“You had options other than grave-robbing.”
“Maybe,” I say. I didn’t bother looking away from my needle. The thread, it…it was having a hard time slipping through the eye. It was made of a thick, smooth-feeling nylon, different from the plain sewing thread the needle was meant for.
But a bigger job calls for a bigger thread.
I hear more shuffling from behind me, and I realize that she’s moved closer. She’s at my shoulder now, looking down at the table. Trying to pull her eyes away from the thick white sheet that covers over half of the surface, with a misshapen form beneath it. Studying my work as closely as she can. I hear her breathing catch, and she doesn’t even have to tell me how she feels.
The thread finally slips through the eye. And I can begin my work.
“You don’t have to do this…” She finally speaks again, and I can hear the buckling in her voice. She’s trying to save some part of me that’s been gone for some time now. Maybe she’s trying to save that same part of her.
I can’t be sure about her anymore.
“Of course I have to do this.” The needle slides into the flesh easier than I would’ve thought. In all my years, I’ve noticed that, after death, there is very little difference in the behaviour of human flesh against that of an animal. They bruise. They harden. And, if not preserved appropriately, they smell. We’re all just meat in the end. And maybe even before that.
I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for her. For us.
“I don’t understand why you call it ‘grave-robbing’ if they weren’t even in a grave first.” I pull the needle through and push it into the second piece of flesh. I only pulled it out of the freezer right before she came home, so the skin resists more than the first one. “The county won’t notice.”
“The coroner might.”
“I’m the coroner.” I pulled the needle through again, tightening the thread before I slipped it back into the first piece. “They were dead bodies. Nobody claimed them. Nobody needs them like we do.”
“It’s not going to bring Maura back.”
Ah. There it is. What she’s been struggling to say since the beginning. I set down the needle, and I turn to face her for the first time that evening.
Her eyes are still bloodshot. Her hair, a mess. She looks the same as she did the first day when we found our Maura. Well, when the police found our Maura. They wouldn’t let her back there to see her, to identify her. “It will only cause you unnecessary pain,” they had said. But me, I’m the county coroner, and they don’t tell me no.
“I can bring Maura back,” I assure her, like I have time and time again. I don’t see the point in it anymore, but I say it because I care – not because I actually think she’ll believe me any more this time than the last times I’ve said it. “I’m a doctor, a scientist – this is what I do, this is what I’ve studied my whole life for.”
“You didn’t spend years in medical school…to play god.”
“I’m not playing god.” I turn away from her and back to the needle. “I’m only taking back what is ours. Maura was ours and nobody has the right to take her away from us.”
She starts getting hysterical. “Our Maura is gone. She’s in heaven with the angels. She doesn’t feel pain, or suffering – she’s happy where she is. We need to accept that. You need to accept that.”
I set down the needle again. But this time I don’t turn around. “Are you familiar with spiral fractures?”
That catches her off guard. “Sp…spiral fractures? No, I don’t…”
“Spiral fractures…” I picked up the needle and began my work again. “…occur when torque is applied along the axis of a bone. It’s…highly suspicious in young children – like Maura – because they’re the result of forceful jerking and twisting of the bone. Typical in abuse cases.” I glance over my shoulder at her. “Maura had a double fracture of both the radius and ulna in both arms. Would you like to see the x-rays I took?”
“No.” Her face, so frozen before, came alive in a mask of horror. “Why would you even suggest something like…?”
“Additionally…” I turn away again. “She had an avulsion of her left ear. Avulsion, as you may not know, means it was forcefully detached. Torn off, if you will…”
“Stop,” she whispered. It was hurting her. I knew it would. “Just stop.”
“I can’t stop.” I picked up the needle yet again and began working with renewed fervor. “That is the point I’ve been trying to make with you. They took my daughter away from me and I can’t stop until I have her back.”
She grabs me and forces me to face her before cracking the back of her right hand across my face with force I didn’t know she was capable of mustering. I feel the strongest impact from her delicate, shaking metacarpophalangeals – and I notice a distinct lack of a barrier between them and my face.
She isn’t wearing her wedding ring.
“Who are you to play God?” she whispers, her eyes filling with tears. The “playing god” idea. She doesn’t seem to want to let that go.
“Playing would imply that I’m enjoying what I have to do,” I tell her, unsure of her meaning. “I am just taking steps to bring my little girl back.”
“You’re making a new Frankenstein’s monster with our little girl’s body,” she hisses at me, the tears fully streaming down her face.”
“I only removed certain parts from the bodies at my lab because Maura needs replacement parts, parts that aren’t broken or torn or…”
She doesn’t stay to listen. Halfway through my attempt at an explanation, she tears away from me. I hear her slam the door, and then footsteps clumsily making their way back upstairs. Her sobbing, screaming, mixed in.
I don’t have time to comfort her. Not anymore. I won’t leave Maura as she is. I pull back the thick white sheet that’s been unmoved all the while. Just enough to see my daughter’s face. The face the muscles in her way are lax, it looks like she’s sleeping.
“Don’t worry, Maura. Daddy’s does his best work for his little princess.” I lean in and plant a small kiss on her cheek. The way I used to before I left her at preschool in the morning. The way I used to when I tucked her into bed.
Maura, she feels warm.