The Eyes of Matilda Rose
by Ron Van Sweringen
Walter Marsh loved his work. The large hands on his tall gaunt body accomplished it well, caressing and bathing the dead with reverent devotion. He could imagine nothing he enjoyed more than the conversations shared with each corpse in turn during the long midnight hours, until a ray of morning sunlight crept through the stone-encased windows of the mortuary.
An exception to his devotion arose on occasion, when a young female corpse appeared beneath the required white covering sheet. A tingle went through him when he unexpectedly viewed the nude body at his fingertips, begging him to be lovingly explored.
“How beautiful you are this evening, my Matilda Rose,” he breathed, opening the girl’s eyelids gently. “It’s only fair that we gaze upon each other again, we have so little time and I’ve missed you so.”
Then Walter Marsh’s ritual began. In his mind, he slowly and with great care brought his beloved Matilda Rose back to life again. Her golden hair undulated like twisting serpents in the warm water while he bathed her, bringing back the memory of that morning years ago when he found her body floating face down in the cold river behind their house.
He was a boy of twelve then. Overwhelmed by grief, he tore his younger sister’s wet clothes off and threw himself on her naked body. After a while he removed his own garments and lay on top of her again, as they had in secret many times before, arms and legs entwined, until they fell asleep. The searing pain of his mother’s hysterical voice and her fists raining down on him when he awoke, sealed the living and the dead together forever in the blackness of Walter’s despair.
Bringing Matilda Rose back to life occasionally through the years, became Walter’s main reason to live .
* * *
Walter Marsh, wrapped in a black cape, arrived at the mortuary on a rain-whipped night in November. Thunder and lightning ripped the cold air as a heavy oak door swung open to his key. A mahogany tall case clock with large metal hands struck midnight, echoing through the empty building. Walter preferred working alone and undisturbed. The memory from long ago of his mother’s carping voice tortured him if he allowed it into his head for an unguarded moment.
The pungent aroma of wilting flowers from the viewing chambers trailed after Walter. He especially favored the scent when gardenias had been placed near burning candles, catching the warm dripping wax. On occasion he would pin one of the large white flowers to his black rubber apron and enjoy its aroma throughout the long night.
A ceiling light in the large laboratory was flipped on as Walter entered. The air was decidedly chilly and he immediately opened the door to a cast iron coal stove located in the center of the room. It was decorated with snarling brass dragons in the Victorian taste.
Walter used a heavy iron poker with a matching dragon handle to jab the softly glowing coals in the belly of the stove until a growing flame appeared. He then placed the metal poker within easy reach for future use.
Moss-green and white tile covered the floor and walls of the laboratory. There were several black rubber hoses providing the water necessary for washing and cleaning the “guests” as Walter called them, who waited silently on metal tables.
As Walter was removing his cape, he noticed that one of the hoses was leaking slightly. A small, almost invisible trail of water dripped slowly on the tile floor. Indeed, when Walter looked down, he realized he was standing in one of several shallow puddles, hardly deep enough to cover the soles of his shoes. He immediately turned the spigot handle on the hose as tightly as he could until the leak disappeared.
“I’ll leave a note to have the janitor mop the floor in the morning,” Walter said to himself, anxious to begin his night’s work. He had already moved one of the worktables into position. As he peeled the white covering sheet away, his heart unexpectedly raced. A beautiful replica of his Matilda Rose appeared before him. The joy was almost unbearable as his trembling fingers set to work.
The unexpected sight and sound of several objects above his head startled Walter a few moments later. The shrill screams that followed sent prickling chills along his spine. A flock of large crows with their piercing black and yellow eyes had found a way into the building, trying to escape the raging storm outside.
Walter’s shock turned to anger as the shrieking black birds grew bolder, diving down at him and his precious Matilda Rose. The largest crow, apparently the leader, even landed on Matilda Rose’s forehead, sinking his black talons into her golden hair. A loud cackle from its open beak filled Walter with horror. The creature suddenly bent near Matilda Rose’s face, staring intently into the eyelids that Walter had opened. A tentative peck of the bird’s sharp beak caused Walter to scream out in agony.
“Leave her alone! She’s mine, you cannot have her! Get away!” Walter screamed, grabbing the iron fireplace poker. “I’ll kill you first!”
The crow’s wings beat violently as the bird rocked back and forth on Matilda Rose’s head. Suddenly it took flight, perching on the light fixture in the ceiling. Several angry birds began circling Walter, taunting him with their terrible shrieking.
Walter swung the heavy poker, missing his target the first time. A second swing fared better, striking one bird with a sickening thud that was followed by spurting blood running down the tile walls.
A shower of blue sparks suddenly erupted with a hiss from the light fixture above Walter. The jagged glow of electricity pulsated through the bird perched there, causing the light bulb to flicker. Walter screamed with hysterical laughter at this richly deserved development.
With complete abandon, Walter swung the iron poker for the last time. He missed his darting targets and instead crashed into the dangling light fixture. Walter’s agonizing screams were unheard as steam sizzled up from the bubbling water under his twitching feet.
The electricity went off instantly, throwing the laboratory into darkness. It made no difference to the feasting birds or to Walter Marsh for that matter. Most of Matilda Rose’s face and eyes, on the other hand, had already disappeared.
Copyright © 2014 by Ron Van Sweringen