The mice are splayed open, cut from neck to anus and pinned by their hands and feet to chipboard mounts. The lab is empty of students. I saw them carry out their task, I watched them cutting and slicing, plucking and pinning. I saw them wash their hands and leave. Now it’s just me, Mrs Green and twelve dissected mice with their innards on the outside.
“What shall we do with the bodies, Mrs Green?”
Mrs Green removes her lab coat and runs her hands over her hair, pressing stray tendrils back in her grey bun.
“What shall we do with the bodies, Dr Green?”
Dr Green turns off the projector in the middle of the room and stares at me from over her half-moon specs.
“We? I thought you’d worked in a University lab before, John?”
“Yeah,” I say.
It’s true, I did work in a University lab, a chemistry lab. I can tell you how long you need to keep the windows open to get rid of the smell of sulphur dioxide, I can tell you how to correctly dispose of silicate crystals. I also know how to doctor my CV to get an interview, I know how to blag. Not well enough to get a job in a coroner’s office or crematorium admittedly, but well enough for this. They don’t advertise this kind of job very often so I had to wait. I had to wait for a very long time.
“So you’ll know what to do with the bodies then? Malcolm showed you the furnace in the basement I assume?”
I nod. I’ve seen the furnace. I’d never seen one before.
“Righto,” I say. “I’ll take the mice to the furnace then.”
Dr Green slides the sheet of acetate off the projector and walks out of the room. I stare at the mice lined up on the bench in front of me. Am I supposed to stack them one on top of another and carry them, waiter-like, down to the basement? Should I unpin them and put them in a box, their innards twisted and touching like twelve umbilically joined siblings? Is that the way to treat the dissected dead?
I pick up one of mouse boards and examine the mouse more carefully. It’s eyes are closed, it’s little furry head tipped back as if it’s straining to avoid looking at the carnage that is its body. I’m no veterinary student but I can definitely make out the little heart, the little liver and the knotted intestines. Some of the mice have organs missing. Tiny, plump hearts and miniscule kidneys lie on the edges of the boards. They were plucked out, weighed and discarded. I never knew what happened to them, those post-autopsy discarded body parts, those bits of mother I never saw but the other boys told me about in the street outside my house.
“Heard they found your mum’s body in the bushes in the park,” said a third form boy. “Sorry about that.”
“Have you had the funeral yet?” asked another.
“No,” I said. “I don’t know where she is. I haven’t seen her.”
“Probably having an autopsy.”
“You don’t want to know.”
“No you don’t.”
A thump to the jaw knocked it out of him.
“They cut her open and take all her body organs out to look at and weigh. To see how she died.”
Those discarded body parts – turns out they’re burnt, they disappear too.
I decide not to disturb the mouse from it slab, its final resting place. I carry it down to the basement, my head slightly bowed. When a student stops me to ask me a question I ignore her and keep my silence, it’s only right. I place the mouse on the table in the furnace room and climb the stairs again. After eleven more trips up and down the stairs I assemble all the mice on the table. The furnace instructions are held in a clipboard, hung on the wall. I unhook it and start to read. I want to know how quickly the mice will burn. I want to know about the ashes and how much is just dirt.
I use the metal hook and open the door to the furnace. The heat makes me jump back. I carefully unpin one of the mice from its board. It’s half empty body nestles in my hand and its entrails tickle my wrist. I stare into the flames.
It doesn’t seem right. I doesn’t seem right to just throw the empty mouse into the flames with its stomach hanging out. It doesn’t seem right for it to just disappear in sudden puff of smoke. It doesn’t seem right to throw ashes towards the roots of a cherry tree in the garden and watch them rise up on the wind and disappear into the air.
I take off my lab coat and place the mouse in the middle. I fold the coat over and place another mouse on the cloth. I keep folding, keep concertinaing the mice and the cloth until they are shrouded together and I tuck in the edges. I carefully carry my bundle out of the furnace room and slip out of the basement back door.
Mother’s sewing box is still in the spare room, under a pile of father’s old clothes. Her shoe boxes are in the closet, I can find somewhere else for her shoes. There’s a spade in the shed. I can see the cherry tree from the kitchen window, there’s a big patch of unplanted soil at its roots. I’ll sew them and bury them. I’ll be able to look out at the cherry tree and know that the twelve little mice bodies are definitely there.
(published by WordRiot in May 2007)
(c) CL Taylor 2007