at her tear-filled eyes. “How sad she died so young of a heart attack.” The young matron patted Aaron’s arm in sympathy. “To think you came home and found her dead in your bed.” This was the lie Aaron told everyone instead of the truth of where his wife had actually died. He tried to keep from smiling as the memory of the previous night came back.
* * *
Aaron leaned back in his chair and slowly sipped his own wine while watching his horrified wife begin to understand what was happening to her. The paralysis of her muscles took time, and he enjoyed seeing Mary fight for control of her unresponsive body and lose. Eventually she slumped over and fell to the dining room carpet, her muscles totally relaxed. Aaron carried her to his car under cover of darkness and placed her upright in the front passenger seat.
Miles away from their home, he drove into the alley where he knew prostitutes often conducted their business. Once he reached a deserted area, he reached over Mary’s limp body to open the car’s door. After that, he easily got rid of his unwanted wife by shoving her carelessly out onto the filthy asphalt. Driving away, he smiled and headed toward the home of the woman he planned to make wife number two. Aaron knew he had committed the perfect crime.
* * *
Now standing by Mary’s casket, he forced a sad look before answering Sylvia. “Yes, it was a shock to see her lying there, still dressed as if she’d just come home from work.” Aaron placed a hand out and tenderly touched Mary’s pale cheek. “I’ll miss her so much,” he continued lowering his voice so Sylvia barely heard him. “Mary, my darling Mary was the best wife a man could have.”
Sylvia, I am alive. Please, help me. Mary screamed as loudly as she could, but neither Sylvia nor any of the other people at the funeral home could hear her.
Two hours passed before the funeral home’s owner closed the mahogany cover over the terrified and still unmoving woman. She felt the casket sway from side to side as the four pallbearers carried it out to the waiting hearse.
At the cemetery, while two cemetery workers carefully lowered the casket into the freshly dug grave, nobody saw the tiny movement of her left hand as the effects of the muscle-relaxant medication began to wear off. As the same two men shoveled earth down over the casket, her nearly inaudible cries went unheard by those standing above her. After the handful of mourners left the new gravesite, nobody remained to hear Mary’s last gasping breath when the remaining air inside the casket finally ran out.