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Chrysalis by Jennifer Courtney

Here I am. In a box.

Well, part of me is in the box, part of me is in the bathtub, and the rest is in the stock pot boiling away. Now, this isn’t Clue. There’s no who-done-it involved. I’ll say it up front; the scattered bits and the unpleasantly fragrant soup du jour just a-simmering atop the stove is all my hubby’s fault.

It’s not like he’s a sicko. He’s not going to eat me or anything. In his defense, he’s working with a stiff time constraint. He thinks he’s creating something beautiful, and who doesn’t love an artist?

So I’ve jumped ahead. I’m scattered through the apartment, guess this tale is following suit. Art imitating life and all that. I’ll try to force myself linear long enough to explain.

It all started in South Korea.

Getting from Anjung-Ri to Songtan there’s this stretch of road that makes the heart squeal. Just a rising curve and a tangle of green, but there’s something wrenching there with the narrow road, the world dropping away, and the brushy hills stretching up into a yawn. Near the crest a dozen hillocks hunch like apostrophes, the only visible manmade addition to a landscape predating story. Even for drunks it’s a clear-the-head moment. For the taxi drivers it’s this bit that pays the bills. The fare gasps, and the driver know he’s just doubled his tip.

Milliseconds later the city is visible. Pastel apartments playing chicken, leaning crazily all up atop one another’s shoulders, many with cluttered shops attached. All of it cordoned off from the green hill by a shallow geometric hug of rice-patty sea. The fast-forward transition is overwhelming; prehistory, farmland, city. The book of man in the space of a gasp.

Those taxi drivers. They grin at me from the rearview mirror every single time; hungry, hurting, and speckled with self-depreciating humor that’s been forced on them rather than cultivated. That bit of road brought in the tips, but they have to do it over and over. Little things like that make a person crazy.

But to see that nibble of primordial green, to revisit those strange little mounds over and over. Maybe I could do crazy.

Big “G” or little “g”, whichever god happened to be in charge of the landscaping that day, they did a hell of a job. Whatever act of creation caused it; a pent up breath, a pelvic thrust, reciting the “Hokey Pokey” backwards by candle light, it worked. The whole place resounds with an unspoken, “Here. This. It’s my gift. The most thriving, vivid place on the planet. Know. Feel.”

Of course, people being people, there’s a graveyard there.

Not knowing it was a graveyard, I thought maybe the humps were a modernist interpretation of the ocean, or an eco-friendly skate park. Something created with a fair dose of the melodramatic. I’m one to recognize that, being an artist myself.

Back home, we have these sprawling bone yards. Winding trails and scabby summer weeds around above ground plots. If you’re lucky there’s a thigh high railing to lean against, maybe a spray-painted bench to swelter on.

Family affair, death. Romantic, a tad artsy.

Korean graveyards are somber. A respectful celebration, a show of devotion to one’s ancestor. A lover’s leap view stationed on high, wreathed in green. Beyond gorgeous.

Those little mounds give the hubby nightmares. Dave, that’s the hubby, has been fighting sleep trouble. While he was Army everything was fine. When he got out and took a government contract job, the weirdness started. He couldn’t handle the civilians. The lack of respect, and the day to day stupidity, it got to him. Worst of all was his boss, also a contractor, also retired military. Another crusty American hangover, 1970s edition. When I looked up curmudgeon in our English to Korean dictionary there was a picture of the guy. Honestly, there was. Drave had drawn it on a napkin in crayon, and taped it in there himself.

Dave’s job had something to do with computers, supported a good chunk of the peninsula. That meant near-constant travel. Driving from Itaewon clear down to Busan took almost the entire day. It could have just been a three hour train ride. The boss-man felt employee accountability was easier to maintain by logging in miles on the company car, rather than handing out T-money cards for public transportation. So poor Dave played traffic roulette while the bossman shrieked at him via Bluetooth. And the days passed, and his stress grew.

Then he hit the deer. He didn’t know South Korea even had deer. They do, they’re called musk deer or sometimes vampire deer. They’re skittish little things, about the size of a Labrador. The “vampire” part isn’t a joke. The damn things have fangs.

Dave hit one with his car, splattered it. It started with a smallish brown blur in his peripheral vision which turned into a leaping silhouette. The deer managed a single flawless grande jete and then it was over.

Dave had just gotten to the hill near the grave mounds. A sucker for dogs, thinking he’d hit someone’s family pet, he stopped, and hopped out. He found one very dead deer. The fragile grasp Dave had on the world snapped when he rolled the thing over and caught a glimpse of those teeth. He thought he’d hit a mutant. He should have left it, another body in tribute for the mounds. Instead, he loaded the thing up into his car and brought it to me.

If that sounds gross, well, there was some logic behind his special brand of crazy. I make art out of bones. Not the usual Native American folk stuff, although I can do that in a pinch if money is tight. I articulate skeletons. Back stateside I was constantly boiling up squirrel, coon, and nutria. It took about eight hours to clean the bones. Honestly there are easier ways than boiling, but they’re not as cost efficient or portable.

Dave was never into my art, especially not the smell during the boiling part. He liked the money well enough though. He’d find ways to conveniently ignore me when I was in a creative mood, easy when he was in the military and deploying. Disappearing as he did in the middle of my projects, he never really grasped the work involved, that it could take weeks to get the skeleton just right.

When they came to get Dave he was wiring the bones of my hand back together. He showed them the anatomy book he was using for the reconstruction, pointed out how he’d gotten the pinky finger just so. He had to start with my hands and feet because the bigger bones were taking too long to strip. Lots of little bones in the hands and feet. Hard to get everything to match up. He realized he was completely lost on how to wire them, and ended up super-gluing instead. He’d only glued his fingers together three times at that point, and he was rightfully proud of himself. He seemed a little crestfallen that they weren’t impressed by his articulation prowess.

Of course he never would have used me for his first model if it hadn’t been for the deer. I articulated the deer for him, he turned around and gave it to the boss for his office. When the locals saw it, everyone got into a lot of trouble. Apparently musk deer are a cultural icon. Bad press, and the company had to pay a fee. While the boss was scrambling to regain everyone’s trust, someone pointed out that the the idea of articulation was pretty cool.

Suddenly my hubby had an articulation assignment and a twenty-four hour deadline. Anyone versed in the art knows that’s not enough time; it can take weeks, months. Boss-man wasn’t budging. Hubs was already crazy. The search for something dead to field dress, boil, and reassemble on the way home, in traffic and rain, couldn’t have been easy. He walked in the apartment empty-handed and saw me.

Originally he was just going to take my hand, he wanted me around to help reassemble it. But I fought so hard when he started cutting, he finally gave up and killed me. Given the ridiculous time constraints he was working under, he did a good job dismantling. If he was going for accuracy though, reassembly was a wreck. My hand wasn’t an articulated skeleton, it was an exploded one.

I don’t see clearly. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just me, but dead. I can like events, or hate them, but since I’m dead I can’t do a damn thing about it either way. Might as well sit back and enjoy the view. Too bad there’s no popcorn in the afterlife. My hubby’s boss said, “You have twenty four hours… make something.”

So he did, he made a beautiful mess.

Fiction4ADay Jennifer

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6 comments on “Chrysalis by Jennifer Courtney

  1. Pingback: F4AD – Chrysalis by Jennifer Courtney | Postcard Poems and Prose

  2. Oh, my goodness…nothing like cracking under pressure!

    • Jennifer Courtney
      November 28, 2013

      I bet it was a Monday.

  3. Barry Charman
    November 26, 2013

    Very interesting and unusual story, great scene setting and detail as well.

    • Jennifer Courtney
      November 28, 2013

      Thank you! Its tough to write from beyond the veil… my fingers keep going through the keyboard.

  4. A.stinson
    December 5, 2013

    Wow! What a surprising, gruesome twist! And to think I was lulled by the descriptive beauty. I should have paid more attention to all that foreshadowing.

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2013 by .
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