Graveyard Shift Excerpt

I move bodies for a living. I slip out of my house at eleven forty-five p.m., Monday through Friday, and walk three blocks to the Goose Creek County Morgue, where I arrive exactly three minutes before midnight, sign my name on the employee log sheet, and wait for them to call my name. 

Every night I hope they don’t. Every night they do. 

Every night, I get into a van with Jackson Keys—my nearly silent coworker—and drive around Goose Creek to pick up a body. I don’t think any more about how at some point these bodies were once living, breathing, walking. Jackson told me my first day on the job that making connections is the worst thing you can do when working around death. 

The first body I move is Martha Shaw, the fifty-year-old woman who once lived three blocks from my apartment. She has a heart attack in the middle of night. They say she dies peacefully. But I almost break my back helping Jackson carry her down the narrow stairs of her home and onto the gurney; I first try lifting her from her midsection while Jackson lifts her feet. I learned my lesson. Now I carry them by the foot, and Jackson from the top. It makes sense; the lower half of a dead body isn’t as heavy.

We drive them to the city morgue and hand them over to the coroner. We don’t ask what he will do to them. 

The van door shuts loudly behind me, and I pull my hood over my head to keep my hair from getting soaked in the rain. Pointless. The storm still pours, water still drips down my forehead, hangs on my nose, and then falls. My jeans cling to my skin. So does my sweater. 

I don’t like it when we pick up bodies in the rain. We slip and slide in the mud, and sometimes they almost fall off the gurney. Sometimes they do fall, and we end up muddying ourselves andthe body getting it back on. The coroner says nothing to us every time he sees our state.

Across the street from the house is an ambulance. It will leave soon after the response team sees us. I walk to the back of the van, pull my medical mask up to my nose, and yank the door open. I only look at the gurney, not the dirty yellow gloves or the rusted walls, bloodstained towels, dirty clothes. I stumble back a little, pulling the gurney from the van, and Jackson appears beside me, helping. We say nothing to each other. I close the van door, and he wheels the gurney towards the house.

The lights are on—at least on the bottom floor. Two more lights pop on from the second floor, and the door to the house swings open before Jackson and I even reach the steps. The woman in the doorway looks past Jackson and straight at me. I don’t know her. She does not know me. But the thoughts are the same: I should not be here. This is not a job for a person like me. I am a woman. She is right, but not for the reasons she believes.

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