Monica had a bad habit. Ever since she nodded “yes” to the coroner, looking at Isaac’s pale mangled face on the steel slab, the habit began. It interfered with the relationship with her son, and she had developed a horrible rash from it.
Monica sat on the toilet scratching the silver skin patch on her thigh as dead skin snowed off, turning the faucet on full pressure so that Junior would not hear as she itched away.
Junior pounded his fists on the bathroom door, “Mom, I have a math test today—I can’t be late!”
Monica pulled and zipped up her pants, rushing Junior out of the house. The car ride was silent. Junior played his Nintendo as Monica turned the radio louder to drown out the beeping and buzzing of his game. When she parked the car, Junior left and slammed the door before she could wish him a good day at school. She was ashamedly grateful for this. Their relationship had failed ever since her habit developed, but she could not find a way to stop. She knew, as a mother, she was supposed to bond with her son, but it was so much easier when Isaac was alive.
As she applied liquid foundation to a woman’s corpse at work, she wondered why anyone would want to bury their mother in a florescent pink dress. Her co-worker, Annie, worked across from her, always in silence, applying light eyeshadow to an elderly man in his casket. Monica focused on blushing the woman’s cheeks, trying to exhume any remnant of life she could salvage from the corpse of the woman. She watched as the bronze liquid filled the woman’s pores and wrinkles. The woman’s family said that they wanted her to look as she did before she had gotten sick, and so, Monica filled as much blush as she could, remembering that she learned in beauty school how a flushed look always created a more youthful appearance.
When Annie left, Monica knew that she could indulge in her bad habit again. She walked to the crematorium, the bodies all on slabs. She was the only one left in the building to lock up. She touched the corpse of a man, his cold skin exciting her as she lifted the white blanket. Putting her cheek to the skin was something she did with the women corpses only; she was more tender with the women. So, without pressing her face to him, she mounted his groin and rode him back and forth. The rash on her leg was more visible now, but when she was in the middle of her habit, she never noticed the rash. This was something she would be self-conscious of with living people, wondering if they were looking at her scaly skin, she was always self-conscious during sex, even with Isaac. But as she rode the man’s corpse staring at his cold blank face, she knew he was not judging her.
Then, she heard a banging sound come back from the room. She paused and unmounted him, more upset that her lovemaking was now over more than the fear that someone would catch her. She draped the blanket back over him quickly and walked out to see Annie in the make-up room.
“I forgot my purse,” she said staring at Monica. Annie must have noticed the guilt that spread across Monica’s face because she asked if everything was alright.
“Yes, yes,” Monica replied like a child being caught in a lie.
At dinner, Monica’s rash grew worse. Junior sat across from her playing his Nintendo and eating the microwaved spaghetti which was all Monica had the strength to make since Isaac died.
“No Nintendo at the table,” Monica muttered to him, trying to foster semblance of a mothering voice. She really did not mind if he used his Nintendo at the table because this way, she did not have to make conversation, but she thought reprimanding him was something a mother should do.
“What happened to your neck?” Junior asked. Whenever Monica would give him an order, Junior would bring up her rash.
“It’s stress,” she muttered and left the table to go to her room. She stared at herself in front of her long mirror, looking at what Junior had seen. The rash had three stages. First, her skin would get red and goose pimpled, like one would get from a bout of poison ivy, but it would not be itchy. In the second stage, the skin would develop a silver film, hard and bubbly, and it would itch as white flakes would sprinkle off with each scratch. In the third stage, the rash would develop a spiderweb consistency which Monica would peel off herself like cotton candy. The neck rash that Junior noticed was in stage two. It was bubbled, hard and grey, but the skin was not ready to peel. Monica could not go to a doctor for the rash. What could she tell them? For she knew why she was getting it: the living was not supposed to be sleeping with the dead. She feared the doctor would do a test and find some parasite living there that was only found in the presence of corpses.
She watched Junior at the table eating his spaghetti and playing his Nintendo. She had forgotten how to mother it seemed; Isaac had always done the mothering. She would go to work while Isaac and Junior had a special kind of bond that was now broken with his death. Monica could not mourn with her son; it seemed, Junior was too busy playing video games and distracting himself in ways that she could not. She wished she had a distraction, an addiction like smoking, to help her with grief. She worked on the flower bed, taking the shovel, and uprooting the flowers and making her yard more beautiful. It was the only thing that distracted her from Isaac’s death. Even though his absence was a looming presence, her garden was the only thing she felt like she knew how to do without him.
She maintained some daffodils and hydrangeas while she watched Junior eating his spaghetti alone at the table, hearing the beeping of the Nintendo glitching from inside of the kitchen.
The itch on her neck became so distracting that she could not focus on her flowerbed. She missed Isaac so much. She went into her room and grabbed a box of Isaac’s belongings she kept hidden in the closet. She opened it to caress herself with his CDs, sweaters, cigarettes, and cigar canisters. She fell into the heap of his belongings on the floor and immersed herself in his smell. Making love to corpses was not enough anymore. She opened her blouse and saw that her rash had devoured her body. Peeling and prying at the cottony spiderwebs, she began to fear for what her bad habit was doing to her. She had the urge to go back to the crematorium to get rid of the itch even if it was only for a short while to mount and make love to one of the corpses, holding on to the thought of being close to Isaac.
She grabbed her shovel from the flower bed and pulled her coat close around her as she made her way to Isaac’s cold grey grave and began to dig. As she dug deeper, maggots infested the shovel, but she did not care. She dug and dug for what might have been hours until she heard the thump of the shovel against something hard. This excited her and she plummeted herself deeper, pulling out dirt with her hands to find his casket which she pried open. When she opened it, she saw that almost all the stages of death and decay had been complete. He was mostly bones. She undressed herself and mounted him anyways, placing himself inside of her and swaying back and forth. But intercourse was impossible; it was not like the corpses at the morgue—there was nothing fleshy about him. She could not distinguish him or his face. He was dead. The maggots had done their job at eating him away. Monica grasped and clutched his bones as her shaking made them chatter within her arms. She loved him so much, but he was no longer the corpse she recognized on the steel slab that day she confirmed his death.
The next day, no one asked about the dirt underneath her fingernails. She painted her nails dark green so no one could see and cleaned out the dirt as much as possible. She still felt the hard pressure of grit within her fingernails and nail beds. She perfected detailed eyeliner on a young 20-year-old that day who had died in a car accident.
When Annie left, Monica went to the crematorium and opened the blanket of a woman in her 30’s, but she no longer felt the need to put her cheek to her skin. Seeing Isaac in that form had made her feel nothing to the corpses in the crematorium.
Picking up Junior from school, he sat in the passenger seat not playing his game console this time.
“What’s wrong?” Monica asked, and Junior looked at her with teary eyes: “We had to make Fathers’ Day cards at school.”
Her heart dropped for the poor child, for what was he to do? “You can make one for daddy and we can put it on his tombstone,” she said.
Junior nodded, then paused, “But he’s not gonna read it.”
And for once, Monica agreed. Isaac was gone. She had seen it with her eyes and felt it with her body: he was no longer there and no longer a part of their lives.
That night, she sat across from Junior and he made note that her rash had been going away. Monica said it was gone because she was not as stressed as she would have been, and she crept under her bed to see all the dead skin peeled off and threw it outside. She held Junior close that day and said he could skip school tomorrow. During that day, the two planted flowers together and Junior gave her a turn on his game console.
“You don’t have to make that Father’s Day card,” Monica said. And instead, that night, they listened to the music from the box of CDs that Isaac had left as the two danced along. Monica taught Junior how to put on eyeliner so that he looked like a rock star as they danced to the music Isaac used to fill their house with.
She held Junior’s tiny body close to her in his bed as he slept. And for the first time in a long time, Monica felt comfort from the body of a living, breathing being.
Olivia Loccisano is a writer and filmmaker from Toronto, Canada. Her work centers around transformations of the body, specifically through dark fantasy, body horror and magical realism. Through storytelling, she explores how young women and children navigate strange realms of life through their own imagination and rituals. Her body horror script “Simone,” won Best Short Screenplay at the Renegade Film Festival, formerly known as the Women in Horror Film Festival.