Monday, May 2, 2011


I work at the front desk of a health sciences library.

That means I'm responsible for making sure everyone can find the books about sexually transmitted infections, gastrointestinal gaffes, and dermatological deviancy that only those with the strongest of stomachs can handle.

I'm also responsible for the bones.

The ones that came from living, breathing people and now serve as educational resources for the next generation of doctors and nurses.

We keep the bones in plastic bags or boxes, the names of their owners lost and replaced with "Femur" or "Tibia" or "Clavicle."

But the skulls interest me the most.

The skulls are various shapes and sizes, with cracks and contours in different places, some a dingy yellow and others a dull gray. They carry a ripe, relaxing odor.

They line the shelves in leather-bound boxes, amateur coffins lined with felt and topped with handles, stray teeth scattered along the floor of the box. We host a miniature mausoleum. The boxes are labeled with the skulls' new names.

Missing Teeth. Broken Jaw. Detached Mandible.

They're named after their flaws.

The students and medical professionals use them to study. They don't ask for the skulls by name. They just need a skull, any skull. Sometimes they ask for a plastic one, because it doesn't have to be real as long as it serves its purpose for two hours.

Prior Health Sciences Mausoleum and Brothel, this is Justin. How can I assist you today?

I can't count the number of times I've sent Detached Mandible with a student, only to have the student return in just a few minutes to ask for another one.

"Can I like, get another skull? This one's jaw is like, all messed up, you know?"

Each one has a laminated bar-code stretched across its forehead, meaningless lines and numbers that keep a detailed record of the hands the skull has passed through.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like be able to access a similar catalog of the skull's life, to be able to learn who held it and when.

An educated professional may be able to determine gender, age of death, and other qualities based on these features. I cannot. I prefer the ambiguity of it all.

Detached Mandible could be a doctor continuing her life's work or a murderer seeking redemption by saving lives in his death. The skulls have limitless potential. It's comforting, knowing that potential still exists after life.

Missing Teeth could be a mother or husband or someone you fucked in a Buick behind the 7-Eleven.

Was Broken Jaw's jaw broken in a bar fight defending his girlfriend's honor or cracked by a clumsy student?

In the same way an infant's future is full of possibilities, the past of the skulls is ripe with potential.

The skulls were reborn through death.

I hope that, someday, when the time is right, the same happens for everyone.

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