It was his last wish, to be a mummy. I would have preferred cremation, an urn like my father’s, but my brother always had a sense of drama, and he used that pouty look when he asked, like when he was ten and insisted we wait outside the multiplex in freezing rain for the third installment of Star Wars, during which he slipped us Milkduds, pressed them like secrets hand-to-hand in the dark. He had good points.
This is what we told ourselves when we began the mummification. The funeral director had shuddered when I had asked if it could be done there, babbled something about state law. I used internet the internet for research. The steps are simple:
- First, purify the body by washing it with water.
I wasn’t crazy about seeing him naked, but, as my husband Ray reminded me, it wasn’t about me. We covered Kevin’s crotch with a washcloth and gently sponged him. Veins ran up and down his arms like freeway off-ramps. He’d been a skinny, sickly kid, started eating healthy after his first heart attack, all beans and bran muffins, but stayed thin, no muscle. So, step two was easy, physically at least.
- Make an incision on the left side of the body, below the heart.
It was messy. I won’t lie. Once I took up the blade, I put a cloth over his face, too, half expecting him to sit up, yell, “Stop!”
- Remove the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach. Leave the heart intact, as the deceased will require the heart to travel to the spirit world.
When I came to, Ray had taken care of number three. I kind of liked the idea of leaving the heart intact for its travel to the spirit world, but it had failed him here. I thought of all the mummies, ever. Some had to have died of heart attacks. Were their bodies broken down on the side of some spirit world highway, waiting for a jump?
- Put each of the 4 organs into its own canopic jar.
I ended up using old Mason jars. The intestines were huge, but they fit, with a little pushing and prodding, into a giant-size pickle jar from Costco, but step five..
- Insert the hooked tool into the deceased’s nostril and pull the brain out through the nose. The brain can be discarded.
Discarded! Infuriating! What sort of culture, or religion, or whatever, thinks you’ll need your heart in the afterlife, but not your brain? I thought of all the thoughts and memories embraced by the folds of the brain. I couldn’t do it and didn’t let Ray, either, a relief after several moments of holding the tool in front of each nostril, twisting one way, then another. Instructions were insufficient to such a task.
- Liberally cover the body in natron (a natural salt, composed of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate with traces of sodium chloride and sodium sulfate). The natron will dehydrate the body and allow the blood to drain.
Easier, but I paused over the place Dad broke Kev’s arm when he was twelve. I had never really gotten a good look at the jagged scar just above the wrist, both bones broken, not the kind of fall-from-a-tree accident we were coached to tell Children’s Services, but still an accident. Dad hadn’t meant it. His fist was meant for my other brother, Mattie, who was doing drugs, and mouthing off, starting the tussle on the street that led to Kev’s trip to the hospital and Mattie going to live with Gram.
The scar was almost invisible after so much time I traced it with my finger like a palm reader, took up the lotion again. He had always liked to be touched.
- Allow the body to drain for 40 days.
If this were a Christian ritual, I would expect some sort of Flood connection. We left his body in the shed, worried the buzzards, circling overhead despite the “lotion”, would tip off the neighbors. He was no longer Kevin, but I resented the giant black wings casting shadows over the backyard. I found myself sitting inside watching old movies, trying to avoid the ones I knew Kevin liked. On the fortieth day, we watched The Mummy on DVD, original, not a remake, and we started the last steps of the process:
- When the body is fully dehydrated, wrap natron-soaked gauze or bandages around it. Make sure to cover the body completely from head to toe.
Ray and I had some experience with bandage wrapping having both spent at least one childhood Halloween in similar costume. We discussed whether the toes should be wrapped separately or as part and parcel of the feet, and went with the latter.
- Decorate the mummy with appropriate designs or mask that fits the social station the deceased had in life.
Ray left this last part for me. I was glad to have the time alone with Kevin. I looked through old pictures, resisted the urge to Sharpie-Marker on a face. I considered dressing him as Luke Skywalker, or Rocky Horror, as he had spent every Friday night his senior year onstage at the local theater, in black fishnets and a wig, doing the Time Warp while the audience members held opened newspapers over their heads and threw rice and toast into the air.
In the end, I dug out his tuxedo. He had season tickets to the local dinner theater. I tied his red bow tie over the bandages at his neck. The odor had subsided, the bandages stiffened. It was almost as if he had been in an accident and was in a full body cast. I found myself talking to Kevin the Mummy.
“You look good,” I told him; Oddly, he did.
“I’m glad I left your brain,” I whispered, balancing his glasses on the bridge of his bandaged nose.
Tiff Holland is originally from Ohio. She attended The Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction appear regularly in literary magazines and anthologies and have won several awards. Her novella-in-flash Betty Superman won the Rose Metal Press Fifth Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest in 2011. She has taught creative writing and literature at Kent State, University of Southern Mississippi, and Austin Community College. She currently lives in Hawaii.