A first draft of a story themed for merry season bathed in gray.
Some of them look like vultures, sorting through the socks, and shoes, and underwear while others gather all the pretties, the silverware, the change, and the televisions into one room to go through. It feels like a perverse auction. A twisted gameshow giveaway. Guess the time of death and win a prize. The body cools in the back room but already things are missing. Notebooks. Journals. Rings. Paper money. All of it gone, gone, gone. The family came first, arriving in old cars and older clothes. Whispering amongst themselves until they got to the door and then throwing it wide with wails and flails. The coroner and officers seemed unmoved by the outpouring. Once the family realized this they stopped and began their inventory of the house. People who hadn’t spoken to the deceased in half a dozen years appeared to get the treasured memento that would remind them of their lost loved one. It was left to the brothers and sister to parse out the goods. A framed photo here, a serving tray there, and to one great, old aunt a television, the smaller one, which they knew they would have back within the year. God rest her soul. The children in their squeaky shoes keep the body company, touching it, poking it, moving its arms into inappropriate positions. One of them bold enough to take the small radio that sat next to the bed. The adults ignored the giggles and loud noises as they had business of their own. None of them approved of their relatives clothing. It was old, and just wasn’t their style at all, but they’d take it, grudgingly, with plans for yard sales the next weekend. Important papers were put into a pile and only accidentally, accidentally you see, made their way into the fireplace where they were unfortunately burned. When the family had had enough they signed the proper forms, they nodded, they sobbed, and they left, the children lingering behind until called, and called, and called finally to the cars, kicking their feet and pushing over piles of papers as they left. Next came the neighbors, wanting to know what the, oh dear, oh dear, he was so young, so young, and oh, such a nice man, did you know him, no, neither did I, but such a nice man and quiet when he wasn’t loud, but so nice. The neighbors mill about and check over his house, and into his cupboards and oh, well, he won’t need these eggs, and goodness, it’s a shame to let this milk go bad, and my, he won’t mind if I take these, well gosh, we can’t let these go to waste, there are children starving you know. The click and they clack and they skitter about the small house in waves. Was there, a basement? Was there an attic? What is in the garage? The officers finally have enough and usher the neighbors out the door with their bags, and boxes, and arms full of supplies. Two young men wander into the home, hats in hand, and look through the place, into drawers, under the couch, in the closets and rooms, until the coroner asks them how they knew the deceased and then suddenly the men forgot that they have something they have to be at and they dash out the door with only some scratched off lottery tickets to show for their grief.
The shadows lengthen. The day chills. The officers look outside. Going once. Going twice. Gone. They nod to the coroner and he goes into the bedroom and shakes his head as he sees what the children have done to the dead man. The coroner pulls the man’s pajama pants up, pulls his shirt down, and moves the man’s hands away from his genitals. He calls out to the officers who call out to two dour men who have arrived in an ambulance. They push a gurney through the house, banging it against the door, a table, a wall, another door, then into the bed. The deceased is dressed and ready for his trip and the two men move the black bag and its contents onto the gurney then clumsily make their way out of the home. The corner looks at the bed and sees the indentation where his body had lay each night for year after year, in the same position, until the bed knew him so well that it held his place for him. The man looked to the dresser where a glass of water was moved from the ring where it would sit, night after night after night in case the man needed something to drink. The coroner looked at the rug and saw the path the man would take every day, from bed to bath to closet to door and door to closet to bath to bed. The coroner knelt and picked up the emptied bottle of sleeping pills from the floor and placed it onto the bedside table. He noticed a single Christmas card on the table and picked it up. It was dated to five years earlier and there was a picture taped inside it of a smiling man and woman standing in a home decorated for the holidays. He looked closer and saw that the man was indeed the man he had come to claim and he had a wedding ring on, as did the woman who stood smiling beside him. The card read – Thirty-five years and counting, my love. Happy Anniversary. Happy Christmas. Forever yours. He read the woman’s name and then looked at the date again. Five years ago this was a happy home. The coroner looked at the bed and beside the imprint of the man was a faint imprint of a smaller body that the bed had begun to forget. In the closet there still hung a woman’s clothes. At the end of the bed were small pink slippers. Above the doorway that lead out to the rest of the house was a broken strand of silver tinsel. The coroner looked once more to the table and beside the glass, blocked by it or they would not still remain there were two silver rings, man’s and a woman’s lying one atop the other. The coroner looked at the bed and felt a pain in his chest and an itching at the corner of his eyes. The coroner pulled a small lighter from his pocket and sparked it and leaned down and lit the edge of the card on fire. It was next to a tissue box, which was next to the curtains. It shouldn’t take long. Just long enough.
The coroner exited the bedroom and waved to the officers, who dropped their Styrofoam coffee cups onto the carpet and turned and left the house. The coroner went to the door and then turned and looked at the house and saw for a moment the ghost of its past in the form of a dead Christmas tree standing in a corner, bare of needles but the bulbs still on it, the tinsel still on it, and one present pushed well underneath it. The coroner turned and walked out of the house, closing the door as he did. He looked into the sky and saw that the gray skies that had rolled in bore snow. He had better get back and do his paperwork if he was going to be home in time to wrap presents with his wife. The kids seemed to get up earlier and earlier each year. He couldn’t blame them. He was the same way as a kid. He blew a puff of air out and watched it rise, rise, rise and break apart. The coroner heard the officers give a holler that they were leaving and he waved to them and turned to look back at the house. For a moment he thought he saw two people dancing within, lit by Christmas lights and my god how they were smiling. He smiled and waved a hand to the phantoms and turned and headed towards his truck, the snow falling in earnest now. He knew that in five minutes, ten minutes, maybe a half an hour the house would be filled with a hundred thousand Christmas stars giving glory to god and love and all things great and small.