Carbonized Gray Is the Color of My True Love’s Eyes

By Michael Fowler


LedyX/ Shutterstock


Alma: We do not all die alike. Alfred, who oversees the refrigerated body lockers on the graveyard shift, props open the rear door and tells us deceased ones he’s letting us out this Eve of All Hallows. He’s a fun-loving ghoul, that Alfred, even if he isn’t quite dead yet.

There are some dozen of us in chilled lockers here in the hospital morgue, awaiting final removal to funeral homes and cemeteries across the city, and none of us hesitates. It’s suffocating and freezing in these lockers and we’re all rotting, at least I am. We wriggle free from our plastic body bags and climb down from our cold trays, making sure our hospital gowns are cinched and non-slip socks on snug. We approach the door with what speed we can muster. 

The door is the same one Alfred opened for us when we arrived, dead in a van or truck, and leads to and from the hospital basement. We all line up to go out. Our friendly doorman, after streaking our faces with garish makeup, tells us to have at it, and to bring him back a Snickers bar.     

Alfred also reminds us to be gone no more than an hour or two, or he’ll catch it. It won’t do if a mortuary van arrives in the morning and its intended rider has gone AWOL. To be honest, I don’t plan make it back, or not all of me, but I say nothing to the doorman. 

My progress is slow. I’m already in an advanced state of decomposition owing to old age, and my innards are dropping out. My uterus drags along the warm ground, and a moment ago swept across the cold floor of the morgue. Yet it’s all to the good, all part of my scheme. I stumble forward and taste the evening air on my loose and swollen tongue. I smell it too through my decayed hole of a nose. It’s quite intoxicating.   

There’s a lot of noise and many children are about, most in infernal costumes. Alfred spoke the truth and prepared us well. Our band of corpses in hospital gowns and with colorfully streaked faces disperses into the noisy revelers, who scarcely notice us.  

I recall this holiday, and know it’s for children, not the dead. The tricks and treats of the dead are not child’s play, and a child should beware of begging us for a treat. What a youngster will get from me, and I’m aching to give it to someone, is a trick: a helping of my collapsing and deliquescing body.  

My entrails, liver and kidneys and so forth, though barely the uterus, are still attached to me, you see, though I can’t say why my guts haven’t already been harvested. Likely it has to do with my decrepitude and budding putrescence, rendering my parts undesirable under all imaginable circumstances. Still, I signed on as an organ donor when I was younger, and will keep my end of the bargain.

That of course is a joke. Who wants hunks of an aged hag handed out like holiday treats? But I prefer to dispose of myself in the wild rather than disintegrate in a cold meat locker or cramped coffin. Nor do I intend to become the putrescent object of mourning at some tacky funeral. I don’t like fanfare, not even when I’m dead. So a final stroll outdoors seems to be the order of the day, or festive eve.      

Once on the street I slow my steps and halt. I can’t hold out any longer and must fester. Though no one demands a treat of me, I hack up a mass of tissue right on the sidewalk, in front of disgusted children and alarmed parents, who see the decayed me well enough by the last of the daylight. Likely they think it’s a game, or that I have a bellyache from sweets.   

What  exactly do I heave up? What part of me is my first treat, or trick? I can’t be specific. Some parcel of me, and the corresponding amount of soul the parcel once housed, that’s all I can say. But I think my powers of hearing and speech are the first to go. That would be my choice anyway, as those are the most expendable. I never enjoyed having to listen and having to reply, put it that way. True, I feel less human without those features, but still energetic enough.    

From here on I leave a trail of treats. Starting at the spot in the street near the hospital where I hacked out my speech and hearing–and once more I say good riddance to those burdens–I move toward the rear parking lot of the Tishbein Funeral Home next door, coughing myself up as I go. I hope next to expectorate all my worldly desires, that shouldn’t be hard, and then my sense of honor and dignity, easier still, followed by all the rest of my aptitudes, dreams, reserves of energy, and every residual wad of my putrid flesh. I’m confident I’ll succeed.  

Oops, there goes another treat, right in a reserved parking place with a splat! Who knows what part of me it is, but I didn’t hack it up. Chunks of me are falling out all over now, like my distended uterus is doing, or maybe that’s already gone. I ease their passage by squatting and straining. The few demons and specters nearby ignore my undignified posture. They’re too busy with candy and each other’s mischief to care.  

It feels good to dislodge these treats, whatever they are. I feel smaller as each one departs, less vigorous now too, but good. I calculate that four or five more hacks, or squats and strains, since I’m not sure which way the remaining treats will exit from me, will reduce me to nothing. By then I should reach the not too distant trees at the far edge of the lot.     

My last treat will be my vision. I’m holding onto that as long as I can, along with locomotion. There two are more or less the same for me, or at least conjoined. When they’re gone I’ll be depleted and helpless. May it be soon!

Meanwhile I see someone following along my path, picking up my treats as I inch across the lot toward the trees. What the devil! Yes, an old man, I think he’s old, I think he’s a man, is scraping up all my treats from the lot and holding them to his breast like treasure, his eyes blazing. He must think I laid them there for him! With his face rouged up like mine, and wearing a trim suit, I think blue, rather than a homely hospital gown, he’s done up as a cadaver prepped for burial. Clever costume, like mine! It’s dark now but for the glaring lights of the hospital lot and the yellow moon. The cadaver is close enough that I can’t be mistaken.      

But his eyes! They freeze me to the spot. Like my own they’re a carbonized gray, almost black, and of startling prominence and gleam. Carbonized gray is not a common color for eyes, but I’m certain his eyes have it, despite the artificial light. I was a sign painter in my day, my father a house painter before me, my mother a quilter and my brother an artist. I know my hues. And besides, they perfectly match my own eyes, whose shade I am well acquainted with. 

I confess: I yearn to get away from this fellow and his longing eyes. Is he not batting them at me like an overripe Romeo? His intentions are unmistakable. We ladies sense such importunities into our elder years and beyond. But I am no longer tempted by eyes, or any other part of him. For temptation is love, and love, one disappointment after another for me in my long life, I have already cast out of myself, along with my musical ability and earwax, along with my social anxieties and bum knee, onto the parking lot in accordance with my signed agreement,   ha-ha. It takes me a moment to  break free of his admittedly spellbinding glare, but at last I turn my back on him and bestow my two final treats. Romeo can have them if they’ll do him any good.    

First I slough off my skin like a reptile, leaving a puddle of epidermis at the edge of  the lot by the trees, where I stand at last. With my oddly stretchy hide goes all my remaining hair, my dimples and tattoos too, and I toss in my hospital gown and socks for good measure. I am done with those covers. 

Next go the eyes, but first I turn my head to cast a last glance at him, my too-late Romeo, while I still have orbs to see him. The insatiable goblin is still watching me, but let him please himself.

 I pluck out my eyes, hunching over to help them along. Blinded I feel for the jelly eggs at my feet. I place them in a plastic bag for him, who must want these parts of me also, to add to his collection. I like to be neat and have brought along a number of small clear bags for my messier parts, though I’m sure those are biodegradable. I’m glad I did, otherwise the eyes would be hard to spot, and furthermore dry out as quickly as uprooted mushrooms. They feel small to me now they’re out, much too small, but he’ll find them in the bag I drop. Why I care that he finds them is a mystery I’m working to solve.  

Now skinless and eyeless, limbless too I suppose, I bid farewell to the world, to the hospital morgue and my too-late Romeo in particular. Like a large worm I squirm off into the trees in search of a comfortable hole in the ground. I’ll remain there an hour or so until I too am soil, perhaps in the company of defunct Romeo, should he follow me. Not that it matters if he abandons me, since I’m immune to his spell.  

Later tonight Alfred will discover me missing. Perhaps he’ll come out into the trees to look for me, since I couldn’t have gotten far without catching a bus. But I think no one will look for me, not tonight and not ever. Alfred’s in for it, poor devil. 

But may Romeo find my eyes! I find that my dying wish, or post-mortem wish, is to teach this codger a lesson. I don’t think the plucking harmed my peepers, and anyway they were not so much plucked as excreted as I crouched grunting over the ground, horrible as that sounds. 

So let Romeo gather up my eyes, carbonized gray like his, as he gathered up my other portions, all of them if I’m right, and know that I grant him everything–except love, I’m fresh out of that. He’ll see I add up to nothing without my love to give him. We do not all die alike.   




Emma: We do not all live alike. For me it’s all about romance. Always was. When I was a little girl my heart went pit-a-pat for love, and led me into all kinds of trouble. Once when I was playing doctor with a neighbor kid, my father came into my bedroom, saw what we were about, and punched the boy in the stomach! Good one, Dad!

It’s the same now, even with me lying deceased on a gurney here at Tishbine Funeral Home. I’m getting all dolled up for my funeral that takes place early tomorrow, two flights up from the basement workroom I occupy. I overhear the staff talking and their plans spill into my ears. 

I suffer their hands and close breath upon me also as they stuff me into a blue frock that conceals the twin tumors that sag malignantly from my bosom, put staples in my backside to contain my gelatinous sweetbreads, and paint my face to resemble a blushing bride, or perhaps the Bride of Frankenstein. 

There are other indignities as well, some even more grotesque. I’ll mention only the tight black pumps they shove my feet into, because they hurt. I don’t say a word, of course, though I think I’m able to. I appreciate their efforts to make me look lifelike. Now closing time arrives and everyone but me gets to go home. 

As I lie mum in the darkened workroom, I think what fun a final night on the town would be. I’m dressed to go out, so why not? By the power vested in me by who knows what providence, I lift my carcass from the gurney and, in frock and pumps, sneak out the back door of the basement, leaving it on the latch. I head out looking for love. This is likely my last chance. After tomorrow I’ll need to burrow through coffin walls and then underground to get out, like a mole.

It’s getting late, and the area, mainly residential but with a hospital right down the way from the funeral home, is thronged with children in gruesome garb. At first I think I’ve entered the children’s circle of Hell, if there is such a thing, but then I recall the familiar holiday. In my funereal makeup I blend right in, and my blue frock does little to restrict my tiny steps. Even the never-to-be-worn pumps are tolerable, though they squeak. Naturally the kids have adult overseers, and likely most of those are married or too young for me. But it’s my lucky night and love is in the air. I feel it.    

Already I see a likely gent outside, of vast age or disguised as such, creeping toward the hospital lot that at this hour is almost vacant. It’s hard to see what the old boy’s up to by the moonlight and somewhat distant streetlights, but some well-placed lot lamps help. I admire his hospital-gowned corpse and makeup thickly though carelessly applied. He’s obviously a reveler. But I wonder if he really is a he. Gender doesn’t matter in affairs of the heart, I know, but I call him a he since that brings back fond memories of my long-gone ex. There was a romantic fool.   

Seriously, what’s he up to, this geezer? He is such a tease, tempting me with Halloween treats. He bends over and lays the goodies in my path as I tail along after him in my coquettish way, but otherwise he appears not to notice me: he doesn’t flirt and no compliments are forthcoming on my sexy new frock. Is he shy?

He keeps stooping and coughing and groaning. Afterward he stands and moves on, looking smaller and less lively each time. Where he stoops I find a treat on the ground, oh not wrapped or neatly tied in ribbons, but a few in clear plastic bags, as if for safe storage. He’s on the make and how, if I understand his method, though he says not a word. 

He must know I’m on his trail, and that I’m grabbing up his treats as he lures me with them toward the trees at the rear of the parking lot. He’s crafty, no doubt of it, and cocksure, not bothering to turn and look at me, the fish on his line. Yet after I gather up four or five of his treats I notice something: he’s half the man he was when I first caught sight of him five minutes ago. After lightening his load so many times he’s shrunken to boy-size! 

And what are his treats? I can’t make them out, not in this poor light or by touch. Whatever they are, they don’t seem to be candy, so maybe I should call them gifts. But I’ll stick to treats, in honor of the holiday. 

I go on treading in his footsteps as he heads for the trees, slowly gaining on him. I call out to him too, nothing bawdy, but to let him know he’s made a conquest, and to thank him for the treats. That’s the least I can do until I catch up to him, perhaps in the trees, and take him in my arms with reckless abandon, the tempting rascal! 

But my lips, dried out and stiff, emit no sound. I fear I’ve become a mask. Our kisses will be on the dry side I’m afraid, but I grow closer still.  

I can almost touch him now, and he’s at it again, coughing and hunching over, right where the trees begin. He drops a treat, this one sizeable, and his body shrinks to near nothing, a frail shadow. What’s left of him turns at last to see if I notice. 

Ah, his eyes, startling in the lot lamps! I swear they’re carbonized gray, like mine. Maybe it’s a trick of the artificial light, but I’m too close to be deceived. I know my hues. I was a dressmaker in my day, my father a ship painter, my mother an artist, and my granddaughter is a graphic designer. No doubt of it, carbonized gray is the color of my true love’s eyes. Tonight’s true love, I mean. 

He looks away and bowing his head inserts another something into a plastic bag, dropping that also. As I reach for him I hear a swish in the dark thicket before me, and glimpse a writhing form like a great long snake, then nothing more. 

He’s gone, vanished before I could caress him and press against him my tumors now swollen with anticipation! I wait a moment but he doesn’t return. Bending over I retrieve the latest pair of treats, the big one and the bagged one, from the blackness beneath a massive tree. 

I have to give him up. With nowhere else to turn to, I go back. Unlike my love, I can’t live in the brush like an animal, and anyway my strength is fading. Time to call it a night. I can always touch myself on my gurney, or better yet, in my coffin tomorrow. I’ve heard it’s plush and cozy, and perhaps it’s also a chamber of passion.                   

 My arms laden with treats, I retrace my steps. The pockets of my blue frock are sewn shut and can accommodate nothing, so everything is haphazardly balanced. A young witch, suddenly appearing at my side, steals one of my treats without so much as a by-your-leave, almost causing me to dump the lot at my feet.

 “Begone, hag!” I hiss at her, or would if I had speech. I don’t know what she grabs, without even leaving me a Mars bar in return. I haven’t had a moment to catalog the loot, though I know she doesn’t get either of the last two, the big one or the bagged one. Wicked little imp! 

I creep back into Tishbein’s basement without further mishap. The holiday is ending now and the monsters are thinning out. Surprised at my strength, I bypass the workroom where my gurney lies and take the steps two at a time to the large visitation room two floors up. Here my empty coffin and a cluster of vacant pews await my burial rites. 

I feel unaccountably chipper. That’s what love does to you, even if unconsummated. You hear birdies and feel butterflies and find a spring in your step. Yet I’m feeling too rejuvenated for it to be only that. Something else is happening. 

I switch on a pale overhead light, knowing no one can see the glow within the secluded and windowless room. I spread out my loot in my coffin, a comfy one indeed. If the stuff is good, I’ll tuck it away in this fine box and be buried with it. Everlasting reminders of my final love!  

It’s an odd assortment, I must say. Is my love a madman, a practical joker? The items suggest the remnants of a man, perhaps an artificial man, or maybe they’re cheap novelties. There is a damp hospital gown and a muddy pair of socks. There is an assemblage of gears of polished bone, forming an intricate machine of some kind. A handful of soda straws, but of unusual length. A plastic bottle of reddish-green liquid. An empty wallet, that on second glance looks like two dried lips sewn together, this in a clear plastic bag. An odd fruit, highly segmented with small seeds spilling out, also in a plastic bag but still giving off a vile odor. The largest is a puddle of pink plastic, like a deflated balloon, with three pinched spots resembling the nose and two ears of a flattened face. Finally, again in a plastic bag, two fragments of broken glass colored carbonized gray. His eyes, can these be his eyes? He wanted me to have them anyway, I’m certain of that. What to do with so many odds and ends? 

There’s a power in his treats, and I get stronger as my fingers caress them. I climb into the coffin and rub myself all over with them, first removing my blue frock. With a whoosh! the pink puddle draped over my naked body inflates. My arms and legs expand and waft me outside. 

My love gives me this wonderful power. He shrinks to earth like a beast, and I tower in the air like a parade float. Training my carbonized gray eyes like two huge beacons, I move down the dark street, a giantess looking for love. We do not all live alike.    




 About the author: Michael Fowler is a former humor writer walking a new road     



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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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