( xiv )
— 108 hours ago —
Valérie was not an embalmer by profession only, but also by vocation. She was the oldest embalmer in the small town of Mont-Gaspard and she has prepared many bodies in her lifetime, so the families of the departed can have one last look at their loved one, without ever feeling the gravity of death. Her masterpiece was a man who once committed suicide by jumping in front of an eighteen-wheeler. His body was smashed to bits by the truck’s momentum. The funeral director was almost considering a closed casket viewing. But Valérie convinced him to let her work her magic on the poor man. She did such an amazing job that the family of the deceased could not believe that he was hit by a truck. On another occasion, a young woman was dismembered beyond recognition. But Valérie sewed her up, and covered her scars in such a way, that some younger embalmers started calling her Dr Frankenstein (Behind her back of course). Valérie knew she was good, and she took pride in her work. Whenever she worked on a body, she imagined that person as a member of her own family. This way, she assured herself that she would do her duty with the utmost care and reverence.
“Oh, poor baby. I’m so sorry you had to go through all this.”
Valérie would often talk to the dead. This is not the first time she had to embalm a pregnant woman’s corpse, but something hit her differently this time. She caressed Gabrielle Côté’s cold, sunken cheek as she held back tears. “It’s all over now, baby. You will rest in peace.” Gabrielle’s cold, naked, lifeless body was laying on a stainless steel table, motionless. Her once blue but now clouded eyes were staring blankly at the harsh lights above her table. Her mouth was dropping open. She had a tube stuck to her arm with a needle, draining all of her bodily fluid, to be replaced by embalming fluid. Valérie already prepared a solution of formaldehyde, methanol, and other toxic chemicals to inject inside Gabrielle’s body. Once her blood and other bodily fluid got drained, she poked her belly to let necrotic gas escape. It takes a strong stomach to fathom the minutiae of this profession.
She had her sewing kit nearby to close Gabrielle’s wound on her wrist. Before that, she needed to thoroughly prepare the inside of Gabrielle’s abdomen. She took a sharp scalpel and made an incision on her large belly. She then opened her uterus and let the cold, pale, motionless corpse of her child out of her womb. “It’s a baby boy. Your mother would’ve loved you so much.” She placed the baby’s body on the steel table with much care and love and went to look for her tools, so she could remove Gabrielle’s internal organ to prepare her for embalming while humming her favourite nursery rhyme. She turned around to work on Gabrielle’s body and she gasped, dropping her tools on the floor.
She couldn’t believe her eyes. She could’ve sworn that she put the child’s body on the table, but it was gone, nowhere to be found. Valérie closed her eyes in disbelief and opened them again. Still nothing. She rushed to Gabrielle’s body and looked within her exposed cavity to absolutely make sure that she removed the baby. She even doubted herself whether Gabrielle was pregnant, but judging from the shape of the deflated uterus, she knew she was pregnant. Cold sweats started to form on her forehead, as she started to think she had lost her mind until she heard a noise behind her. She was afraid to turn and look. She has been handling cadavers most of her adult life. Not once did she feel scared, until now. She touched her cross under her scrubs and started praying under her breath. She had to look. Maybe it was nothing. But she needed to look to be sure. Trembling in fear, her eyes closed, she turned. She took a deep breath to gather her courage and dared to open her eyes, and instantly regretted her decision.
She saw Gabrielle’s stillborn child slowly trying to climb the wall. Valérie started breathing heavily and shrieked when the child twisted his head slowly, vertebrae cracking, opened his eyes one at a time and looked directly at Valérie. She screamed out of her lungs in horror and got out of the embalming chamber. She tripped and fell down, hitting her head. She kept crawling away from the room where she prepared countless dead bodies for their wake. The commotion attracted other people working at the funeral home, including the funeral director.
“What’s going on Valérie? What happened?” The funeral director asked, concerned with the state of hysteria of his long-time colleague.
“Devil child! Devil child!” Valérie trembled as she pointed her fingers to the door. “Don’t go in! Devil child!” She kept uttering hysterically.
One of Valérie’s trainees was holding her tight, as she was sweating profusely and shaking without control. The funeral director immediately went into the room and found Gabrielle’s open carcass and the corpse of her child in the table adjacent to her. He walked in and found himself in the company of two lifeless corpses, but nothing more. He got out of the room and shook his head. He signalled another embalmer to go into the room and take over, as the wake will take place in the evening and they are running short on time.
He crouched near Valérie, completely hysterical and sobbing uncontrollably. He tried to comfort her softly. “Valérie, you’ve been working too hard. There’s nothing strange going on inside.” He said while caressing her shoulders. But his efforts were in vain.
“Devil child, I tell you!” She shrieked in tears.
“Valérie!” The funeral director abruptly raised his tone. “Go home! You need to rest.”
Valérie seemed to come to her senses. But she was still under the shock, as she trembled trying to get on her own two feet. She blankly stared at the director. The director softened his tone. “I checked. Nothing’s going on. Just two bodies to be prepared. That’s all.” He tried to say it as affectionately as possible.
“I know what I saw!” Valérie muttered coldly and stormed off while clasping her cross tightly in her palms. Her trainee followed her to comfort her.
The funeral director was in disbelief that one of his most experienced employees could be spooked by something so routine. He went inside the room and inspected it again. The other embalmer had already started on her work.
“I can’t even believe this. She has definitely lost her marbles.” Said the funeral director.
“What do you mean?”
“First her mother. Then her aunt. Now her.”
“Huh?” The embalmer was confused.
“The whole family has schizophrenia, now her. So sad.” The director clicked his tongue with a tone of disappointment.
“Maybe she has been working too hard.”
“No amount of overwork will make you see a ‘devil child’, I tell you.” The funeral director took a long breath. “Make sure the baby gets inside the mother. The family doesn’t want us to dispose of the baby like her organs. We need to respect their final wishes.”
Once Gabrielle’s body was cleared of any internal organ that could rot quickly, her child was gently put inside her belly and was sewn shut. The embalmer worked on the open wound on her wrist and then cleaned her whole body before pumping her full of embalming fluid. Her sunken cheeks rose again. After wiring her jaws shut, her mouth was not drooping anymore. Her eyes were closed with barbed eye-cups to hold her eyelids and glued to be closed forever. Eventually, she was robed, with makeup on her lifeless face, lips red with lipstick, and wheeled to the room for her wake, where her loved ones will shed tears to grieve her, for the first of many more times.