The Anatomist

After the autopsy, the coroner taught the young anatomist how to read the dead, and handed him a pair of nondescript, round rimless spectacles of smoked, black glass, the type one would wear to view an eclipse. They both put on their smoked glasses and gazed upon the sewn-up corpse, pale blue in the light of the gas lamps. To read the dead was like looking into a kaleidoscope, and then into a codex or palimpsest seen through a stereoscopic slide viewer. After this, one passed through the perspectives and experiences of a cheiroscope, a microscope, a telescope, and then finally a starry heaven exploding into an infinity of word nebulae and galaxies. Breathless, the anatomist thanked the old coroner for the lesson. Do not read the living, the coroner warned, when they had removed their smoked glasses. Do not read the living. The young anatomist rode the subway home, bursting with excitement. On seeing a blind man board the train, he remembered his glasses. Forgetting or ignoring the warning, he put the glasses on and started to read the living. What he saw was a different sort of galaxy, full of cello and violin music, black holes, screams, dancing stars, retrograde films in monochrome and exploding eclipses in positive and negative monochrome—all bleeding through an endless typewriter ribbon filled with scripts. The young anatomist got off at the end of the line and started the long walk home, almost shaking with euphoria and curiosity. As he passed through a park of conspiring spruces, some subway passengers who had followed him ambushed him and beat him without mercy, robbed him and cursed and threatened him in inarticulate hisses before running off into the night. Not long after, the coroner arrived, helped him to his feet, and gave him a new pair of smoked glasses to replace the broken pair. They smoked a cigarette in the darkness of the evergreens. The coroner shook his head and whispered both severely and gently. They do not like to be read.