“Tim let me see the preparation, or embalming, room, a white-walled chamber about the size of an operating room. Against the wall was a large sink with elbow taps and a draining board. In the centre of the room stood a table with equipment for preparing the arterial embalming fluid, which consists primarily of formaldehyde, a preservative, and phenol, a disinfectant. This mixture sanitises and also gives better colour to the skin. Facial features can then be “set” to achieve a restful expression. Missing eyes, ears, and even noses can be replaced.
Before leaving, I wanted to see a body up close. I thought I could be indifferent after all I had seen and heard, but I wasn’t sure. Cautiously, I reached out and touched the skin. It felt cold and firm, not unlike clay. As I walked out, I felt glad to have satisfied my curiosity about dead bodies but all too happy to let someone else handle them.”
Cable, B. (2002). The Last Stop. In &. C. R. B. Axelrod, The Concise Guide to Writing (3rd ed.) (pp. 57-60). New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
If I tell you this was written by a first-year college student, you wouldn’t believe me. But it is. This passage is an extraction from Brian Cable’s work about a mortuary for a profiling project. The writing was frank and quite straightforward, without any holding back in the using of words and expressions, although the subject being mentioned is a sensitive topic – death. People might prefer to take a long way around and not to be explicit about how the dead are treated, but sure not is Cable.
The part being quoted is actually my favourite part of the writing, which lies near the end. In the first paragraph, he described the embalming room where the deceased were reconditioned. It’s certainly not a welcoming cosy room with much positive energy. And what’s interesting is Cable didn’t even try to reduce its dreariness. He input such a detailed record of the observation of the room, just the way it appeared to him: all the strange apparatuses, the chemicals and their unusual usage, and the bizarre jobs on the bodies. I found a feeling of chilling, and a recognition of honesty reading his words.
The second paragraph, which is also the last paragraph of the profile really left me a strong impression. As everything is coming to an end, he turned from an observer to a participant. It demonstrates both his sincere curiosity and his reasonable anxiety to touch the corpse. And as black humour appears here and there throughout the narrative, its existence is definitely undeniable in the last sentence. It doesn’t mean a lack of respect for the dead. He’s telling the truth, for all the rest who aren’t daring enough to say.