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What She Saw
“Jane Doe. Female, Caucasian, aged approximately mid-20s to early 30s. Found dead by the side of Route 18 yesterday.”
There is a quiet, collective intake of breath as the zipper on the body bag reaches the end of its journey and the woman inside is fully exposed. Nothing immediately appears outwardly wrong; she could almost be sleeping. At least, if one were to disregard the unmistakable pallor of the skin, the sickly shade of greyish-white reserved only for the dead. The deep black of her hair, which lays in tangles across her shoulders, creates a wholly unnatural contrast that unsettles Rochelle. She twirls her own black locks nervously. The coroner glances up from her position near the foot of the autopsy table, regarding the small group of teenagers opposite her with a kind of amusement. “I warned you that this job would be hands-on,” she says, somewhat smugly.
“Did not! And she better not mean that literally,” mutters the girl next to Rochelle indignantly. “So not ready to dig around inside a dead body on my first day.”
Rochelle silently agrees. As she was considering a career in medicine, she had jumped at the opportunity to intern with the local police department as the coroner’s assistant. Only three other teens had apparently shared her sentiment: the girl who had just spoken, a short, curvy blonde; a heavyset boy with mousy brown hair but striking green eyes; and a tall, lanky boy – also a blonde – who seemed perpetually nervous. The four of them had waited outside the police station together for all of two minutes, before being sent directly down here. The coroner had looked at each one of them briefly, introduced herself curtly – “Doctor Houlihan” – and thereafter proceeded to unzip the body bag, an abrupt prologue to their new job that took all of thirty seconds.
And here they are, barely three minutes into their internship, staring down at a dead body. “Now,” remarks Dr. Houlihan, passing the nervous boy a box of latex gloves, “put these on and take a look at the body. Try not to touch. These are just in case. See if you can ascertain cause of death.”
Rochelle takes the box as it is passed to her and carefully extracts two gloves before handing the box to the blonde. She pulls on the gloves, the latex cool and powdery against her skin, and steps forward to look at the body. The boys have moved around to the other side of the table and are examining the other side of the body, while Dr. Houlihan waits at the foot of the table. They study in silence for several seconds, and then the heavyset boy speaks tentatively. “She… was stabbed? In the side?”
“Are you telling me? Or asking me?” replies Dr. Houlihan.
The boy looks down, red splotches rising in his cheeks. “Telling you?”
“You don’t seem too sure,” says the coroner, a faint smirk twisting up one corner of her mouth. “How about… you. Go and check to see if he’s correct.”
She points at Rochelle, whose heart picks up speed. She walks slowly toward the head of the table, mind racing through every visible cause of death she knows. As she passes by the woman’s head, she happens to glance down. She makes eye contact with the dead woman, and a shiver races down her spine.
And then it happens.
All of a sudden Rochelle is falling. Panic sweeps through her, overtaking the small fear she had felt in the coroner’s office mere seconds ago. Swirls of color surround her – black, white, and blue. The colors of the woman’s eyes, some part of her brain notes calmly. The other parts of her brain are screaming, frantically piecing together impossible explanations and then tearing them apart. But abruptly, the swirls are gone, and Rochelle is once again standing on solid ground. Still, something is wrong – the ground beneath her is grass; in front of her, cars rush by. Highway, whispers that one sane piece of her brain. It is indeed a highway, she realizes, and one she recognizes, even by the fading light of the sunset – Route 18. Where Jane Doe died. Suddenly, someone grabs Rochelle’s shoulder and whirls her around. A man towers over her, face red and contorted in anger. “How could you?” he hisses. “How could you do this to me? I loved you. I loved you, Alexa!”
“I’m not Alexa,” Rochelle whispers, terrified.
The man seems not to hear her. “You cheated on me! After six years of marriage– ”
He breaks off and turns away, twisting his fingers in his hair. A low growling comes from his throat, and Rochelle tries again. “I’m not Alexa,” she repeats, louder this time.
Another voice overpowers hers. “I never cheated on you!”
A woman’s voice, high and thready with fear, choked with sobs. Coming from – Rochelle turns, searching, but the area is empty. “You have to believe me, I – ”
“I don’t want to hear it!” shouts the man, still facing away from Rochelle. “I saw your texts, all the calls. I know!”
“Please,” says the voice again, and Rochelle’s arm reaches out of its own volition. She stares at it in horror. “I never cheated on you!”
The man whirls around and storms towards Rochelle, and that tiny part of her brain says, It’s you. You’re Alexa. You’re seeing this through her eyes.
“Never cheated?” he screams, taking hold of both of her shoulders and shaking her. “AND YOU'RE STILL LYING!”
“Please!” The voice again, more of a sob than a word. The man’s face hardens, and he reaches into his pocket. Rochelle/Alexa looks down and sees his switchblade – a HUGE switchblade/oh God he has his switchblade – and he flicks out the knife. Before Rochelle/Alexa can react, he reaches out and plunges the knife into her right side. A scream echoes across the highway –
And reverberates throughout the coroner’s office. Rochelle stumbles away from the body, pressing one trembling, white-gloved hand to her mouth. The nervous boy flinches away from the table, and the blonde reaches out to steady Rochelle. She takes her hand away and the words tumble out. “Her name was Alexa, and she was stabbed in the side with a switchblade by her husband yesterday night. I don’t know his name, but he’s tall – taller than me – maybe 5’11”, 6 foot, has black hair and brown eyes. He thought she was cheating on him – she wasn’t – she didn’t - ”
She breaks off, her breath catching in a sharp sob. Everyone in the room is staring at her, shocked and slightly scared. “I saw it,” Rochelle whispers. “I – I saw it when I looked into her eyes.”
Dr. Houlihan steps forward. “Maybe this isn’t the best job for you to take. You can go home for today - ”
“No,” Rochelle says forcefully. “Just check. Please. Run a check on someone matching his description.”
“I think you should leave,” replies Dr. Houlihan.
“You have to believe me!” Rochelle cries. “Just check!”
Dr. Houlihan motions to the guard outside the door, who comes in and takes Rochelle by the arm. “Just check!” screams Rochelle as the guard drags her out the door and all the way outside. He drops her arm and walks back into the station, slamming the door behind him. Rochelle stands, frozen save for her violent trembling. She takes several shaky steps forward and sits down heavily on the front steps, resting her head in her hands. “They have to believe me," she murmurs. "I saw it. They have to believe me."