Nothing and Everything
by Shannon Blackburn
I lied when he asked me if I had ever worked in a morgue. It slid off my tongue like honey, and he willingly licked it up as his eyes slid up and down the length of me. He asked me where I had worked before, so I slowly uncrossed my legs to keep him distracted and mumbled something about having worked in the next county over. It seemed sufficient, and he didn’t ask again.
And how did that make you feel?
Powerful, but also bored. I’ve seen his type before, so easily distracted and pliable like Play-Doh. That’s all he was to me, a big lump of Play-Doh that I could mold into whatever I wanted, or squash, if I felt so inclined.
Did you want to squash him?
Not yet, I needed him. I needed the job at the morgue, and he was my way in. He reminded me of the priest that confirmed me when I was seven. Not in his attitude, but something in his eyes, the way they crinkled in the corners, the wrinkles not yet fully formed, but the first signs peeking through, and in the way his fingers never rested. He fiddled with a pen, Father Connor’s his rosary beads, his collar, his glasses. Never still. I wonder if his mind was like that, always roaming around from one sinful soul to another.
Do you still go to church?
Did you have close relationship with Father Connor?
Tell me about your confirmation.
There were 15 of us. All lined up like a pathetic sinless offering, but I knew we were sinful, even then. And to prove it, Christopher let out a squeaky fart that echoed through the church with our laughter. I wondered if it would reach heaven just like the incense during mass. Sister Mary shot us a menacing look that cut through our laughter even though we still convulsed with trying to hold it in, like a worm whose pieces still wiggle after it’s been bisected. After that it was all pretty standard. Father Connor confirmed us, and I continued going to mass until I was seventeen.
Why did you stop?
I went to confession, and I didn’t feel cleansed. I told Father Connor all about the trysts I’d had in various pickup trucks, the steamy windows and furtive gropings. We were in his office; I always gave confession in his office. I never wanted the anonymity of the confessional box, the dark hole that made it feel okay to whisper all your darkest deeds. I wanted bright lights and awkwardness. I wanted to see his face as I confessed.
To see his reaction, to witness his discomfort. I wanted to see if I could put a crack in this pillar of God. I imagined it started at his forehead, the left side where the first gray hairs began and then it worked its way down his sharp nose, to the right of his mouth, and through the sharp stubble on his chin. Every time I went to confession the crack got deeper and deeper until finally it split him in two, and that’s when I knew he was only human just like me.
Why did he split in two?
His discomfort at my confessions was palpable. I got to him. My sin bothered him. It leaked out of me and onto him, but he couldn’t handle it, so he split and I was left unclean. I stopped going. I didn’t see the point in continuing the charade, and I’m sure he was relieved to be rid of me.
What made you apply for the job at the morgue?
To see if you could fake it? Deceive Mr. Play-Doh Man?
No, that was easy, I knew it would be. I wanted to see a dead body.
And did you?
What was it like?
It was a man in his fifties, died of a heart attack. His body was limp, long past the stages of rigor mortis, and it felt empty, the whole room felt empty. He was a shell lying there on the table, there was nothing to him. I remember thinking how still he was. People are rarely still, even when they’re sleeping, there’s always something moving, even if it’s just the lungs filling with air. It’s unsettling to be around someone so still. I reached out and touched his hand. My fingers traced a path along the roughness of his cold palm. I stood above him, and my eyes searched out every inch of him, just like my new boss had done to me.
And how did that make you feel?
I felt nothing and everything all at once.
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Shannon Blackburn has a BA in English/Creative Writing and loves to write fiction and poetry. She is married, has three kids, and the world’s greatest cat.
4 thoughts on “Nothing and Everything”
Chilling. Unusual format, one that stirs imagination. Kudos.
I agree with AGBurstein. I was fascinated.
I’ve been trying to think of nothing and everything all at once. I didn’t succeed.
Captured everything I wanted in a short story. Even nothing.