The smell is the first thing that catches you every time someone new enters my lab. A strange mixture of antiseptic and embalming solution, tools of my trade. Everything gleams clean and shiny, reflecting off the stainless steel surfaces that pretty much make up the entire room. It’s where I feel the most comfortable though, where I ply my trade, you hope to never end up here.
My name is Dr. Jeremiah Stark and I’m the Gregory’s medical examiner, or if you rather, the mortician. I’m the one who determines and writes the cause of death on the death certificates. Around here the causes are pretty self explanatory but it’s still a necessary step in the process.
Yesterday I received a young man whose life was taken too soon. His once youthful body ravaged by the extent of his injuries, the spark of life extinguished, leaving behind only a shell. It’s interesting how in death, no matter how violent it was, they all look so serene. So peaceful.
He’s already waiting for me when I walk in. My assistant must have come in earlier to make sure he was prepared for final dressing. He’s already partially dressed, the outer pieces of his crisp dress uniform hanging on the wall, shiny shoes sitting against the wall underneath.
His features are relaxed in repose as I stop beside the exam table. He almost looks like he could be sleeping. “Today’s the big day. We’ll get you ready for your trip home, to your family.”
Carefully unfolding the dress pants, I smooth the creases them, “Every time I do this I’m reminded of a poem, a very old poem. I tell it to everybody who comes through here.”
“It was I that found you,” I maneuver the dress pants over each leg, up to his waist and fasten it all properly closed, “made you what you are today.”
Walking back to the wall I kneel down for his shoes, wiping a small smudge off one of them with my sleeve. Both shoes in hand I unlace them as I return to him, “A strong and mighty warrior.”
Sliding them both over his already socked feet I tighten the laces and begin to tie them, “full of hell’s vengeance and heaven’s mercy.”
“How you fought your best.” Pulling the pant cuffs over the shoes I survey the result. With a small nod I return one last time for the dress jacket. The buttons shine back at me, the jacket’s surface immaculately free of lint or dust. Pulling it from the hanger, I shake it once to loosen the shape.
“Brought low many transgressors,” one arm in, then the other. Laying him back gently as I pull the two halves of the jacket together over his white undershirt. “Raised up many victims of injustice.”
Each button slides through flawlessly, winking back at me in the light when I straighten the jacket over his belt line. I place his hands over top of each other just above his waist. Last but not least, his cover sits on one of my trays next to the table.
“Now your battle is done, you lay here in wait” I swipe my hand across the top of the hat before I set it just above his hands on his stomach. A flat velvet box sits where the hat had just been, having hidden covertly underneath.
I pick up the box and flip up the top. A medal gleams back at me, untouched and never worn. I close the box and set it gently on his chest, where it will be transported with him to his family.
I pull an envelope out of my lab coat pocket and the single piece of paper within. I scribble my name across the bottom of the death certificate before returning it to the envelope. I set it on top of the velvet box where it will be collected before he leaves the Gregory. “Waiting for me to carry you home.”