In Pursuit of Peace





           People sometimes ask me why I became a mortician. I don’t tell them about my morbid curiosity with forensic science or the years of TV Path Lab dramas. I tell them that being one of seven sisters, I may have subconsciously sought a job with plenty of peace and quiet. Somewhere where the customers never complain or give you stress. Never, that is, until tonight.


           It wasn’t like one of those cheesy scenes where the cadaver sits bolt upright and there's an ‘B’ movie scream from the helpless heroine that even my deaf Gramma could hear. Nothing like that at all. It just sounded like somebody was on the phone in another room. Or so I thought. Living in a small town and working in a very small hospital, you soon get to know most people’s voices, but I didn’t recognise this one. It was a few minutes before it dawned on me that it was a radio being switched on and off, over and over. Curiosity and annoyance soon got the better of me, and I went to track it down.

           When I found myself at the morgue lockers, I figured either someone was playing a prank on me, or it was what the county Sheriff liked to call an ‘stangow’ - a Stag Night Gone Wrong.

           ‘Y’all’l never be outta business with a Casino Bar right next to that there canyon.’ he loved to drawl every time he brought one in. Every damn time. At least this one had come in before my shift, and the Coroner wouldn’t need the paperwork before morning. It would have been a quiet night - if the customer hadn’t still been more than slightly alive.


           A couple of deep breaths and a warm coat later, I heaved the drawer open. The body bag inside was wriggling about like a big, black caterpillar, but silently – no yelling or cussing – just odd bursts of radio adverts and twangy riffs of crackly country music.

The thought of the mess of paperwork ahead made me groan aloud, to say nothing of the challenges of getting him out and warmed up and dressed and off to whichever church he was supposed to be at in the morning. I sighed a big cloudy breath and reached for the zip.


           I can honestly say I’ve seen ‘stangow’ bodies - live ones and dead ones - in all kinds of get-ups. Weird-ass, freaky dream material, most of them - tutus, nappies and nothing more than good ol’ fresh air, but this  - this was different again. It had either been a Seventies glam rock meets Eurovision party, or he was due at a very camp, gay wedding, because the guy was in a Spandex bodysuit with hefty platform boots and some kind of bike helmet. Actually, I couldn’t be sure it was a guy - maybe the Women’s Olympic Shot-putting team were missing a member. What I couldn’t see, in either of his huge gloved hands, was a radio. Gloves, though, thankfully – at least there’d be no frostbite to be sued over.


           Once I’d checked him over ( not too blue, thankfully), I gingerly removed his helmet, revealing young-ish, vaguely foreign-looking features and a bald head. I might even have given him a second look, if a) we were in a bar rather than a morgue, and b) he didn’t look like he was trying to audition for the Village People. Long story short, after trying my best to explain what had happened, I decided ‘he’ was definitely foreign, and possibly deaf too, because he clearly couldn’t understand a word I was saying. Thankfully, my Gramma taught me to sign. She used to say that two deaf people from different countries are better equipped to communicate than two hearing people. (This from the women who smilingly turned off her hearing aid at the nightly Waltons-style dinner table fiasco!) So, as best I can remember, the ‘conversation’, such as it was, went something like this;

           ‘It’s ok, you’re safe... Do you know where you are?’

‘No! Where is this ? How did I get here?’

‘You’re in a hospital. Do you know what happened? Are you hurt?’

His oversized hands patted his torso and legs.

‘I am ok. Not hurt. I fell out of (no clue – I don’t think ‘spinning plate’ was what he meant.). I was … sleeping? I woke here! My group will come back for me.’

I admired the guy’s optimism.

           ‘Our Sheriff may have brought you in. He must have thought you were dead. Or did your friends - your ‘group’ – bring you here? Are you a bridegroom?’

No response. This had long night written all over it.

‘Where are you staying? Can I call someone for you?’

He pulled an odd expression, widening his amazingly dark eyes. Almost black. Ok, different tack.

           ‘Where are you from?’

At this point he started to emulate a ninja fighting off a swarm of bees, and I shook my head in confusion, holding up my arms.

           “I’m sorry, fella, but I have two tenths of no clue what you’re trying to say there.” He gave a grunt and pointed to the door, and eventually I followed him outside.


           Now, nights in New Mexico can get pretty darn cold, and this guy was in nothing much more than a trapeze artist outfit, so he should have been shivering in his big, platform boots, but instead it was like standing next to one of those big patio heaters at Blanche’s Diner. He was turning around and around, squinting at the hilly horizon and tilting his bald head like an eagle on a telegraph pole. The far-off city lights were half-hidden by swirls of desert dust dancing in the midnight breeze. Then the guy lifted his arm and pointed at the distant mountain range.

           ‘I am from there... Far away… I receive an invitation’

Ah, so not the groom, then. A guest maybe? Or just a tourist?

           ‘I read about this place – my group come to see how wars are stopped. Many wars here. We learn, go home, stop our wars.’

           ‘Oh, so you’re not a wedding guest? You’re a student? … a journalist? A… writer?’

More blank looks. I was running short of rational questions.

           ‘Who invited you?’

The guy scanned the ground before picking up a long stick. My feet acted more sharply than my brain and took a few paces back. What was he up to?!  To my relief, he started drawing circles and lines in the sandy dirt. Okaaaay. A map, maybe? A flag? What the hell was it?

I held my arms wide and shrugged.

           ‘Sorry, pal, no clue.’ Unless he was from the Sanitorium over the border? I groaned inwardly. Great. Stuck with a mental patient twice my size carrying a big ol’ stick, and my panic alarm button is back on my desk. Just great. 

           Another grunt. He was pointing at the scrawls on the ground, then again at the horizon, but I couldn’t see squat. Then it dawned on me that it wasn’t the mountains he was pointing at, but the sky.

           ‘Did they put you on a plane? Did they … leave you here?! Did they go home without you? I don’t think much of these friends of yours!’ His shoulders slumped, and he looked down at me with those big black eyes. I suddenly got the feeling that he was younger than he looked.  

           ‘Do you know anyone here?’

              ‘No – my group come back soon – they will take me home’

At that, his head drooped still further, and I didn’t need any language to tell he wasn’t enthused by the idea.

‘Are you … scared to go back?’

‘No, but I don’t want to go – home is very crowded and noisy.’

‘Oh, I hear you, buddy, I do. In my home, I’m one of seven siblings!’ I held up seven fingers and waggled them for emphasis.


           I looked at the scrawls on the ground, desperate for clues, but it was a lousy map - it looked more like a kid’s crayoned cartoon of a spider… or a satellite!

There was an odd, scoffing noise – was he laughing, belching or choking? But what happened next nearly made me choke. I had to be a hallucinating! He was removing his gloves and – as I watched – his big ‘hands’ unfurled into a mass of tendrils – like fat spaghetti waving out of his sleeves. Pleeease let this be where I wake up at my desk! But it was all horribly real - there was Spandex Goliath, nonchalantly holding up literally dozens of ‘fingers’, whilst beyond him, low in the desert sky, a ring of lights raced toward us. As I started to lose grip on consciousness and the ground suddenly seemed much closer, I could see him signing.


    ‘I am one of seventy siblings… I just wanted a job with some peace and quiet!’





--- END ---

July 22, 2020 10:08

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