A Playboy was hidden behind her jaw, rolled and bent like she had stashed it there in a hurry. Black and white alarm clocks were pasted over the women’s breasts and the words !wUt aLarming bOobeez! were scrawled across the stomachs. It was hard to tell if she had done this herself or if someone else had done it for her.
We could not find any incisions so we decided she must have rammed the Playboy into her ear and hoped for the best. We thought this made her stoic, medically marvelous and gay. We wondered if she had a secret crush on one of us and while we unanimously agreed that this was possible, we knew in our hearts that it was not.
2. BLACK ANTS
The ants were an ongoing observation, like watching fish. They floated up gently through her skin, broke the surface and lay there like the journey had made them tired and they just needed to lie down for a while. We discovered that there were no ants near her elbows but could not come to a consensus as to how this was significant. We thought we saw something that resembled an abnormally thick spiderweb under her pancreas and decided not to pursue that line of inquiry because it obviously had nothing to do with the ants.
We wondered if she had let the ants in or if they had smashed their way through her, vandalizing her body with starred and spangled railroads, towers and pornography. Now that she was dead, the ants probably had no reason to stay. We thought this was heartbreaking but also the best option for everyone involved.
The angels were clustered and nested behind her heart and lungs. They had to be pulled out with tweezers, which was not easy because they kept hanging onto her esophagus with their angry fingers and teeth. They had no nipples, bellybuttons or genitalia, which made them like dolls but we did not feel like combing their hair. Their feet looked like hands and they dug their heels into our faces as a sign of protest. They caterwauled. They sounded like prehistoric birds that were heartbroken because they were going to die in the evening.
We thought she must have been a closeted Catholic. We thought she had probably been more into the angels than she was into Jesus, which is why she had allowed them to stay in such a communally sensitive area. We thought it was racist to assume that only Catholics had an affinity for angels.
4. ST. SEBASTIAN
St. Sebastian was tied to her spinal column, eyes looking heavenward, an arrow running into his chin and out of his forehead. His body was peppered with arrows but it was the one through his forehead that made us untie him. We thought that untying him would make him feel better. We didn’t touch the arrow because we thought it would make his head fall off.
We thought the angels and St. Sebastian were probably good friends. We imagined them hanging out in the late afternoon, folding discarded angel wings into boats and sailing them on her bloodstream, hoping they would return filled with things that were sweet and useful.
It was only later, when we were delirious, sour-mouthed and tired, that we realized we all had typhoid. While we waited for it to go away, we cleverly and calculatingly deduced where we got it from. The typhoid was a shiny black slab that was stuck to the back of her liver. It came apart in layers but could not be removed completely.
We thought she was a typhoid carrier. We thought she had probably infected all of us and the typhoid was sticking to our livers too. We decided that we were angry at the world and this was what people with cancer felt like. We thought it must be a neat thing to be a typhoid carrier.
The Playgirl was spread across her ribcage like a placemat. Hairless, half-aroused men stared sexingly into our faces and we looked at their half-arousal and sighed. We pasted the heads of Siberian Huskies onto their faces and decided this made them more regal and less attainable. We also decided that if we ever created a pantheon of Gods, there would be a set of twins who would be bare-chested and Siberian Husky-headed.
We knew she was the only one who could have made it with a hairless, half-aroused Playgirl man with a Siberian Husky head. We imagined it happening in a series of well-lit photographs where she and the Playgirl man were naked and open-mouthed but not sweating. We contrasted the open Playgirl with the rolled and bent Playboy and decided that she had been conflicted about her sexuality. We thought we could have been the awesome friends who held her hand while we dragged her out of the closet. We thought we could have convinced her it was okay to like girls even if she didn’t like any of us.
Originally published in Pratilipi, 2010. Things We Found During the Autopsy, Blaft Publications, 2014. Reprinted in The Apex Book of World SF 4, 2015.
Kuzhali Manickavel’s collections Things We Found During the Autopsy, Insects Are Just like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings, and echapbook Eating Sugar, Telling Lies are available from Blaft Publications, Chennai. Her work has also appeared in Granta, Agni, Subtropics, Michigan Quarterly Review, and DIAGRAM. She used to blog at thirdworldghettovampire.blogspot.com.