Everybody Has Everything - By Katrina Onstad


In the end it took Ana and James only an hour to become parents.

James arrived first, stumbling toward a police officer sitting on a chair by a door marked Morgue. He felt his eyes ballooning, growing too big for his face. He tried, but could not blink. You are awake, he thought. This is happening.

“My name is James Ridgemore,” he said to the policeman, who stood up quickly, as if caught in the act. James noticed he was short, or shorter than James. “My name is James Ridgemore.”

“Just a moment,” and the policeman went into the room, leaving James in an empty hallway, sniffing at alcohol and something he couldn’t identify: fire? Burning hair? It was freezing down here, devoid of heat. The second finger on his left hand turned white at the tip.

The policeman reappeared, holding open the door. When James entered, the contents of the room dropped away. All that was left was a body covered with a sheet hovering in bottomless space. But in fact, the tray jutted out of the wall. A matchbox sleeve. James could not tell if the thing upon it was male or female. Other people were there (he would remember that: the chatter, the grocery store dullness of all crowds), uttering words from television shows about coroners and death reports. No voices were lowered.

A woman pulled back the sheet. She wore clear rubber gloves that left her wedding band visible.

James looked down and recognized Marcus, the check-mark scar beneath his bottom lip. His black hair was matted with tar. Why would that be? Why tar on his face? Who closed his eyes? James ran rapid-fire through questions, but silently, his mouth too dry to speak. Why does he look so different? Can it be only the difference between the living and the dead?

Then he realized that the difference, the strangeness, came down to something simple: Marcus was almost always smiling. James had never seen his lips so straight. There was no peace about him, no angel in repose, no release, no calm. He looked agitated, unsettled, as if he’d just been annoyed by a telemarketer.

“Yes, it’s him,” said James, though no one had asked a question. His legs felt hollow, swirling with smoke. But he did not feel ill. He was not repulsed, or disgusted. He did not find it hard to look upon the body. Then the tray slid back into its cabinet, and was sealed with a heavy handle.

The woman in the rubber gloves smiled at him ruefully. Well-worn, this smile, thought James.

On his way upstairs in the elevator, she stayed with him. She had removed her gloves, stared straight ahead. She was tiny. Everyone seemed small that day.

“You have a strange job,” James told her. She pecked a nod. “You’re so little. How do you lift the bodies? Is it hard?”

Then there was a roaring in his ears, the sound of steel twisting, a train exploding off its rails. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, heard a stream of sound pour forth from the tiny woman’s mouth, but he was unable to distinguish one word from the next.

The elevator stopped and the woman put her hand under his elbow. She guided him out on his empty legs, past green walls, his feet on different-coloured footprints stencilled on the floor. She appeared to be following the line of purple footprints, and so James did too, pulled along as if riding a skateboard, past elevators, around corners. At first there were a few patients walking here and there. Someone with his papery ass hanging out in the open air, pushing an IV. But as the other coloured footprints disappeared, the corridors grew quieter, more deserted. Though he knew it already, James was reminded that what was coming next was serious; not as serious as the basement, as Marcus frozen in a drawer, but serious.

At Room 5117, they stopped before a closed door. The woman propped James up against the wall and entered the room alone, a bellhop doing one last pass before opening the door to a guest. When the door opened for him at last, James saw a body on the bed; it was cleaner than Marcus, its face bloated, the head held to the body by a large collar. Tubes snaked from the fingers and white bandages soaked with deep brown circles covered the head. A plastic hose hung from the open mouth like something being expelled. Her eyes were closed, but the