Todd was more than a bit hung over the first day of medical school. He’d been out drinking – his last evening out, he promised himself – with his classmates the night before. At some point in the haze of domestic beer, the group had gone around in a circle telling their “greatest secrets.” The women admitted to sex acts more exotic than repulsive and the men confided a practical joke they’d gotten away with. Todd had one such story, and like most, it was basically a work of fiction meant to make him look good. He was drunk enough to consider telling them the real secret, but sober enough to know that telling a group of people he’d just met that he’d committed murder was not a good idea. He’d drunk twice as fast after the memory had been stirred up and was paying for it now.
The morning hadn’t been so bad…until they walked into the anatomy lab. The cadavers were laid out on institutional metal-topped tables and the smell of formaldehyde was almost overwhelming. He joined three others at Table 5. They took off the top of the table to expose the cadaver they would be dissecting. Before doing anything else, students were supposed to wrap the head and extremities in gauze to keep them preserved. Todd grabbed some gauze and moved to wrap the head. The more gauze he used, he figured, the fewer fumes would escape to fill his nose. He glanced at the cadaver’s face before he obscured it. He knew her, of course. It was Miss Hadley. Her head had been shaved, but there was no mistaking the patrician nose and collagen-filled lips. Even in death, she seemed to be leering at him.
He had last seen her alive on his last shift at the nursing home before he left the state for medical school. He’d knocked on Miss Hadley’s door. The reek of nail polish remover that had her neighbors complaining made his nose run even from the hall. “Come on in, sugar,” said a voice that may once have been sultry, but now only succeeded in sounding old. He thought she might have a mental condition that made her so…friendly, but he never really looked into it.
She looked at him too intently from her wheelchair where she was putting on a set of bright pink acrylic nails. He relayed the complaint about the smell, and she readily agreed to close the bottle. “Anything for you, young man.”
She added, with a sly look that never failed to make Todd uncomfortable, “Why don’t you open the window to air out the room?”
Todd went to the window and turned his back to her while he wrestled with the window. Big mistake. She grabbed his ass. He whirled around, but her long acrylic nail must have caught on something, because she didn’t let go. Indeed, she was propelled out of her wheelchair and standing very close, face-to-face with Todd, her arm curling around his waist. She grinned and puckered her mouth.
Without thinking, Todd pushed her away with strength borne of revulsion. With abysmal timing, her fingernail chose that moment to come uncaught, and she fell back into her wheelchair much too hard, landing with an ominous thud. Her eyes flew wide open, and she gave a little shriek. Then nothing. He knew she was dead, even before he took her pulse. He reported it to his boss as though he had walked into the room and found Miss Hadley sitting dead in her wheelchair. There had been no questions, no recriminations. He almost wished there had been. Not that he would have come clean…but the fact that his lie was accepted so readily made it all worse. If it could be worse.
“Todd? You look kind of…green. Maybe you should wrap the hands instead.”
Todd glanced toward the hands. Each bony, desiccated finger was tipped with a bright pink. They hadn’t even taken off her acrylic nails.
Todd’s collapse attracted the attention of the entire class. The professor was accustomed to having a student faint once in a while from the fumes or a weak stomach, but this was more spectacular than usual. On the way down Todd’s scrubs had somehow gotten caught on his cadaver’s hand, bringing the dead body clattering off the table and on top of the prone medical student. The dead woman’s fake nails had caught on the pocket of Todd’s scrub bottoms.