Professional Courtesy

The first time was a shock. The zip came down, and there I was, dead eyes staring up at me.

I was sick, noisily, in a bin. It was only the second time I’d been sick at work, ever – the first was a floater, a corpse that had been pulled from the river after over a week, bloated and gassy. This was worse.

Still with a sour taste in my nostrils, I returned to the corpse. Definitely me. The same scar over the right eye (first time without stabilisers, age seven), the same hint of a double chin that looked far worse from this angle than it did in the mirror. Pulling the zipper further down just confirmed it – scattering of dark chest hair, mole on right hand, slight (within normal range) curve to the left.

In times of stress, I’ve always reverted to routine. When my parents divorced, I still read to my father’s empty chair three times a week. When I moved house, I found myself halfway to the old one every evening after work. When faced with my own body cooling on a slab, I followed protocol.

The autopsy was oddly soothing – as I cut, the resemblance between myself and my corpse became less noticeable. I found myself able to weigh organs and look for cause of death with only minor flickers of horror.

Heart failure, it turned out. It made sense – I’d always had a preference for red meat, red wine, and one particular red-haired woman. None of those are good for your life expectancy.

I filed the paperwork, the first time. That caused a few problems, when the body disappeared. It was eventually chalked up to a rather morbid practical joke. The more significant action I took was a lifestyle change: a vegetarian diet, early-morning jogging, and fewer screaming fights with my girlfriend. I practised counting to ten a lot. Slowly.

I didn’t have a heart attack. I felt better than ever. My second chin started to fade back into the first one. And three months later, I found myself on the slab again.
Gunshot wound, this time. I called the ambulance driver who’d brought me in; I’d been found on Carmichael Street, near the post office.

I cancelled my upcoming trip to the Carmichael Street theatre. Apparently their version of Death of a Salesman was uninspired. Only a small price to pay.

The pattern continued – every few months, a new body, a new cause of death. I changed my dinner plans away from sushi when I discovered fugu poison in my bloodstream. I took the stairs every day after being called out to identify a mangled body in an elevator shaft. I stopped surfing (shark attack) and avoided public parks (rabies from a squirrel bite).

Each time the body turned up, I had a new danger to avoid, a clear route to continued life. As long as I acted on the warning, I would be safe. I didn’t question where the bodies came from – I didn’t like to think about it at all. I just determined cause of death, and slid the tray closed again.

And so I’m alive. Despite, by my count, forty-six separate corpses, I’m still here, still the one looking down, not the blind eyes staring up. But there’s a problem.

Every time I unzip myself, I find another way to die. Another thing I have to avoid, if I don’t want to end up still in the drawer in a more permanent fashion. There are whole areas of town I can’t go into, more and more cuisines I can never sample again. I don’t have any hobbies now, or see many people. I stay home a lot, without turning on any electrical equipment.

I’m alive. Every three months, my world shrinks a little, grows a little greyer. But I’m still alive.


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