“Just look at the state of you…you’re absolutely filthy…” I looked but aside from a few flecks of dirt underneath my fingernails there was nothing about my current state that warranted my mother’s accusation.
At eight years old I was perfectly capable of giving myself a bath but I was no longer human in my mother’s eyes. I could tell by the ferocity of the steam that the water was too hot. My mother was generally a mild-mannered woman but parties made her hysterical. She loved nothing better than to plan events but she was unable to enjoy them knowing that in those few hours all of her efforts at perfection would be nullified. I climbed into the bath of my own accord knowing that my mother was too frail to lift me. I said nothing. I cried a little to myself but I was careful not to make a sound. She scrubbed my boiled flesh without sympathy but I knew that she did not hurt me intentionally.
“Don’t throw me away…” I whispered underneath the terry cloth towel. I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to hear me but presumably she did. She hugged me for a long time and it seemed to me the towel around my shoulders grew wetter. She didn’t make any promises but I felt reasonably certain that if she ever did it wouldn’t be entirely of her own volition.
I ate my oatmeal alone that morning. My father left early and my mother wouldn’t eat again for several days having been forced to eat a few mouthfuls of cake at the party. As soon as my mother began her chores I would go into the garden and retrieve my treasure. I had until lunch time to discover the location of the door but I did not need it because I already knew.
I rarely went into the basement. I wasn’t sure if the sterility of the space made it any less scary but it was at least inhospitable to vermin. I stood for a long time in front of the door debating whether or not I should open it. I knew the room inside had to be large because there was a good deal of unaccounted for space. I tried to remember if I’d ever been inside but it seemed unlikely given the volume of my restrictions. This was my father’s room. A room that he disappeared into for hours at a time. He hadn’t been down here for nearly two months.
My father was a surgeon and therefore like my mother in regards to hygiene and housekeeping. I unlocked the door and stepped inside. The room was full of bookshelves lined with medical texts. There was a desk much like the one my father had in his upstairs office and a chair that was identical. There was a journal on top of the desk that looked exactly like the one he’d given me for my birthday, a plain leather-bound volume with no lock. Inside of the journal my father had sketched, in excruciating detail, the internal structures of the human body. There were other sketches, close ups that made me feel incomprehensibly squeamish but I could not understand their content. None of the drawings had faces. I supposed the faces were irrelevant. None of the entries were of a personal nature and although there were a number of notations accompanying each meticulously rendered image they were of a purely scientific and impersonal character.
There was no surgical equipment or specimen jars. There were no pickled body parts or metal tables with restraints. I was both relieved and disappointed. I opened every drawer in my father’s desk. They were filled with identical journals, the sketches and notations meant very little to me but I studied them carefully just the same. I perused the bookshelves taking out books at random but they were similar in content to my father’s personal notebooks. I knew the proper names for the bones but only just and I often forgot the bones of the face. I did not yet know the names of all the muscles. I knew the basic function of the organs but very little of their failings.
I opened a large chest, inside were bones labeled in my father’s tight, Gothic script. I picked up the skull. I understood that it was real but I wasn’t frightened. Flesh was what made corpses scary, decomposition. These bones were all clean and only vaguely human to my mind. They seemed to belong to the same person as there were no duplicates and only one identification number on the lid of the chest. The chest beside it was different. The bones were smaller. I did not know if the bones were from a woman or an adolescent. The chest beside that one had a set of intact bones. The full skeleton of an infant. I did not dare remove them lest they come apart in my hands. The disproportionately large cranium seemed nearly as large as the skull in the first case, I was not sure that it belonged to the same body but my father did not make mistakes. There seemed to be other anomalies in the head but I could not identify the source of the deviations. The eye orbits were too narrow for the organs they were meant to contain. The arms were only rudimentary. Though only a small fleshless creature I found it repulsive, not even pitiable, just repulsive. The first two chests had been marked with numbers but this skeleton had a name “Elizabeth”. I closed the chest, heart writhing I glanced at the final chest but could not bring myself to open it.