Fiction by Julia Coursey
Here is something you don’t realize, maybe: Your body is already decaying around you, and it will continue to do so until you die, although, yes, more pointedly afterward. You, so full of your vims and your vigors, are just a thin layer of already corrupted flesh, a curtain to be torn at any moment.
It is easy to forget this in Madrid, where the elderly are especially spry, clogging up the streets with their perfectly coiffed walks; the Fascists were only able to take away the minds, leaving the old entirely analphabets, not even able to read the terrible poems that their grandchildren write as they try to reinvent the literature of the peninsula.
Maria Angeles took this knowledge with her when she moved to Chicago, along with the saint cards in her grandmother’s Cola Cao tin that she had stolen after her father had been lined up at the edge of a ditch and shot through the skull (her first real devotional act rooted in a sin).
You don’t like to think about those corpses at the bottom of a hole; you dream of waking up trapped in a box, feeling the worms already inside of you. You are a carcass already, and the only thing keeping you from those dreams is the six feet you float around on. Maria Angeles would say it is also your mind, and perhaps suggest making a habit of doing a sudoku each morning.
When you are old and gray and finally diagnosed, you will already have lost 80 percent of the cells that make up who you believe you are. This mind dissolves, like chocolate stirred into milk. Maria Angeles has seen older sisters succumb, hands trembling while pressed together in prayer; blank, searching eyes. Sister Mary Patrick weeping in the garden, fingers raking the hard earth; winter when she thought it was spring.
When Christ comes for a second time, he will resurrect the dead, restoring us to our bodies in life, disgusting as they were. It is this promise that concerns Maria Angeles when the scientists come to them with the proposition. What if, when she is restored to her glorified body, her brain is missing? They bring her to their labs, show her the clear, rotating worms that glow red and writhe under the expensive lenses.
The other nuns agree to donate and begin to tick the boxes of the tests after matins, the rosy fingers of dawn prying open their skulls and recording the spread of decay until they are put into subterranean boxes, brains dutifully published. She prays and reads
“Perish the thought that the omnipotence of the Creator is unable, for the raising of our bodies and for the restoring of them to life, to recall all [their] parts, which were consumed by beasts or by fire, or which disintegrated”
and when the scalpel pierces her brain, blood and water pour out.