It was her parents dying in a tragic accident downstate. It was being sent off to live with a grandfather she’d never known existed. It was working at his funeral parlor in an old Victorian house by a lake the color of desert glass. It was assisting the grandfather in a softly lit basement room of tiled walls and shining metal tables with round black drains. It was being ten years old and manipulating blue-tinted flesh and pliant muscle. It was peering into faces that had been rendered void, it was fitting small plastic cups under the lids of dehydrated eyes. It was inserting needles into veins and replacing syrupy blood with fine clean embalming fluid. It was applying makeup to silent women and shaving greasy five-o’clock shadow from the men who no longer cared about being nicked. It was combing little boys’ matted hair and knitting cheery bows into the tresses of little girls. It was repairing bullet holes and stab marks and burned flesh and flayed flesh and flesh that had gone missing.
It was the grandfather’s unswerving presence. It was how he sipped from a silver flask after a long day of reassembling human puzzles and stared at his protégé as though searching for something neither of them could see. It was the way he fed her powdered donuts and murmured what a good good student she was. And stroking her cheek and lightly fingering the cleft in her chin.
Joel Best has published in venues such as Atticus, decomP, Autumn Sky and Carcinogenic Poetry. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and son.