The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Seventeen

Selections from The Coconut Ape by Tomáš Přidal
The First Day of School by Steven Schutzman
The Fever by Gleyvis Coro
Reflecting Dreams by Peter Roberts
A Meal by Anca Szilagyi
Minor Renovations by Sean Adams
The Clafouti Syndrome by Adam Benforado
The Train by Alta Ifland
Viewing by David Zerby


irreal (re)views


by David Zerby

When the commander-in-chief dies the mortician forgets about the corpse until the widow calls the night before the funeral. "How is everything?" she says. "What?" he says. "My husband. How is he?" "Fine," he says. "He's well," he says as he whips the sheets from his skin and his skin from the mattress. "Goodnight."

The mortician retrieves the litter from the back patio where the orderlies abandoned the corpse that rode it, posed semi-supine on a column of pillows, like a palanquin. Some days earlier one orderly slouched before the bell, impatient, while the other slouched holding one end of the litter. The first orderly gave the bell one more ring. The second dropped his poles.

Now the mortician grips the litter and drags the corpse into the mortuary. He turns on the overheads and recognizes immediately the beginnings of putrefaction. He begins the embalming process by replacing the head that reminds him of a pumpkin. But he has no pumpkins. He produces a butternut squash from the adjoining kitchen. It is the wrong shape and distorts the face he draws in permanent marker. The mortician tries other roughly head-shaped objects—watermelon, cantaloupe, kasava, clay—before deciding. Papier-mâché is the material most suitable for a head.

He gathers a bundle of twine-bound newspapers memorializing the commander's death. He dumps some flour into a bowl, and some water. The newspapers contain transcripts of the commander's speeches. They contain editorials on his life. He cuts them into long strips he dips in the paste. He balls some up. He makes an egg. The egg is lopsided.

The mortician sleeps while the egg dries. When he wakes he takes up his marker and walks to the table on which the egg rests. The mortician imposes a face upon the papier-mâché egg. Over the newsprint he draws ears and lips, nostrils and septum. He lights a fire in the hearth and holds the papier-mâché head over it in a wire basket. The fire turns the paper sallow, the living color of the commander's own sun-anointed skin. The mortician draws wrinkles in the forehead.

He scrapes a casket across the mortuary floor. He strains to raise the litter but is able to slide the soft remains of the corpse in laterally. He douses it with disinfectant, the odor of which he covers by strewing a mirepoix over the body. The satin-lined coffin cradles the egg he places above the torso's mantle. The funeral is open-casket to the shoulders. The mortician cuts eye slits for the viewing. He sleeps again.

In the morning he positions a ramp and shoves the coffin onto a table covered by white linen that he wheels into the parlor for the viewing. He is in his suit, sweating, when the widow appears. She enters at the door and crosses the room to kneel before the corpse. The mortician shrinks behind the coffin. They are opposite one another, separated by the coffin containing the corpse and the papier-mâché head. The widow sniffs the air. She traces the lines of newsprint, the words of his speeches and the texts of editorials, with a finger. Her voluptuous lips move.

"Oh," she says. "He looks so natural."

David Zerby recently graduated from law school. Two of his poems appeared in the 2005 issue of The William & Mary Review. In addition Madlab Theater, an experimental theater group, produced his play Noise as part of its annual short play festival.

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