THE MORTUARIES OF MADISON COUNTY

Her eyes opened slowly. Her amber irises contracted in the bright light, then her black pupils dilated with pleasure. Her hair was loosely curled. Her temples spouted grey spumes as the dulled auburn cascade spilled over her shoulders. She shook her head, feeling the heavy sway pull at her scalp and caress her shoulders. John Portmeirion lay still before her. The moist tip of her tongue swept across her upper lip. She flushed, and her hand trembled ever so slightly. She began.

They had met so many years ago. His strong arms with their abundance of dark, downy hairs brushed against her skin as he guided her fingers into their first Y-incision. John Portmeirion enjoyed a quiet fame within the trade. Both natural causes and wet work demanded his unobtrusive art, and his brooding silence, at Affairs of State. He licked salt from the curve of her neck as she drew the scalpel downward, exposing forbidden secrets. He stood behind her and took her fiercely, that first day, as her wrists disappeared into inanimate flesh. Later, as the pump forced its preservative fluids deep within her handiwork, fluids of another enterprise were languidly, progressively lost to her inner thighs. She ever thereafter grew humid and swollen within her center when the flesh first parted. She wept.

She established her trade under unforgiving fluorescent light and upon cold stainless steel troughs. Though all humanity slowly passed its way beneath her gaze, she waited for John Portmeirion. A crumpled note written upon pale green paper contracted her heart in a desperate thump, for he had returned. A curried lambswool jacket thrown across her table melted her substance, and she was consumed by her hunger. Years, and years upon years passed. She patiently burned, plying her skills, always seized by lust when steel parted flesh, always wanting John Portmeirion.

Soon after her first passage with John Portmeirion she received a mock pirate's chest, his anonymous gift. All camphor wood and brass bindings it was, and remarkably strong for its weight. Empty it was no longer, for dental gold inlays and bridgework, platinum cardiac electrodes, and other forgotten precious metal artifacts were remembered within her trade. She queried lifeless flesh, and her own meat flared hot. John Portmeirion had penetrated her soul that very first time and so many times thereafter, and she would not give him leave from her memories.

When she received the twin of her treasure box, impossibly heavy with its years' burden (and the misery of four burly moving men), her heart stopped - and started with a tremendous thud. A mist of cold sweat extruded from her forehead. Her knees grew weak, and her bladder insistent. The world threatened to dissolve into a white shimmer as her lungs work furiously, unable to seize air. In her heart of hearts, she knew it for a certainty. John Portmeirion would return to her.

John Portmeirion lay still before her, awash within the unforgiving fluorescent light, lying helpless upon a chilled stainless steel trough. Her scalpel drew down his sternum. She grew humid and swollen within her center as his flesh parted. Her hunger savagely gnawed. It was beyond any hope of being fed.

Weeks passed. Her grief was preserved and primped for public presentation, born by six, and finally consigned deep within crowded, foul earth. A pretentious representative of God Himself had swaggered grandly, splendid with raiment, replete with homily, diatribe, and insignificance. A first spade of dank soil splashed upon the polished coffin holding her John Portmeirion. She exhumed a violent vision of the whole world on her steel table, its jellied clots drawn down the sluices of its blood gutters, her scalpel mercilessly incising through a blanched rind of cold pretense in search of terrible pain.

Weeks later yet, more misery came forth. She who disposed of the world's most precious refuse was siphoned into a midden of lifeless memories. It was another trunk, leather and wood and iron fittings, and again heavily filled with John Portmeirion. This time she beheld not the gleam of precious metal, but mold and rank decay. This time it was timeworn camera equipment and a fat adherent sludge of old pictures - each of a different, decaying wooden bridge.

She stuffed her crematorium with the offal. She spun gas valves and stabbed at the igniter. As the thermocouple gauge vaulted beyond triple digits she stared through the tempered glass sight hole, straight into a camera lens. The lens stared back, fearless amidst the flames, and exploded.


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