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Job Satisfaction

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 3 months ago


Job Satisfaction                                                                                                                                                          Aaron Jarrett




I never had any problems with my job until the day I met the girl at the museum.  Of course, were it not for the repercussions of that chance encounter, I would never have appreciated the sublimity of my work, either.  I’m a mortician.  Whenever I am at a party and tell people this, they become guarded and look for an excuse to join another conversation.  As if they thought that death was a bit of dirt, that would rub off of a corpse, get inside my latex gloves, stick beneath my fingernails, and dislodge itself at parties to be carried by a freak wind straight into their superstitious nostrils and knock them dead.  Complete nonsense, of course.  And if I cared enough to explain this to them, they would recognize the absurdity of their behavior and apologize with embarrassment.  But the fact remains that most people are afraid of death, and will do everything they can to avoid even mentioning it.  I don’t mind.  I don’t go to that many parties anyway.  My wife and I are perfectly content with our lives together.  She is a genetic researcher with the University of Tokyo and has no time for backwards thinking.  Our combined salaries let us own a sizeable apartment in a fashionable part of the city.  We lead perfectly normal lives- we work, visit friends and relatives, go out to eat, make love, exercise at the gym, and read or watch TV in the evenings.


Until recently, I saw embalming as no different from any other job.  One that requires a strong constitution, perhaps, but essentially a job like any other.  The woman at the front desk handled most of the business aspect, meeting the bereaved and helping them choose an internment method, while my assistant and I embalmed the bodies.  Our funeral home subcontracted for cremations.   My work is both art and science.  My extensive knowledge of anatomy helps me reconstruct and preserve the bodies, while creative judgment is required to bring out the personality of the deceased.  Mourning relatives wise enough to employ my services will not see (and smell) their loved one in a state of decay.  Instead, their final memory will be of a friend at rest; appearing the same as in life, only at peace.  I put in my day at the office like anyone else.


The hours I work vary according to demand.  Embalming is not traditional in Japan, but is becoming more popular.  I used to have one or two afternoons off in a typical week, but business had been on the rise, and my workload increasing.  Nevertheless, last Thursday I found myself with the afternoon to myself.  My wife doesn’t get home from the lab until six or later, so I had some time to kill.  That afternoon, I decided to visit the wax museum, an old favorite of mine.  I was amazed that the place had managed to stay in business; I almost never saw anyone else in the place.  Most people I know regard wax sculptures as bizarre foreign imports, but I had always appreciated them.  For its small size, the museum contained an impressive assortment of life-size figures.  There were politicians, pop musicians, historical figures and movie stars.  I was admiring a sculpture of the Meiji Emperor when a voice spoke.  “Don’t you feel sorry for them?”  The voice belonged to a sixteen or seventeen year old girl who was the only other person in the museum.  She wore so much dark makeup that she appeared more artificial than the silent figures around us.  Noticing my gaze, she continued. 


“Oh, I know they’re only made of wax.  But I can’t help thinking that such a perfect image must develop feelings.  A piece of the emperor’s soul was trapped in here when the figure was made, and now it sits helpless.  He would like to scratch his shoulder, but he can’t move.  His impotence and boredom make him want to cry, but his glass eyes are always dry.”


I told her that she should be in school instead of making up silly stories.


“But what if they really were real?” she persisted.  I decided to humor her. 


“If those people were somehow aware of their condition, I imagine they would feel honored.  To be remembered forever!  They feel no pain, they do not age, disease does not touch them.”


“I hadn’t thought of it like that” said the girl.


“But of course, this is ridiculous.  Even if these were real bodies and not recreations, nobody would feel or think anything.  They’re dead.  What I admire about these sculptures is the craftsmanship that went into them.  See how closely the artist captured the figures’ personalities! I know that it takes a lot of work to recreate facial expressions, because I sometimes use wax to create them myself.”  And so I told her about my job, and the devices we morticians use to make corpses appear natural and lifelike.  She was fascinated.


“You really sew the mouth shut?


“Or sometimes we insert pieces of wire inside the jaw.  I find that method gives a better look.  And we use a special eye cap to keep the eyes closed.  And we bathe and shave the body.”


“I heard that nails and hair keep growing after death.”


“That’s not true.  It is possible for the skin to recede, making them appear longer.  We clip the nails if needed.”


“Gross.  I know that the Egyptians embalmed people.  They took out the brains with a hook and everything.  They believed that a person’s soul would return to an embalmed corpse, and that their true life would then begin.  Maybe souls return to your bodies, too.”


I told her sharply that we didn’t use hooks anymore, although it was important to drain the blood vessels and internal organs and replace them with embalming fluid.  When I mentioned the machines that pumped formaldehyde through the veins, the girl turned white.  She let out a small whimper of pain, followed by a wail.  She ignored my concerned questions as she ran out the door, screaming incoherent obscenities.  After gazing dumbly for a few seconds I hurried out the door after her.  Although the museum appeared deserted, there may have been people outside who heard her, and I didn’t want to be suspected of a crime.  The wax figures watched me go.


Back at the apartment, I resolved not to let the incident unnerve me.  When my wife asked me how my day went, I said it was fine.  No point bothering her with stories of lunatics.  I prepared dinner, we ate, watched a game show, and went to bed.


The next day work began as usual.  My assistant and I were to embalm a man who had died in his fifties of a heart attack.  No autopsy, no reconstruction, just a straightforward job.  We began as usual.  We first confirmed that the subject was dead.  After the clothes were removed and inventoried, my assistant washed the body in disinfectant, while I massaged the corpse to relieve rigor mortis.  Then the most challenging part: the setting of the features.  Using a photograph of the deceased, I tried to manipulate the mouth and eyes into a suitable position.  This is normally the part of my work that I enjoy most, but that day I couldn’t get it right.  The man’s face showed unmistakable pain.  After an hour’s work, the man’s expression was even worse.  Now he was outraged, violated and surprised.  “That’ll have to do” I said in irritation. 


“I thought it looked fine forty-five minutes ago.  I don’t know why you put so much time into this particular one” said my assistant.  I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not.  We proceeded to the next step.  I opened the man’s jugular vein and my assistant hooked the pump into the carotid artery.  My head began to cloud over.  As the mixture of formaldehyde and alcohol began to replace the blood, I sensed a cry emanating from the man on the table.  His lips did not twitch, his chest did not fall, but still the man was doing something.  The sound didn’t touch my ears but appeared instantaneously in my brain, as if a light had been switched on.  I couldn’t tell if he was crying out in pain, or in ecstasy.  And with it my head erupted in pain.


I was floating in a pale green sea and bathed in light.  The fluid that surrounded me was denser than air but lighter than water.  A voice called my name.  Each breath felt wonderful.  The voice again.  I saw the girl from the wax museum next to me, young and full of vitality.  Then she gained weight and lines began to form across her face.  The now middle aged woman started to speak but I began moving upwards towards the voice that was calling my name.  My ascent continued while the light steadily receded into darkness.  Then my assistant’s worried face came slowly into focus.


“Are you all right?  You turned green.”  My head felt awful and I was drenched in cold sweat.  “How long was I out?” I asked him. 


“Just a couple of seconds.  You had me worried though.  What’s wrong?”


I told him that I hadn’t had enough sleep lately and must have passed out from exhaustion.  He finished the embalming while I took a walk outside to recover.  What on earth was wrong with me?  I was a professional and a man of science.  How could I let one stupid girl jeopardize my work?  I gradually began to feel better.  After lunch, I went back to work for the afternoon’s embalming.  This one was a elderly woman.  After setting her facial expression, I asked my assistant what he thought of it.  He looked at me with concern and told me that it was warm and dignified, just like the photo.  To me, she looked like she was just about to cry.  This one didn’t start silently yelling until we were through with the vascular system and had begun to replace the fluid in her internal organs.  I felt her presence in my head as a sheet of light, which I crumpled up and hid in the back of my thoughts.  I was then able to finish embalming the corpse without losing consciousness, although I had to stop to clear my head a couple of times. 


My victory elated me.  Now that I knew it could be beaten, I was unafraid.  The next day I embalmed three bodies, one of which had to be reconstructed after a car accident.  Their expressions were passive.  My assistant remarked that my work was looking better than ever.  And as the days went by, I found that it was.  I could now see my subject’s expressions for what they truly were- happy. 


I discovered new meaning in my work.  Previously, I had seen each body as a job to be done.  A box received in a warehouse to be unpacked, repacked, and shipped back out the door.  Of course, I had always taken pride in my job, and in the delicate craftsmanship that it required.  The mortician’s craft is know as “restoration” among ourselves.  But now I saw further, and realized that I was completing these people— giving them “perfection”.  They came through my doors at the end of messy lives.  Some had lived longer than others, some had been happier than others, but all of them suffered.  I could offer them permanent rest.  Now I that I felt their presence each time I worked, I knew my work had true meaning.  One and a half weeks after the wax museum incident, the people’s faces were radiant after I finished.  Their souls would have a have a beautiful home to return to- one that would not decay with time.  Blood rubs against the body as it beats around, eroding people from the inside out.  Formaldehyde is still, silent, and tranquil.  After a lifetime of activity, embalming gives true peace.


Only one thing bothered me.  I continued to shove aside the cry of the deceased as the fluid entered their body.  Otherwise, the pain would make me faint again.  But was it a scream of pain?  Or a cry of joy?  I increasingly suspected the latter.  Why shouldn’t they be happy?  But I had to find out what the girl in my vision was going to tell me.  The next day was my assistant’s day off.  I proceeded with the first embalming as usual.  She called out to me as soon as I opened up her veins.  The pain filled my entire being, but I permitted it to remain.  In a few seconds it was gone, and I was back in the green sea, which was even more beautiful than I had remembered.  I saw the girl from the museum again.  She swam over to me but began to age as she did. 


“I’m sorry I ran out on you, said the woman, who looked to be in her thirties.


“I failed to appreciate the beauty of what you do” said a fifty-something.


An old woman told me “It’s too late for me.  Save yourself.”


            I came to with a start in my work room.  I now know what I must do.  I won’t be able to do all of the steps, but that’s ok.  I know which ones are the most important.  I finished embalming my last patient, then cleared the operating table and reset all the machines.  By now I have removed my clothes and washed down with disinfectant.  My face is clean shaven and I have applied light rouge on my face.  After the blood is gone I will need it to maintain the correct color.  Now for the tricky part.  The formaldehyde pumps are ready, but I will have to make the incisions quickly and put the tubes in place.  One—jugular. Two—carotid.  And now the machine is working, and I can feel the fluid entering my body, giving me eternal peace.






Author’s note: I set out to write this story by making a list of thematic elements and plot conventions present in Murakami’s stories.  This story follows a few of the conventions, such as an unnamed narrator with a distant wife, and first-person narration.  I believe that I also approximated Murakami’s tone.  His stories often revolve around a mysterious or unexplained event, and it was with this in mind that I created the outline for this story.  However, Murakami’s stories also can be interpreted as making a statement about society.  This story fails in that regard.  I tried to make it weird, and it is weird, but was not written with any important point.  Don’t try to read too much into it.  This story was intended to be structually most similar to “Sleep.”  Murakami’s stories are also notable in that they often employ a subtle sense of horror that takes the reader by surprise.  A better word for his stories is perhaps “unsettling.”  I tried to attain this quality, but went too far.  This story quickly descends into a macabre horror story.  As a result, the final product is very different (much worse) than Murakami’s stories.  However, I think it is a worthy effort.



P.S. In high school my English class once read an article about the embalming process and I fainted. 



Aaron Jarrett


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