I suddenly realized that if I want feedback on the WIP’s first chapter, I’d better toss it out QUICK! So here it is . . . . and what do you think? Would you keep reading?
The aortic arch, I’ve convinced myself, resembles the squealing monster that exploded out of a man’s chest in the first Alien movie. The brachiocephalic veins look more like an upside down cypress tree.
I grimace at the color photograph in my anatomy textbook, then close my eyes and try to commit the multi-syllable words to memory. Here I am, near the end of my first semester of mortuary school, and I’m still having trouble keeping my veins and arteries straight.
Behind me, an irate mother in the carpool line is honking, though we have a good three minutes before kindergarten dismissal. She probably has to pick up her child and get back to work before the end of her lunch hour. While I sympathize with her impatience, I wish she’d lay off the horn so I can concentrate.
I open one eye and peer at the book propped on my steering wheel. The right internal jugular branches off the right and left brachiocephalic veins, which lie outside the brachiocephalic trunk. Bra-chio-ceph-alic . . . sounds like some kind of dinosaur. Bugs would like that word.
I turn the book sideways, but the photograph on the page looks nothing like a prehistoric animal. I find it hard to believe, in fact, that anything like this jumble of tunnels and tubes exists in my body, but skin covers myriad mysteries . . .
I snap the book shut as the bell at Round Lake Elementary trills through the warm morning. The kindergarten classes troop out into the sunshine, their hands filled with lunch boxes and construction paper cutouts. The tired teachers stride to the curb and peer into various vehicles, then motion the appropriate children forward.
My spirits lift when my red-haired cherub catches my eye and waves. My son, Bradley “Bugs” Graham, waits until his teacher calls his name, then he skips toward me.
“Hey, Mom.” He climbs into the back seat of the van as his teacher holds the door.
“Hey yourself, kiddo.” I check to make sure he’s snapped his seatbelt, then smile my thanks at his teacher. “Did you have a good morning?”
“Yep.” He leans forward to peek into the front seat. “Do we hafta go home, or can we stop to get a snack?”
My thoughts veer toward the to-do list riding shotgun in the front passenger seat. I still have to run to the grocery store, swing by the dry cleaner’s to pick up Gerald’s suit, and stop to see if the bookstore has found a used copy of Introduction to Infectious Diseases, Second Edition. Textbooks are usually pricey, but medical textbooks ought to come with fixed-rate mortgages. Still, I need to find that book if I’m going to complete my online course by the end of the semester.
“I’ll pull into a drive-through,” I tell Bugs, knowing he won’t mind. “You want McDonalds?”
He nods, so I point the car toward Highway 441.
“Mr. Gerald make any pickups today?” Bugs asks.
I ease onto the highway, amazed at how easily my children have accepted the ongoing work of the funeral home. “None today.”
I glance in the rear view mirror and see Bugs waving his construction paper creation. “Yes.”
“It’s a stegosaurus. Can I give it to Gerald?”
“I think he’d like that.”
I force a smile as an unexpected wave of grief rises within me. Like a troublesome relative who doesn’t realize she’s worn out her welcome, sorrow often catches me by surprise. Gerald, the elderly embalmer at Fairlawn, has become a surrogate father for my sons. Thomas, my ex-husband and my children’s father, has been gone for three months, but in some ways he’s never been closer. He lies in the Pine Forest Cemetery, less than a mile from our house, so we can’t help but think of him every time we drive by.
I get Bugs a vanilla ice cream cone at the McDonald’s drive-through, then we run to the grocery and the dry cleaner. I’ll call the book store later; no sense in going downtown when a simple phone call will suffice.
Finally we turn into the long driveway that leads to the Fairlawn Funeral home, where we’ve lived for the past five months. Gerald has poured a new concrete pad next to the garage, and as I park on it, Bugs notices that the call car is gone.
“Uh oh.” He looks at me. “Somebody bit the dust.”
I press my lips together. A couple of months ago I would have mumbled something about the old station wagon needing a wash, but now I know there’s no reason to shield my children from the truth—we are in the death care industry. The squeamishness I felt when we first arrived vanished the day I walked into the prep room and gloved up to help Gerald lay out my ex-husband.
“Come on in the house,” I tell my son. “I’ll pour you a glass of milk.”