Rigor Vitae//Callie Zucker


I.

 

 

Dr. Andreas Caraway does not keep his skeletons in the closet, but in glass cases in the hallways. The body is not a temple, Caraway tells me, the body is god itself. Apparently, there is only one way to skin a cat correctly—a dorsal cut. I accept his offer to show me. He speaks about it like he would a lover, lonely hunger in his eyes and lips wet. While he makes incisions I watch him, long white fingers gripping the blade. He tells me his house has nearly one thousand creatures (always creatures, he calls them). He’s saved them for years, lining his halls. It’s not for the money, he reminds me when I ask how many visitors he receives annually. This is not the Mütter, he spits. My first night there he makes an olive socca and opens a bottle of Chardonnay. He pours me a glass and makes a toast; “To life!” he boasts, in his domicile of death, his house of god.

 

 

II.

 

 

The top shelf in the room Caraway allowed me to sleep in held bisected hearts. The middle shelf, lungs. The bottom shelf held a hand with four fingers, each nail grown out posthumously. He told me he had inherited many of the specimens, purchased some, and naturally made many himself. He’d followed his father into anatomy, who was the creator of the waxen men in the room next to mine. He allowed me to interview him at dusk and dawn, joking drily that he has always been a crepuscular man. These twilight hours were never satisfying for me, his reluctance to speak painted clearly on his face. He mostly told me about the body, looking at mine like a wet specimen itself. Formalin alone is too acidic to keep bodies in indefinitely, he offered this morning. When I turned around to ask him more, he left the room.

 

 

III.

 

 

I found a letter in Caraway’s office, to a man named Camilo. When I asked about any great loves in his life, Caraway told me he had never been in love with anything other than the the sinews and tangles of bodies. In the letter he wrote “Watching you I understand why Michelangelo made men of marble, for your skin is so smooth that your face in repose could be nothing but sculpture.” I find it hard to believe a man so in love with the body couldn’t also enamor himself of all it contains.

 

 

IV.

 

 

Homo sapiens

Caraway offers to give me a tour of the lepidopterist’s room. He begins his oration at sunrise, so when the light pours in through the tower window the butterflies seem to be jewels more than insects.

 

Phymatopus hecta

The mating rituals of the gold swift moth are almost as complex as man’s—maybe it is for this reason he refers to the courtship as ‘making love.’ I heard him cry last night for nearly an hour.

 

Leucoma salicis

In Ireland it was once outlawed to kill a white moth, as they were believed to be the souls of dead children. These glass cases made strange caskets for the twice-dead Irish youth.

 

Morpho menelaus

Morpho’s iridescence is a trick of the light, they move sluggishly and are easy to trap. Caraway tells me this makes sense to him, that beauty is a lie that kills.

 

 

V.

 

 

A quick transcript of what I can jot down from Caraway’s midnight speech, what he muttered to himself after hours of crying he thought I could not hear:

 

By god, I’ve got to hold on to—It’s leaving me more each day, the way your hair had hints of red… (footsteps, footsteps) I wish I could see you now, your pale feet running hands holding up your cuffs to keep them away from the water. (footsteps, footsteps) Did you know I keep three strands of your hair in a matchbox by the bed? I know you know, you’re here, I know, but… (footsteps, footsteps) I’ve got to hold onto the memory, hold onto, but well, my dear, rigor mortis makes for a hard hand to hold onto.

 

I look to the hearts lining the wall.

Callie Zucker is an emerging writer currently pursuing a Creative Writing major at Colorado College. She splits her time between Colorado and California. Her work can be seen in december magazine, longlong journal and is forthcoming in Barnhouse Journal. You can see all her irrelevant opinions at her Twitter, @eggshellfriend.