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Fiction #439
(published June 18, 2009)
The Mortician's Angels
by RoAnna Sylver
Lizzy's Daddy dressed up dead people, and made them pretty for the last time. He spent hours matching just the right powder or paint to their skin tone, but always threw in a little something extra that gave them a strange and unearthly glow. He made them angels. His work made old ladies cry and young men stand straight and tall with their mouths set in firm lines as their adams' apples jumped and twitched.

They were her friends, her silent guardian angels. When her Daddy went many places in his big black top hat, Lizzy played hide-and-seek with the beautiful gray forms. They never found her, but she always found them. When she was sad and she could tell by the way that Daddy slumped and sighed that he was sad too, she twisted the rubbery mouths and eyes into funny faces, and made them both laugh. Daddy once told her that she should have more respect for them, but she didn't understand and asked, how was playing with her friends and making them feel loved and happy before they went into the ground showing disrespect? He smiled, shook his head, and left her alone after that.

One day she peered around a corner and saw Daddy kissing Anthony, the quiet artist who painted the lake and ducks in the park at sunset. The big black top hat had fallen to the ground, forgotten in the tender embrace. Lizzy grinned, tiptoed away and told her angels. She sang them a song, and told them how happy she was that Daddy was smiling again, how long it had been since he smiled.

Daddy taught her how to make people into her angels. He spared her the tubes and fluids and anti-decomposition sprays, the scary things that smelled funny and made her feel light-headed. He showed her the bright side, the art side. She slowly learned to breathe life into dead skin, and make friends of her own. She had to say goodbye to them soon enough, but their faces stayed in her mind forever.

One day she came home to find Daddy sitting in a chair with his hand covering his mouth. His eyes were red and wet, and she asked him what was wrong.

"It's time to make Anthony into an angel."

"I'm sorry, Daddy."

"I can't do it." He whispered, broken. He looked down at his hands lying in his lap, lifeless. "Lizzy, baby. It's your turn. I'm. . . trusting you with him. Please. . . "

While she stood up on a pile of books to reach and made Anthony shine, she wore her Daddy's big black top hat. She thought it might help her channel some of his magic when it came to the curl of a pink lip, a white cheek with red, like he'd just come in from a chilly night. Or like he was blushing just a little, while a man in a top hat kissed him under a willow tree.

Late that night, while she put the final, gentle touches on his face, she heard soft footsteps behind her, felt a kiss on the top of her head. "He's beautiful."

After Anthony's box went into the ground, Daddy retired, and spent long days at the lake, watching the ducks at sunset. Lizzy had learned enough from him—she became the youngest mortician the town had ever seen. Every angel she made from then on, she made for her Daddy, and Anthony. It was time for her angels to watch over them.

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