How do you define the dark? At its core, it’s the absence of light.
If that’s the case, then night similarly would be the absence of day.
I work at night. I exist in the dark. As such, I have the time and the quiet to contemplate these things.
I’m not sure how I ended up living my life at night, but a few things I am sure about. Silence is loud and darkness is maddening.
I used to know the light, I used to embrace the day. Day people seem to live; night people simply exist.
The thing about night is that the rules are different.
Morality and order seem to set with the sun. For example, the hospital I work at serves both dinner and breakfast at 3:00 a.m., the time when I finally get a meal break. Fried eggs or lasagna shouldn't be a choice.
I usually just get ice cream. And I usually eat alone.
The doctors don't deign to eat with us in the cafeteria. The nurses cluster together like barnyard animals, braying and clucking over hospital gossip that isn't the least bit interesting. The administrative staff usually eats with their heads down, looking through files and expansion folders.
As for me? There’s just one of me on the night shift. I transport bodies to the morgue. That’s all. I ensure people are bagged, tagged, and refrigerated in the basement, prepared for the coroner.
But in the cafeteria, even the corners don't talk to the orderlies.
I’m just a body mover.
I never noticed faces before. Why would I?
I’m not a doctor. I can't cure anything.
I’m an orderly.
Bodies. Legs. Arms. Faces. I don’t need to know the patients. I don't need to mourn.
I just move the cargo, the freight, the product.
But lately that’s changed. I notice faces. Not so much with the living, but definitely with the dead. I see my own face on each body.
It doesn’t matter if they were a man or a woman. Whether they are black, white or brown—I see my own face on their bodies.
This wakes me up in the middle of the day.
Sometimes I wonder, am I crazy? Or worse still, am I dead?
The dead keep me company. They are quite friendly.
I may as well be dead, for I am certainly invisible to the living.
Doctors ignore everyone but other doctors, blindly calling out orders to nurses who are interchangeable.
Nurses see me from their peripheral views, callously pointing to one room or another.
Even those frightened friends and lovers and relatives in the hallways with all of their questions see my brutish form and know I don't have any answers.
The ones whom I serve are very polite.
They listen to me as I tuck them into clean sheets on long aseptic stainless steel trays that slide into the wall. Sometimes I even lay down next to them, so I can finish telling them my stories.
I have so many things to say.
The dead have become my friends—although temporary friends. If I've learned anything from this job is that everything is temporary.
And then there was her.
The night is dark, but she is light. I knew she was different the moment I saw her face. It shone like the day. I dare not ask her name, but I will call her beauty for she is.
I talk to her and she listens intently. I share my struggles, and I know somehow she understands. I bare my soul to her and she wholly accepts me.
I’ve not known physical love as yet; I’ve been incapable. The dead cannot love as surely as darkness cannot exist in light.
I was sure I could not find love.
I was wrong.
She is reborn again with every woman I transport. Sometimes she is young and buxom, waxy eyed and bluish lips never fail to appeal. Sometimes she manifests herself as old and gelatinous, folds of flesh and veins of blue. No matter. Every woman reminds me of her.
In the morgue, her beauty is always there, a siren who calls me at night.
During the day, she is curiously absent, but I can always find her at night, dressed in white, waiting patiently for me.
In the maintenance elevator, I stroke the long arms, my hands warming cold flesh.
As I take her gently from the gurney, we dance a bit, her head nestling against mine, arms around my neck. I lay her down.
I place my hands on her neck, whether thin or fat, and I squeeze. I squeeze as hard as I can because sometimes the eyes will open and look back at me. Then we both laugh before I slide her tray into the refrigerated shelves. She is funny that way.
At last, she spoke to me today. I was afraid to answer at first. Was her voice in my head or was it real?
At first I didn’t dare answer for fear of breaking the spell, but the silence was deafening. “Joseph.” I replied without making eye contact. No one looks or speaks to the orderlies. Especially those on the nightshift.
My eyes searched the floor for nothing in particular. Then we return to silence.
I looked back up and she was gone. Was she ever even there?
She had spoken to me! I had never felt euphoria before, not until that moment.
It was intoxicating. She had been there, and she had spoken to me. She had told me her name.
it wasn’t just in my mind.
It’s 3:00 a.m. It’s time to go to the cafeteria and get breakfast or dinner. Either one. Pancakes or pork chops. The rules at night aren’t like the rules in the day.
But I can’t leave her. Mandy is tapping her long lacquered nails on the stainless steel trays, so many bodies laid out behind little square doors.
Mandy, waits for my kiss. I always kiss her before I leave for dinner.
There are so many bodies these days. Refrigerator trucks holding more bodies in the alley, but I’m sure Mandy is somewhere here with me.
She doesn’t like to be too far away.
It's been ten years since I met Mandy in the morgue, almost nine years since we were married. She is still a coroner with the hospital, but she works days now.
As for me? The night shift’s hours were driving me crazy, so now I drive an ice cream truck. I just move the cargo, the freight, the product.
Besides, my new job includes two of my favorite things: children and freezers.