By Caitlin McGill
Cut the cobbler into exactly twelve slices. Measure a sheet of aluminum foil. Sixteen inches wide. Cover. Seal it tight as you do coffin lids. You know when people accidentally see inside they hanker for more, crave another peek. Don’t make that mistake again. Remember: your meticulousness is why they say you’re the best. Don’t lick the caramelized sugar off your fingers, either. You don’t even like cherries. Plus, you’ve only washed your hands twice since the last client.
Count your steps as you walk—one, two, three four five—down to the basement where Mickey lies. Tell yourself six days isn’t so long. You’ve stored them for weeks before, especially for non-religious kin. They’re never in a rush. This time, for triple pay, you agreed to keep the body off the books. You let Mickey’s wife keep her secret but wonder why she told you so much, why she told you Mickey’s favorite was cherry and that the last thing he did on this earth was pull a fresh cobbler from the oven, red oozing over the crust. You wonder why she trusts you. It’s making you anxious. But when aren’t you? Inspect the body again. Ensure the powder hasn’t caked onto his hardened skin. Ensure the lips are that perfect shade of alive that wins you compliments—and clients. Don’t fret about the skin blistering yet. You’ve got at least three more days, but the smell—that’s becoming a problem. Worry your grey split-ends in your naked, bony fingers. Button his slate dress shirt up to his neck, to cover the gash. The casket she chose reminds you of the snake-bark maples in your backyard. Run back upstairs and spot them outside, scratching the ashy fall sky with their purple-red branches, bark covered in silver, sinuous veins. Count. Seven. Same as when you checked two hours ago.
The doorbell sounds. Pull your apron over your head and leave the mixing bowls in the sink despite the anxiety this causes you. She’s early. You’ve never understood why people don’t care for precision like you do. How lovely to see you, Mrs. Donovan. Please—come in. Lead her to the kitchen where you reveal your thoughtful surprise. Peel foil from the tin and claim two pieces. Seal it tight. Don’t forget the forks. Take three steps to the right so you can’t feel her breath on your neck anymore. Thank yourself for using the knife before she arrived. Take her down to see Mickey again—you’re especially proud of your work this time. Let her stare. Let her try to exonerate herself—why couldn’t he remember I hate cherries? Why couldn’t he ever remember anything about me at all? Say you’ve never liked cherries much either—never liked people much for that matter. Assure her you understand until she insists you eat, in his honor. Feel the fork slice through cherry. Open wide.
– Caitlin McGill is the 2014 winner of the Rafael Torch Nonfiction Literary Award, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Digital Americana, Solstice, The Southeast Review, Short, Fast, & Deadly, Sphere International, Spry Literary Journal, and several other magazines. She is also a writing instructor at Emerson College, where her students continually remind her of the power of language. Currently, she is completing a collection of essays that explores identity, race, class, addiction, war, empathy, and the destruction that results from ignoring those very issues.