My father called me today. I had given him leftover salmon from dinner last night and he needed directions on reheating, sigh. I don't understand people who can't cook. He received a letter from the University hospital stating my mother's remains had been cremated and they would be shipped back to us.
From time to time I had thought about my mother's body and the processes that were being performed on it. I had seen an anatomy lab when I visited my son the first year he was in medical school. Cadavers were laid out on gurneys, white gauze wrapped around their faces, anonymous to the world, the smell of formaldehyde, acidic and stinging in my nostrils. The flesh, grey and gummy, peeled back in layers and held back with pins, the abdominal cavity filled with pale organs. These were high school experiments for all I knew, everything mapped out and labeled. It all appeared orderly and necessary. To this day I have difficulty carving turkeys.
My grandson was six months old at the time and he accompanied us in his stroller on this tour. He wailed horribly upon entering the lab. His baby brain told him something was wrong here. The cadavers were mostly derelicts, explained my son, homeless men, bodies donated by the county board. Pickled livers and fat-filled arteries, I imagined. What did they think of little Marie, one kidney atrophied, no gall bladder or uterus, five cesarean scars crisscrossing her belly and her nails polished with her favorite frosty tint.
Sonny said he felt a tug when reading the letter and his voice faded away on the last word. I know all about tugs and we agreed we were glad the process had been completed and there would be no more questions on our part. "I'm glad she's coming back to us," I say, "whatever that is," not coming out as I wanted it, kind of reeling from what he has told me, grief messes with your vocabulary and pretty much everything else.