He closes his eyes.
The concrete brickwork of the basement explodes, revealing tulip-patterned wallpaper adorned with framed memories of a life never lived. The square-panelled fluorescent lighting above flickers out, its glare replaced by a twilight glow through suddenly-formed cottage bay windows. The hum of industrial refrigerators fades to nothing as birdsong and summer ambience resonate from the meadows outside. He smiles. This is where he wants to be.
Her head rests on his chest as he runs his fingers through her hair. One leg is draped over his. He loves these moments, tangled amongst the limbs of a lover. But moments are all they are. Soon she’ll leave him, then he’ll find another. He always finds another.
Her head rises and falls with his meditative breathing, her hand on his stomach rising and falling also. His breath sends ripples of movement through her hair. Her face rises to meet his own as the finger under her chin gently guides it up.
Gentle. Always so gentle.
He knows this is their final time together. Tomorrow she’ll go upstairs, despite his sincerest wishes. He’s beginning to believe she may actually want to stay here with him, if she’s even capable of such a desire. Her body says she might be, so welcoming as it is to his embrace. He carefully kisses her.
Careful. Always so careful.
Lips still pressed against hers, he opens his eyes. Through the bay windows he sees concrete bricks tearing across the grassy pastures like cannon balls, crashing through the tulip wallpaper and reassembling themselves in an instant. The twilight glow grows harsher as the square-panelled fluorescent lights re-emerge above. The birdsong dies. Industrial humming recommences. He lifts his mouth from her cold lips.
Cold. Always so cold.
He sits up and swings his legs off the slab, then looks back at that precious white face. Yes, she wants to stay. Maybe a little while longer wouldn’t hurt, after all. Rising to his feet he straightens his tie and buttons his cuffs, before heading for the door. He stops abruptly, letting out a slight sigh, and pulls the tag from his pocket. He replaces it around the cadaver’s big toe and steps from the room, making his way down the corridor to his office. He picks up the telephone.
‘I’m aware it’s short notice, Mr Davis, but your wife’s embalming is going to take another week at least. Precisely, we just want to give her the care she deserves. Of course, Mr Davis, we always are. Yes, we will be. Indeed. Gentle, Mr Davis. Always so gentle.’