Friday, August 19, 2011

Her Smile by Michael J. Solender


“Her smile, that’s what her Ma and I most want to remember, her wonderful, glorious smile,” Mr. Sandy was speaking directly to Janes, the Funeral Director and didn’t even see me in the corner.

I couldn’t help but see him, though. A small ashen man, he was practically crumpled into himself, barely able to stand and blankly staring upon his child. His very dead daughter was in a heap, like yesterday’s laundry atop a gurney brought by the morgue to our small mortuary and funeral home. Even from the corner, I could see she was beautiful. Like a perfect rose, preserved in death with a haunting glow, his young twenty year old daughter radiated grace and a quiet calm in death. True, I felt that way about many I’d seen, but this one appeared special.

“Can you fix it so she’ll be smiling?” He began to sob, his heavy frame brushing the wall he leaned upon in order to prevent falling.

“Of course we can, Mr. Sandy, our man Rigger is one of the finest. He was schooled by Mr. Angelique, our late founder.” Janes referred to my nickname as if it were my proper name, a practice I hated. He loved the “inside joke” naming me after the stiff state the body achieves after death.

Most of the grieved were too distraught to notice, but it never failed to leave me cold. Angelique had shown me the ropes, took me in after my accident, gave me a trade, I was humbled and honored to work with him.

I approached our new client and extended my condolences. “It will be my pleasure to restore your daughter’s smile to what you knew so well in life. May I ask, what is her name?”

Sandy tried to compose himself; he was now looking at me like a friend. He knew I would do my best to make his little girl presentable for her mother. “Gayle, her name is Gayle, I used to call her my little nightingale. She always was singing or humming in the evening.”

“Well, Mr. Sandy, rest assured she’ll receive our most loving and respectful care. If you have a special dress you’d like to bring, that may be best.” I paused to gauge his reaction. Gayle had been hit broadside by a speeding car running a red-light as she walked through a crosswalk. Her head was completely intact yet her body was badly mangled with her clothes practically torn off her delicate body.

He nodded gently and mustered, “Yes, I’ll bring one later.”

Janes escorted Sandy into the office and I wheeled his daughter back into my studio.


Peering over her, I told Gayle I would make her beautiful again. I always show respect for those who have moved beyond. As I moved to get my chemicals, I thought I detected the soft tonal notes of a lullaby.

Lullaby and goodnight la la la la la.. de de de.

It was her. Gayle. Mellifluous soft humming. It was unmistakable. I moved back closer to the table and she sat up, color returning to her face, her crushed body twisted and mangled beneath her. Dried blood was at each nostril and in the corners of her eyes, yet she sat there watching me and sang softly in the most delicate and beautiful voice I’d ever heard.

“You’re quite handsome,” she said, flirting with me as her father was signing papers regarding her burial in the room that shared a wall with ours.

“And you are quite the beauty yourself,” I responded. I learned long ago to not fear death or any aberrations that may be associated with tragic demise. I’d had some close calls myself as a matter of fact.

“I’ve actually been able to observe it all with remarkable detachment.” She was clearly interested in engaging me. “Yes, after he struck me, the paramedics were quite quick to the scene, but I had slipped by before they even arrived. The police called daddy and on the way here, I heard that other man telling me it would be all right, that you would help me.”

“That other man?” I was puzzled.

“He didn’t say his name but he said he knew you. He said he’d helped you once a couple of years back and that you’d fix me up for the viewing but after they all left, you’d bury an empty casket and I could stay with you, we could stay together, like we were married.”

“Like we were married? Bury an empty casket? What are you talking about?” She was beautiful and I could see where she had been a lovely girl. I was awfully lonely but this was turning into something too very strange for me.

“He said you’d understand. He told you once he’d find some for you, he said, you’d know it was right for us to be together.”

“Who is he? How can we live together? How can you live at all, you’re dead Gayle, you’re dead!”

“I know, silly, but so are you. Don’t you remember Mr. Angelique? Don’t you remember how he gave you back your life after they brought you here after your accident? He said you would, he said you’d remember if I gave you this.” With her crushed hand, she gave me a small St. Christopher’s medallion on a gold chain.

It all rushed back in an instant. It was my medallion. I was wearing it when I was struck by the truck outside of my house that fall some years back. In a torrent of memories, I recalled it was Angelique who restored me, who brought me back in this very same studio I now worked in. He told me I had a purpose. That I could carry on for him. That he would find me a soulmate.

My heart became both sick and crazy, pounding to this new elation.

I would know love once again in her smile.


  1. Two dead hearts not-beating as one. The rush of light into an empty, darkened space. No wonder the mentor's name is Angelique. I can hear Badfinger or Gothic Metal playing in the background.
    A gentle going into that good night that would confound the bard, but make him understand that rage is sometimes not necessary.
    On second thought,maybe it's Mickey and Sylvia's Love Is Strange I hear surrounding the two forever-young lovers.
    If, as they say: sometimes love is a car wreck . . . that might not be such a bad thing at all.

  2. I really like this. Sweet and symmetrical!

  3. I just got the chills. This is fiendish. I'm totally repelled, and yet I feel glad for them. How awful and wonderful, Michael--really well done.

  4. Deliciously creepy with a strangely comforting core. Well done.

  5. Both horrifying and lovely. You have a master's touch, Mr. Solender.