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Beth Couture

July 22, 2013

The Corpse


Molly’s talking to a corpse, and it’s not talking back. The body lies there on the table like leavings from breakfast, and it’s not saying a word but Molly keeps talking. She doesn’t expect it to talk back, really—this isn’t that show where the dead follow the living around and tell them things they never said when they were alive and everyone’s pretty and lives in LA and is fucked up but not too fucked up and is lovable in their own way (which is what makes it a TV show and not real life). This isn’t television. Molly lives this now, takes fluids out of dead bodies and puts fluids back in. She puts makeup on them and tries to make them look like real people again. She went to school for this. And she talks to the corpses because there’s no one else down here to talk to. Sometimes she imagines them talking back to her, sitting up on the table and crying, or laughing, and telling her their life stories. She knows their names, and she imagines Shelby Jenkins or Mildred Edson or Billy LeBlanc talking about their prom or first kiss or favorite dead pet. She makes up stories about them in her head as she applies foundation and fixes their hair just right. But they don’t talk back. Of course they don’t. And when she’s done with them, she gets Vince to help her put them in their casket and moves on to the next. And she forgets them.

This one’s different, though. She’s young, younger than Molly. Nineteen, maybe twenty. She could be her little sister, the one Molly hasn’t heard from since she started college and learned how to drink. And all people are better looking as corpses than they were when they were alive, but this girl is beautiful. She may be the most beautiful girl Molly has ever seen. It doesn’t matter now, but she must have been a heartbreaker. And so Molly starts by asking her questions about boyfriends, or maybe girlfriends, glides powder over her face and tells her she likes the tiny red scorpion tattoo on her left shoulder. Usually Molly doesn’t talk much about herself, but this time she does. It starts out small—where she lives and why she decided to work at the funeral home and where she does her grocery shopping. She says she’s always wanted a tattoo but she’s afraid she’d get it done and it would look stupid or be misspelled. She laughs. But she keeps talking and it gets heavier, and scarier, and she can’t stop. Her brother, dead for three years. The scars on the backs of her legs from where he cut her in the “game” he liked to play with her. His best friend. Going to sleep and knowing how they’ll wake her. The words flow over her tongue and teeth, and they surprise her. She doesn’t even know what she’s going to say until it’s out of her mouth, but when it’s out of her mouth it hangs in the air like a smell. She’s talking to a corpse and she can’t stop. And what’s funny about it all—not ha-ha funny, but strange—what’s funny is that it’s the best conversation she’s had in years. Donna, the corpse, just lies there with her shiny black hair and her peacefully shut almond-shaped eyes, and Molly puts pale pink lipstick on her small, perfect mouth and talks. Fifteen years in her parents’ house with her brother. Eight years of the game. One night he threatened to cut out her tongue if she said anything to anyone, and she never did. He died in a car accident a month after he moved out of the house, and when she heard the news she cried until she couldn’t breathe. She has never told anyone, but she tells Donna, and Donna lies there with her hands resting at her sides, her perfect lips in a faint smile.

And when Molly lies down on the table next to Donna, when she puts her head on her chest and tells her everything, she looks into her face with its pale skin covered in the lightest, softest down and its eyebrows gently arched. It is no longer just a beautiful face, but also a familiar one. Then she presses her own face into the cool of Donna’s neck and she keeps talking. She lies there with Donna and talks and talks until she has nothing left to say anymore, until she’s done. She looks into Donna’s perfect face, and when the lips part and begin to move, Molly listens.



Beth Couture‘s work can be found in Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Yalobusha Review, Dirty, Dirty (an anthology of erotic writing from Jaded Ibis Press), and the anthology Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books, among other publications. Her novella Women Born with Fur is forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Press. She is an assistant editor at Sundress Publications, and she teaches composition at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.


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