Ten years Godfrey Yough had been working nights in the mortuary. It was mostly quiet. The mortician did embalming in the day and there wasn’t much to do on the night shift — just a bit of cosmetics and security. Filton Bracket was such a small place. There was about as much action on the streets as in the morgue.
Godfrey finished his round and pulled up a chair. He opened drawer 101. There weren’t really one hundred and one drawers but the lost category seemed appropriate to this — client — so some joker had added a one to the ten.
“They’ve cut down the oldest of the trees alongside the canal now. They’re planting new but of course it won’t be like it was — not for a long while — not in my lifetime. Those trees were there for over a century. Oh, and they’re building a new shopping centre too on the north side, did I tell you? Canal Wharf they’re calling it. I’ve seen the plans down at town hall. It’ll look grand when it’s finished, I think.” Godfrey was quiet for a minute, then, “Don’t you worry, lass. It’s all arranged. Everything’ll be fine. I’ll see you soon.” He touched her hand lightly and closed the drawer.
The Jane Doe in drawer 101 had been there all that time — ten years! Godfrey had sneaked a peek out of curiosity at first. She’d been found canal-side with a broken neck and was never identified — ‘a stranger’, according to the papers. Anybody and everybody looking for a missing female relative between thirty and forty years of age, for the past decade had been coming there, taking a look, shaking their head and leaving. There wasn’t a mark on her.
Godfrey called her Arabella. He considered her a tolerable-looking woman. What’s more, she didn’t answer back — an endearing trait. So when it was quiet there of a night he’d tell her all about what was happening in the world and in the town — though it was by no means certain she knew the town — being ‘a stranger’.
The day he found out that they planned to lay the Jane Doe to rest, he was horrified. They said they had no further reason to withhold the remains for burial and local opinion favoured this course of action. The police had all the evidence they needed, toxicology, DNA, dental and photographic. There was so little to go on, that any future trial was likely to render a verdict of misadventure. Godfrey was suddenly distraught at the thought of losing her, and that’s when he hatched the plan. What if he was her next of kin?
“It’s very irregular,” remarked the judge. “I don’t think there is precedent for anyone marrying a corpse. You say you don’t wish to remove her from the mortuary?”
“No, Your Honour.”
“And you are willing to pay for her continued preservation?”
“I am, Your Honour.”
“And subsequent to your own demise, a joint funeral…”
“That is correct, Your Honour.”
“Then your motives appear to be above reproach. I am inclined to rule in your favour, Mr. Yough. There will be doubtless many objections and I therefore intend to reassure the public that this defenceless corpse shall be offered the full protection of the law against any form of removal or molestation prior to your death. Do you agree to that, Mr. Yough?”
Godfrey agreed. Drawer 101 would be locked but for once a week when, in the presence of the coroner, he would be able to see and talk to his beloved Arabella.
The civil ceremony was carried out. Every Thursday night for twenty more years, Godfrey visited his Arabella, told her all the news, assured her that one day they would be together.
Canal Wharf had never witnessed such a grand funeral. Twin coffins lay side by side in an extra-wide hearse. A double width grave had been dug in the old churchyard, the first interment there for decades.
They sat side by side under the ghost trees by the canal.
“It’s a big turn-out,” said she, chipper-like. She was clearly a Londoner.
“Well, so it should be,” he replied. “You’re a celebrity in this town.”
“Thanks to you,” she said. “You know, when my Jimmy was alive — that was my first ‘usband, he was always telling me to shut up. I told ‘im ‘Oh that’s a nice way to talk to your missus,’ I said, ‘I’ll be famous as anythin’ one o’ these days, an’ then you’ll ‘ave to show me some respect!’ Well o’ course ‘e never listened. Left me, ‘e did. Some floozy down Docksbridge way. Looked like bu’’er wouldn’t melt. But I was proved right and now look at this turn-out; press, TV cameras, the lot! Darned if I ain’t just gone an’ done it again! And all thanks to you.”
“This is the spot, i’n’ it — where it ‘appened. Where I snuffed it. Gowd, ‘ow long’s it been?”
“Not that it matters now, eh Godfrey? Do you like to be called Godfrey? ‘aven’t you got a second name? William or sumfink? I could call you Will. ‘ow’d you know my name was Arabella anyway? My Frederick — ‘e was the one what done me in… he used to call me Ara B. You can call me Bella if you like, though. Will an’ Bell. Yeah, it ‘as a ring to it… What do you say, Will?”
“Actually I prefer…”
“Lord, it’s like a morgue round ‘ere, i’n’ it? We’ll ‘ave to do sumfink to liven things up a bit after the do. I fancy dancing. ‘aven’t ‘ad a dance in — ‘ow long’d you say it was? Oh, if Frederick could see me now!”
Godfrey reflected upon a solemn fact. Marriage vows normally carried the ‘til death us do part’ clause. He wondered whether, under the unusual circumstances of their union, he’d waived that right.
Oonah V Joslin is Managing Editor at Every Day Poets. Credits include 3 Micro Horror prizes, an honorable mention in The binnacles Shorts Poetry comp 2009, Inclusion in several anthologies, A Man of Few Words, The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and 2009 and Toe Tags. Her work can be found at Bewildering Stories, Static Movement, The Shine Journal, A View From Here, The Ranfurly Review, 10FLASH Quarterly and many other places. The list is updated in The Vaults at Parallel Oonahverse and on her Facebook. Oonah’s ambition is to have a book published.