The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried(4)

“I thought they said you where marrying Thea?”

“Those were the old invitations.”

“Thea’s going to be disappointed.”

“She’ll move on.” Dee glances at the time on the microwave. “And I should be doing the same. Can’t show up to dinner smelling like corpses.”

I fidget with my thumbs. “How do you know you’re in love with Theo?”

Delilah freezes for a moment, narrows her eyes. “Is this about Rafi? Are you in love with him?”

I shake my head. “Just curious.”

She relaxes, but there’s a second where I think she’s not going to answer. It was a stupid question anyway. But then she says, “You know how I used to keep that map on my wall with the thumbtacks in each place I wanted to visit?”


“When I couldn’t sleep, I’d stare at the map and imagine the adventures I’d go on. Backpacking through Bangkok, watching the stars from Iceland, eating noodles in Shanghai. But in those fantasies, I was alone.”

“That’s because you didn’t have any friends.”

Delilah slaps my arm. “I had friends!”

“Dad doesn’t count.”

“Jerk.” Dee shakes her head at me. “Anyway. Theo and I had been dating for a couple of years, and I was in bed and couldn’t sleep, so I started thinking about that map and the places I wanted to go. Only, this time I wasn’t alone on my journeys. Theo was with me. He’d slipped into my life, and now I can’t imagine my life without him.”

“Gross.” I mime puking onto the floor and even make the gagging sounds to go with it.

Delilah stands for real this time. “Love’s only gross when you’re not in it.”


PEOPLE, LIKE CATS, ARE OBSESSED with boxes. Cats are content to squeeze their own furry asses into boxes clearly too small for them, whereas humans take sadistic pleasure in trying to shove one another into boxes. Slut boxes and Bitch boxes and Nerd boxes and Thug boxes. “He was such a nice” white boys often get to pick their own luxury boxes, unless they don’t fit sexuality or gender norms, in which case they’re crammed into Fag boxes and tossed out with the Trash boxes.

We claim this type of forced categorization provides us the ability to define our place in the world, and that, paradoxically, it’s what’s on the inside that truly counts. But once we stuff someone into a box, what’s on the inside no longer matters. The boxes that are supposed to help us understand one another ultimately wedge us further apart. Even worse is that we rage against the artificial divisions the boxes create, claim that we’re more complex and complicated than how we’re defined by others, and then turn around and stuff the next person we meet into one and tape the lid shut.

And then, as if the indignity of life isn’t enough, when a person dies, we cram what’s left of them into one final box for eternity.

I thought I knew everything there was to know about July Cooper and that she’d known all there was to know about me. We’d spent more than half of our seventeen years on earth together, spreading the contents of who we were across Palm Shores, marveling at the complexities of one another. Then in one moment, I swept her up, crammed her into a box, closed it, and wrote “Ex–Best Friend” on the outside. And she did the same to me.

But boxes are meant to be unpacked. They’re not intended to be filled and shut and stuffed into a dark corner to rot. If someone had asked me a month ago how I felt about July Cooper, I would have told them I didn’t care, but now that she’s gone, I want to unpack her. To unpack us and the myriad crap we stuffed into each other’s boxes. I can’t, though, and that’s my fault. But I can see her one last time.

As soon as Mom and Dad and Dee leave to meet the Kangs for dinner, I walk across the lawn to the office and let myself into the prep room. I never go through the showroom unless I have no other choice.

Most people believe the preparation room is the creepiest part of a mortuary. The process of embalming bodies and readying them for burial sounds ghoulish to them, but that aspect of the business doesn’t bother me. What I find grotesque is how people empty their wallets for caskets they’re going to spend a couple hours looking at before burying them in the ground. It’s not like they’re burying fine art that’s going to appreciate in value over time and that they can exhume in twenty years. They’d be better off digging a hole, throwing stacks of cash inside, and burying that instead.

The prep room is stainless steel and impeccably clean, which makes sense seeing as Dee was the last person to leave; her nightly cleaning ritual borders on obsessive. Two large sinks dominate one wall, with metal embalming tables at the stations, empty but ready for use; the other wall is covered with cabinets containing chemicals and tools of the trade; a small desk sits in the corner; and a large freezer takes up most of the space on the far side of the room. All of it lit by bright halogen bulbs instead of those flickering fluorescents that make even the living look dead.

See? Nothing creepy about the prep room, and it’s cleaner than most restaurant kitchens.

I open the freezer door. There are two bodies inside.

The meatsicle on the first gurney belongs to Mr. Alire. He died of a heart attack at the age of ninety-four, leaving behind his wife, three children, and seven grandchildren. I learned from his obituary that he served in World War II and then in the Korean War in counterintelligence. After leaving the military, he traveled the world as a photographer, went to college, invented some type of light sensor for cameras that made him rich, and eventually retired to Palm Shores to spend his twilight years in “paradise.”

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