Debitum Naturae — "He found the corpse under a blanket".
He found the corpse under a blanket. It was his mother. It was huddled up under its bedclothes, soaked in its own urine, its gnarled hand curled around a trashy romance novel. The corpse was curled up in the bed, foetal position. His fingers rasped gently down its paper-like cheek. He wondered why it was that corpses’ skins felt like paper. Before the corpse had emerged out of the chrysalis of the frail old woman, his mother had always had soft, smooth skin. His cheek was soft; he could feel it even through the stubble.
He looked down at his feet and up at the bed; he realised he had fallen away from the touch of skin on skin and was crouched against the cheap chipboard wardrobe. He turned dully, staring in a blind haze as the ancient telephone rang and rattled on the tabletop. He took it off the hook and left it lying, and stared with a bittersweet intensity at the numbers on the little dial. His mobile started vibrating gently against his thigh and he reached inside his pocket to switch it off.
Turning slowly, he walked over to the bed and stripped the blankets back from underneath the corpse’s armpits, before walking out of the little bedroom and down the hallway into the bathroom. He put the plug into the bath and turned the cold tap on full blast, knowing that using a hot bath on a corpse would be foolish. He didn’t want it to start decomposing yet.
He went back to the bedroom that had the corpse in it. Taking the clothes off in the conventional manner would be difficult now that rigor mortis had set in, so he found some scissors and cut clean lines up from ankle to neck. He gathered up the damp strips of cloth and dumped them in the wastepaper basket before leaning over and reaching out to lift the stiff bundle of bones into his arms.
As he trudged back to the bathroom he could hear the water nearly reaching the rim of the bath. Quickly stepping into the room, he placed the corpse down on the bathmat and gave the tap a couple of clumsy twists, before dipping his hand into the chilly water and letting some of the excess water out.
Once the water had drained, he lifted the corpse again and, with some awkwardness, he lowered it into the bath. The corpse bobbed gently on the disturbed water, bumping softly against the sides, its ratty grey hair fanning out behind it. Watching it, he reached into his pocket, switched his phone on, and dialled. The corpse floated.
“Hi, Lizzy, it’s John,” he said. “Mum’s gone.”