Taxidermy was a childhood hobby of mine. A macabre pastime for a little girl, perhaps, especially when other girls my age were busy with dance lessons or roller skating, but I never found it gruesome. It was like a magic puzzle to me; the unique challenge of assembling a simulacra of life from wood and sawdust and hide. Learning the proper anatomy and preparing the hide were easy, but my earliest creations lacked that illusory vitality. The trick, I learned, was to insert small mirrors behind the glass beads eye. It’s the projection of light from within, more than any posture or pose, which gives a thing life.
Becoming a mortician as an adult was a logical leap, and I was a good one. I restored crushed bone, sculpted and replaced lost flesh, groomed hair, and painted skin to resemble a healthy pallor. But where my taxidermy creations were meant to simulate life, a mortician’s work is to simulate death – a platonic ideal of death, quiet and dignified, so that the living might make their farewells.
My great love was a dancer, the star of a ballet company. His body was poetry written as muscle and bone, and his dancing was a master lesson in the biology of movement. I had never known anything or anyone more alive, and we loved each other with a quiet ferocity.
When he died, the mangled form they pulled from the smoking car wreck was a corruption, broken and burnt beyond recognition.
He had never expressed any final wishes for his remains. The simplest, most logical thing, would have been cremation, but I could not bear the thought of that magnificent form reduced to so much ash. To do so would be a travesty greater than the death itself.
The process took all of my skills, and required the learning of new techniques. It took months, during which time I eschewed all but the most necessary of other work. There was nothing to be done about his skin, but that did not matter; his form had always been so much more than the surface. I cleaned and stripped away the muscles one by one, injecting them and soaking them with new polymer compounds to render them preserved yet pliable. What organs remained intact were treated the same; those which were too damaged were replaced with compression-molded substitutes I made myself. His skeleton was easy enough to articulate.
When at last all the pieces were ready, I set about the great task of reassembling my great love, as I had with those animals so long ago. The process was the same, bone by bone, muscle by muscle. I gave him back that activity which he loved most.
And the final touch of course: twin mirrors behind his new eyes, so that my great love might shine with life’s light, while he danced his eternal dance.