Cara lifted the eyelid open, gripping the upper lash between her fingers. She used her other hand to squeeze super glue underneath it and watched it settle over the eyeball. She carried out the same on the other eye.
She looked at the woman’s face. Despite being in her early twenties, her greying skin made her look ten years older.
Cara pressed her own lips into a thin line. In her field of work, she was used to many a corpse, but she’d never felt more of a connection that she did to this one. Maybe it was because, in another life, another timeline, another sequence of events, they could’ve been friends.
She finished the woman’s makeup, sealing her lips with glue as well, before swiping on a coat of lip balm.
The woman looked fast asleep. Cara looked again at the photos she had laid on the table of the woman in life. A photo of her with her parents, her dog, with her coworkers. The final product was even better than Cara had envisioned. Rosemary. Rosemary Gallagher.
“You look beautiful.”
Cara turned around, facing the sink to wash her brushes.
Cara spun around and stared at the woman, her brushes clanging on the ground as they slipped from her hands.
“What…how?” Cara blinked in disbelief.
“What, how, what?” The woman smiled at her. She sat up, meeting Cara at eye level.
The woman –Rosemary—just smiled. “That’s what they want you to think.”
Confusion clouded Cara’s face. “I don’t understand.”
“They want you to think I’m dead so you’ll do my makeup.” Rosemary nodded with a look that said, obviously.
“That’s—that’s my job.” Cara was lost.
“Yeah, I’m really just here to be a friend.” She tilted her head like an inquisitive dog. “You need a friend right now, Cara.”
Cara felt her throat constrict. “I…”
“…am so relieved? I knew you’d say that.” Rosemary grabbed the cross pendant on the chain around her neck and repositioned it, dangling her legs over the side of the table, facing her.
“Yes, I am so relieved. I’m so glad you’re not dead.” Cara laughed uncertainly.
“You’ve been feeling lonely.”
Cara narrowed her eyes. “How did you know?”
“I can read you like a book, Cara.” Rosemary flung her hair behind her shoulder, inspecting her.
“Even though your sister died, you can still live. She would want that.” Rosemary was speaking to her like some of her long-term friends should’ve. They were the words she had wanted to hear. She needed the permission that no one else was able to offer her.
Cara took a sharp intake of breath. “I miss her.” A single tear slid down her cheek.
Rosemary reached out to touch her but seemed to think better of it and drop her arm back down on the cold steel table. “I know. And she misses you.”
Cara couldn’t work out if that made it better or worse. “You look a little bit like her.”
Rosemary’s lip quirked in a half smile. “I know.”
Cara wiped her face, her tears stopping their descent. “Anyway, Rosemary, this is amazing news!”
Rosemary inspected Cara’s face.
“We have to tell everyone! They’re all out there, ready for the funeral.”
Rosemary jumped off the table with all the ease of someone alive. Not at all a person that lay supposedly deceased on a cold table not fifteen minutes before.
Cara felt wracked with excited nerves. She’d be the one with the news. Your daughter, friend, sister, niece is alive. And I realized it before it was too late!
She wrapped her arm around Rosemary’s waist and they walked together, out into the service hall.
Cara’s nerves dissipated when she saw everyone standing there, turning around at the sound of the door slamming behind her. They were all awe-struck.
“She’s alive! Everyone, she’s alive!”
She noticed fresh tears stream down the faces of people to her left and right. Tears of joy? Surely. Someone up the front fainted. She noticed the long blonde hair spilling out of the pew like golden straw spattering from a bucket. It was the same colour as Rosemary’s. Her mother?
“Say something, Rose.”
Cara looked over at her friend, expecting to look into her eyes. Instead, she lay on the floor, lifeless. Cara blinked. Time stood still. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The body of Rosemary lay crumpled but stiff at her feet. Cara looked up at the faces of everyone. Sad faces. Angry faces. How could she have gotten it so wrong?
The funeral director made a beeline for her. Two ushers that she hadn’t noticed on the way in appeared seemingly out of thin air and reached down for Rosemary, picked her up, one at the head and one at the feet. And Cara was grabbed roughly by the elbow and led back the way she came.
She watched Rosemary’s hand hanging limply as she was roughly taken into the room she’d come from. The room that Cara had led her out of. The room that they’d connected in. She was alive. Cara knew it. What had happened?
“Cara.” The funeral director and her boss, Bruno stared daggers at her. “What the hell has gotten into you?” He rubbed his hand down his face. “What the hell was that? Seriously, what the hell?” He looked ready to hurt her. His face was a rage she had never seen before.
“I—” Her breath caught.
“That’s one of the largest crowds at a funeral service I’ve ever seen. I—I just can’t believe that happened.” His whole demeanor changed. He looked like he wanted to curl into a ball and cry, much like Cara.
She began to weep. “I’m sorry, Bruno. I—I really thought she was alive.” Her tears were flowing freely, mourning the loss of her friend. She had experienced love and loss in such a short span of time and it was gone in a blink.
“I just need you to go.”
Cara stopped breathing. “Are you firing me?”
He readjusted his suit jacket. “I’m not sure yet. I have a service to conduct. I don’t know what will become of my business after that but I will try and resurrect the crowd.” He cringed at his word choice.
Cara squeezed her eyes shut. She collected her belongings and left out the back door.
Later that night, she took two pills. She’d forgotten to take her tablet the day before, so she had to make up lost time. She’d not slipped like that since her sister’s funeral. And it had probably cost her her job. All because she’d forgotten a simple little pill.
The day they buried her sister, she’d forgotten to take it. Well, Cara had convinced herself she’d forgotten it. She thought maybe, just maybe, if she “forgot” it, she’d be able to see her sister again. Be able to see her body and spend just a little more time with her. Be able to speak to her again, maybe understand and hear from her why she’d picked up the razor. Even if she would only be able to conjure up the conversation in her imagination.
She swallowed the pills with a mouthful of red wine, drinking straight from the bottle. She was absentmindedly watching TV, seeing the screen but absorbing nothing. Then there was a knock on Cara’s door.
She stood uneasily like she was a newborn foal, not expecting anyone at this late hour. She walked to the door, catching sight of her tear-stained red and puffy face in the mirror. Oh well. Whoever was on the other side of the door had already heard her walking in their direction. Too late to turn back.
She would normally look through the peephole but she didn’t care at this point. She opened the door.
Rosemary. Rosemary Gallagher.
“You were right, Cara. I am alive. But I’m so thankful for you because you’re the only one who can see me.”
Cara took another swig from the bottle. “I can’t see you, Rosemary, you’re not real.”
She slammed the door in her face. Guilt flooded her body. She reopened the door and Rosemary was gone. The pills were kicking in.