Skeletons Confess The Pain Their Humans Hid

If you’ve never operated a crematory, here’s a crash course:

Preheat retort to a devilish 1,400 degrees.

Check the dearly departed for a pacemaker (aka insta-bomb) and any jewelry.

Load the body. (Clothed, inside a container. Not with other bodies.) 

Periodically check and “stoke” the skelly to ensure even cremation.

2ish hours later, let the retort cool to 500ish degrees, then brush out the remains.

Cracked bone glows orange and sweeps softly into the collection bin. Feather-light without its marrow, a consistency like drift wood and pumice stone. But human remains aren’t 100% human. A lifetime of shrapnel clangs into the bin, heavy like hail. Titanium skull plates. Steel rods. Bionic hips and knees. Buried trauma from car wrecks and bad genes. 

The hardware outlives the bones it once put back together. 

I drag a magnet through human rubble pulling out pins and screws. I run a brush through the dust that was Howard or Mary, wondering if the surgeries helped, if it finally felt good again to pick up their grandchildren, whether the medical rod in my hands is still accruing interest. 

As I pick through the bones I realize I’ve separated pain from its person once and for all. I press them into ash and gently fill the urn. A flourish of dust rises like a smoke signal. It hangs like a sigh of relief.