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Over a Casket
by Joy Zeigler

White-faced, she followed them into the room with the body. Again she tried to brace herself for the sight she was about to face. She squinted against the fluorescent glare off the grey and white walls and tried to bring the grey metal box into focus. Long, cold-looking, it rested on a steel cart in the middle of the room. Even Jim’s dead body would rebel against being laid out in such an ugly impersonal box.

“We’re sure it’s him,” the fat cop repeated. “We just need your verification and we can drop the case.”

How could it be true—Jim, done in by two-bit hoods? No way. He was too good.

Still, she had a bad feeling. They said they had proof.

Her flesh crawled when the short, fat man with tobacco-stained teeth came into the room, grabbed her arm and led her to the box. She looked down into it, watching him peripherally as he reached for the white sheet, and noticed the tip of a finger poking out from side of the sheet.

They’re not so efficient, she thought as the room spun around her.

An unspeakably bitter odor spurred her to consciousness. The stained teeth man held a pungent little bottle under her nose. She tried to push it away, but couldn’t move. She needed air. The room seemed clouded, but she knew it was her own dizziness. She felt too heavy to sit up. Her eyelids were like lead and she let them close.

Someone said her name. It wasn’t Jim, his voice was deeper. The pungent odor tore at her nostrils again. Her eyelids flew open, and it all came back to her, where she was and why. She was at the mortuary to see Jim, dead Jim.

It wouldn’t really be him, just his body. She’d seen dead bodies before, lots of times. Slowly she stood, feeling the blood drain from her head. Someone suggested she leave, said they could find another person to identify the body.
No, she said. She’d do it. She had to see for herself.

She pulled away from the men who’d gathered around her and stumbled to the box. Before anyone else could get there, she jerked back the sheet.

It wasn’t Jim. She'd known it! He was too good to get his goose cooked by a couple of lousy thugs.

Relief filled her eyes with tears and she turned to the stained-teeth detective.

“It’s him,” she whispered. “It’s Jim.” Sobbing, she ran from the room. Would he believe her? She could only hope.

Joy Zeigler lives in The Woodlands, Texas with her husband, daughter and cat. She teaches math at Lonestar Community College, and is currently revising a mystery novel.