Lancaster Cooney

The Chicken’s Severed Head

Plastic shrouds promote anonymity. Those zipped away inside, nothing more than faint blurred flesh. In all I count seven mountainous bodies, sexual orientation, no doubt, swallowed in a lugubrious assortment of belly and inner thigh. Never before had I seen so many heavy dead. Perhaps someone poisoned the buffet, or a maddened gunman had walked the perimeter of the drive-thru snapping rounds past the windshields of sadly sunken vehicles. Nevertheless, seventeen-year-old Cynthia Toomey is not a hard spy.

I avoid jokes directly involving weight--know your audience--and instead speak of the weather and Cincinnati’s inability to deliver with runners in scoring position. Casually, though not in actuality, I am asked the time. “Let’s see,” I say, staring at the digital bones on my wrist watch. “Three twenty-seven a.m. good friend!”

Working alongside the dead had stirred within an unruly inclination toward strange theory and afterlife debate. In the vein of the chicken’s severed head arose a sort of playful speculation regarding feelings of abandonment and that suffocated depravation for movement and objection.

Once alone, instruments aligned on a sterile drape, controlled breath within the hollow dome of a surgical mask, I guide the zipper down its track and have a look at Cynthia Toomey. She is beautiful, pale, more so than usual, hair locked back in the beak of a red barrette. There is no evidence of overeating. And from the corners of her mouth an array of smile-lines jettison and blend.

I open the shroud like a cornhusk. Suicide wrists. She had gone by way of butterfly knife following The Late Late Show. She was the third I have dealt with to die in such a way. The first, a young Asian who hadn’t the gall to pull the trigger, but instead chose to present the barrel to five officers who had cornered him in a neighbor’s garage. They filled him up, twenty-seven holes in all, crescent moons and misplaced bellybuttons.

“Oh honey, what was so terrible?” I ask, swabbing the surrounding areas aseptic and brown. Covering her, leaving only a single circular opening where the applied eyelid retractor ensures she stares wide-eyed and painless. On a small rolling table a cup of coffee smolders. When younger I had taken it black, viewed it as a rugged code of manhood, only to realize well into my twenties that a splash of milk brought the severity down. My mind lolls through a slipstream of thought (family, childhood, pending transactions) as I gently snip and separate tissue. The conjunctivae rolling back like burning cellophane, until releasing the eye and allowing it to buoy just beyond the surface of the socket. I have a need to take a drink, but focus instead on steadying the forceps and assuring my grip on the lateral muscle. “Shhh. Shh. Shh,” I say, severing the optic nerve and slowly removing the eye from the shallow valley of the skull. “It will all be over soon.”

Lancaster Cooney lives with his wife, a sweet baby girl, and a puppy in Kentucky. He currently works at a non-profit agency serving individuals with special needs. His most recent work appeared in Red Fez.

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